Buffett Talks about Newspapers, Ndamukong Suh & Dan Gilbert

Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO, the legendary investor Warren Buffett, is going to be visiting Detroit today by making a rare stopover. He will be there as part of the 10,000 Small Businesses initiative put forth by Goldman Sachs. The Oracle of Omaha granted the Free Press some phone time on Monday, and here are some of the questions asked of him and the answers that he gave.

Free Press Question:

How often do you make it to Detroit? What’s the deal with mixing it up with Ndamukong Suh of the Detroit Lions?

Buffett’s answer:

“I’ve not been there for a long time. Ndamukong Suh tried to get me to stay over Thanksgiving for the football game. Two weeks ago, I arm-wrestled him (at a mentorship event in Nebraska), and after toying with him for a few minutes, I pinned him. I made him sign a release before we did it, that if I hurt him, he would not sue me.”

Free Press question:

Do you have any other thoughts about Detroit, besides it being a great place for the Goldman Sachs small business initiative?

Buffett’s answer:

“My hero when I was a kid was Hank Greenberg. When I was 9 years old, I went to my first baseball game, which was 1939, and I read all about the 1938 season (when Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers was baseball’s first unanimous MVP selection), so I can tell you about him hitting his 58 home runs.

Incidentally, I love (Quicken Loans Chairman) Dan Gilbert. I’ve gotten to know him pretty well, and he is a one-man outreach, or whatever you want to call it, publicity man for Detroit — and he’s good. What he’s done with Quicken is incredible. … He’s gained market share year after year in that business, and that means hiring more people.”

Free Press question:

What are your thoughts about the newspaper business nowadays?

Buffett’s answer:

“We bought four good-sized newspapers this year, in Tulsa, Atlantic City, Greensboro and Roanoke — so we have 28 or 29 dailies. Our papers are doing OK. They’re in midsized cities. I think it’s tougher, frankly, when you get into really big metropolitan areas. … I think a newspaper has to be primary as a news source to a community. And I think it’s very tough in a New York City or a Los Angeles. It’s a lot easier in a Tulsa, Okla., or a Greensboro, N.C. We have been focused on those kind of papers, and we will buy more.

The one thing I can guarantee you is we will not cut the news hole. The idea of selling less and less for more and more is not a winning system. I love newspapers. I read five every day.”

Free Press question:

Your investment company Berkshire Hathaway owns roughly 3% of General Motors. What’s your take on the auto industry and General Motors itself?

Buffett’s answer:

“I’m delighted we have it, but it was a decision that was made by (portfolio manager) Ted Weschler to buy that.

If you go back to March 6 or something like that in 2009, I was on CNBC, and that was the day before the Dow hit a low, and I got asked about whether the government ought to move in and and give help to the auto companies, and I’m glad to say I called that one right.

It was huge, the way they came back. It’s amazing, all three of them. When you think of the ripple effect with the suppliers and everything else, it would have been a disaster if the government hadn’t come in. You’ve got to give credit to the industry for … making the most of it.”