Joining with Gates, Buffett Targets World's Ills Warren Buffett's pledge of $31 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been long in the making, according to friends of the astute investor from Nebraska. Fortune magazine's Carol J. Loomis says Buffett told her months ago about his plan.
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Joining with Gates, Buffett Targets World's Ills

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Joining with Gates, Buffett Targets World's Ills

Joining with Gates, Buffett Targets World's Ills

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The news that Warren Buffett will give away most of his billions was broken by Carol Loomis. She's an editor-at-large of Fortune Magazine. She's also a long-time friend of Warren Buffett. She's on the board of the foundation that he and his late wife established and she's a shareholder in Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway. Carol Loomis joins us from her office in New York. Welcome to the program.

Ms. CAROL LOOMIS (Fortune Magazine): Thank you. Very nice to be here.

BLOCK: It sounds like when he decided to reveal this news that Warren Buffett turned to someone he knows very well. How did he reveal his plans to you?

Ms. LOOMIS: Well, he was in New York for a luncheon on March 20 and he told me he had something he wanted to talk to me about afterward. And we had about a two-hour conversation in which he sketched out for me the details of his plan.

BLOCK: Now, this was March 20.

Ms. LOOMIS: Yes.

BLOCK: So you've been sitting on this for three months now.

Ms. LOOMIS: Yes, I have.

BLOCK: It's kind of an odd position for you as a journalist, I'd think.

Ms. LOOMIS: Yes. It was interesting.

BLOCK: That would be one way of describing it. This is a man who's been pretty famous for not giving away much of his own wealth up until now. Were you surprised when he told you what he planned to do?

Ms. LOOMIS: Well, I'd always known that he would be giving away his wealth but the way he had planned it out before his wife died, his wife died two years ago this coming July, they both thought he would die and she would take over the giving away of the money. When she died, he realized very quickly that he needed to re-think his plans and it took him awhile to come to the solution that he has now announced.

BLOCK: When you talked with Warren Buffett and he told you what he was going to do, he talked to you about trying to level the playing field in terms of society's wealth.

Ms. LOOMIS: Yes.

BLOCK: Has that been something that has seemed important to him up until now? The Warren Buffett that you know?

Ms. LOOMIS: Yes. From the very first time that I knew him, which goes back to the 1960s, he was saying that, although he certainly would be giving his children some money, that he did not believe that very rich people should be giving huge amounts and in effect setting up dynastic megawealth.

BLOCK: He also mentioned to you the model set for philanthropy by Andrew Carnegie.

Ms. LOOMIS: Yes, he was a big fan of Andrew Carnegie's thinking and he really thought that Carnegie was right when he said that money derived from society should be returned to society.

BLOCK: Warren Buffett has been a friend of Bill and Melinda Gates for some time now and it does seem that this gift to them is very much conditioned on them as people. He's talked about the funding being contingent on at least one of them being alive and active with the foundation. What do you know about his relationship with Bill and Melinda Gates?

Ms. LOOMIS: Well, he met Bill in 1991. They've taken a lot of trips together. They've had a lot of fun together. Warren and Bill play bridge. It's obvious that their IQs are up there on the scale that most of us never even think about.

BLOCK: Do they seem similar in some ways in how they approach business, or anything else in life?

Ms. LOOMIS: I think they're both thoughtful and rational, and rationality is a trait that Warren has always thought extremely important to what he does. And Bill seems to me extremely rational also and he's gone at this problem of solving the world's problems by looking at it very intellectually and being sure that he knows what works so I think they are alike in their thinking.

I don't think Warren would be as good a philanthropist because I think Bill is able to put up with some of the headaches that you get giving away money and Warren might be a little bit more impatient with those.

BLOCK: In the manifesto for the company, for Berkshire Hathaway, there's this phrase, we delegate to the point of abdication. And it does sound like he's taking kind of a similar attitude toward this gift. He will be on the board of the Gates Foundation but it doesn't sound like he really wants to be terribly active in it. He hates meetings. Do you think that's right?

Ms. LOOMIS: He hates meetings. He would have had to listen to too many opinions if he were giving the money away and he actually said to me, even one opinion would be too many.

BLOCK: I think he also said he'd have to spend too much time around people he didn't really want to spend time with.

Ms. LOOMIS: That's exactly right, because he has organized his life so he doesn't have to spend time with any people that he doesn't like.

BLOCK: We've been talking with Carol Loomis. She is editor-at-large of Fortune Magazine and also a longtime friend of Warren Buffett. And an online bridge partner of Warren Buffett, is that right?

Ms. LOOMIS: That's true.

BLOCK: What kind of bridge partner is Warren Buffett?

Ms. LOOMIS: Well, he's a very good bridge partner. He doesn't like some of the new conventions. In some ways his bridge is a little bit like his investments. He doesn't go in for the newest conventions, but when he sits down to play a hand, he is extraordinarily good at it and I'm always amazed when I'm playing with him or against him how well he plays his hand.

BLOCK: Carol Loomis, thanks very much.

Ms. LOOMIS: Thank you.

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