Gates & Buffett: An Awkward First Meeting

Bill Gates, worth an estimated $80 billion and considered the richest man in America, and Warren Buffett, worth $67 billion and the second wealthiest man.

Even though Buffett is 26 years Gates’ senior, it’s quite obvious that these two billionaires are very good friends.

Together, these gentlemen have worked toward asking the richest men and women in the world to give up their money to charity. When they lobby Congress, they do so as a team. As a team, they even criticize flat taxes. They also read the same classic business books.

They hang out together in China, play ping-pong and throw newspapers together as part of one of the traditions that they share at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meetings.

Warren Buffett fully trusts Bill Gates: He gave the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation $2.1 billion.

Bill Gates trusts Warren Buffett: He says that talking to Buffett throughout his career has been “invaluable.”

The truth is, these two men did not want to have anything to do with each other when they first met through Meg Greenfield, Washington Post editor, on July 5, 1991.

It’s the stuff that comedies are made of.

Meg Greenfield, friend of the Gates family, was going through Seattle with Katharine Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post who presided over Watergate, and Warren Buffett went along for the ride since he and Graham were good friends and Berkshire Hathaway owned a large stake in the Washington Post.

The plan was to hang out with Mary and Bill Gates Sr., plus their son, the software mogul, Bill Gates Jr.

Buffett was confused by the whole situation.

“While we’re driving down there, I said, ‘What the hell are we going to spend all day doing with these people? How long do we have to stay to be polite?’” said Buffett to the Financial Times.

Buffett did not feel that he’d want anything to do with young Bill Gates – because to Buffett, computers are like brussels sprouts.

Gates also remembers complaining to his mother about having to meet Warren Buffett.

“What were he and I supposed to talk about, P/E ratios?” He remembers during a Fortune column. “I mean, spend all day with a guy who just picks stocks?”

Bill Gates was excited to meet Graham though – he was intrigued by the Washington Post and the newspaper’s history.

Willing to accept his fate, Bill Gates said that he would meet with his elders for a few hours to chat, and then he would take his helicopter back to the headquarters of Microsoft in order to work at the office.

Then Greenfield, Graham and Buffett arrived.

After some introductions, Gates and Buffett began talking about the changes taking place in the newspaper industry. Then Buffett started to ask Bill Gates about his industry.

“If you were building IBM from scratch, how would it look different?” asked Buffett. “What are the growth businesses for IBM? What has changed for them?”

That’s when Gates told Warren Buffett to purchase two stocks: Microsoft and Intel.

After becoming immersed in conversation, it was quite evident that the friendship was blossoming.

When recalling this first meeting, Gates said that he was taken aback by a few different things. First off, Warren Buffett “asked good questions and told educational stories.” Second, he had “never met anyone who thought about business in such a clear way.” Third, Buffett had taught Gates a fun mental exercise.

“On that first day, [Buffett] introduced me to an intriguing analytic exercise that he does,” said Gates. “He’ll choose a year – say, 1970 – and examine the 10 highest market capitalization companies from around then. Then he’ll go forward to 1990 and look at how those companies fared. His enthusiasm for the exercise was contagious.”

Suffice it to say, Gates was hooked. Before the Omaha Oracle left, Gates agreed to fly out to Nebraska in order to watch Buffett’s beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers dominate in a college football game.

Now they hang out together all the time, whether fighting diseases, lobbying Congress or just sitting around and talking about the things that geniuses talk about together.

Gates found a mentor in Warren Buffett.

“When Melinda and I started our foundation, I turned to him for advice,” says Gates. “We talked a lot about the idea that philanthropy could be just as impactful in its own way as software had been. It turns out that Warren’s brilliant way of looking at the world is just as useful in attacking poverty and disease as it is in building a business. He’s one of a kind.”

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