One of the great living legends, Warren Buffett, celebrated his 90th birthday yesterday (August 30, 2020). To most, he is known as one of the richest men in the world, but to me, he is known for being an ordinary gentleman, and his character is far richer than all the money in the world. You see, I have the extraordinary privilege of saying that I have met a few billionaires in my life within the last decade, including the famous Warren Buffett. No picture to prove it, but having spent maybe a total of 60 seconds of my life around him was enough to feed me 60 years of wisdom. Here’s what I learned.
Fancy is overrated. Growing up, I saw some of the wealthiest people drive beat-up cars. Warren reminds me of them. After all, the guy eats McDonald’s and chugs Coca-Cola every day even though he can afford to spend way more on food. The day I met him, he was wearing a sweater and slacks. The next day, when all of his Berkshire executives joined him (yes, I met them too), it seems he requested that they wear the same type of attire to an executive meeting. No business suits. So there they were, a bunch of billionaires sitting at a round table in sweaters and jeans. I love this scene because it reminds me that just because you have a lot of money doesn’t mean you need to show it. In fact, not spending money on flashy things is a good way to stay wealthy.
Be generous with others. Since I worked in hospitality when I met Warren Buffett, I know that he believes in paying tips. I have also met people who don’t tip … at all. And yes, many of those people were rich. What’s the purpose of having money if you don’t use it, especially when it’s warranted? Tips fuel the service industry, and often, service workers rely on tips to compensate for low hourly wages. Sometimes that little bit of tip money can make a huge impact. For someone like Warren Buffett, sharing his wealth in this manner is worthwhile, not only to build a solid reputation, but also to influence others to do the same.
Everyone deserves respect. Remember the scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts gets treated with disgust by the boutique store associate in Beverly Hills because she is not wearing expensive clothes? That store should take a lesson from Warren Buffett. When Warren arrived, there were several people trailing him. I thought for sure, he’s going to ask one of them to take care of logistics, but lucky for me, I was wrong. Warren personally came up to me. We exchanged greetings and shook hands before I sent him on his way. Such a brief interaction, but a lasting impression. The mere fact that he took the time to interact with a commoner like me is something that sticks with me to this day. And the interaction was humble, no air of attitude. It doesn’t take a lot of money to treat others with respect. Who knows? That person may write about you one day!
While Warren Buffett is known for his financial savvy, the lessons that I learned from my interaction with him had little or nothing to do with making money and had more to do with being a quality human being. It’s a good reminder that money can’t buy a good personality, nor can it erase a bad one. That’s the richest lesson of all.
Warren, if you’re reading this: Happy Birthday, and may our paths cross again in the future, hopefully for longer than 60 seconds this time!
Homework: Which important figures do you admire for their financial savvy? What money lessons have they taught you? Feel free to share in the comments below.
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