Warren Buffett is known for his folksy wisdom and he frequently will make analogies and jokes (often dirty ones) in order to better explain investment, business, and financial things. It’s just sort of who he is, and it’s expected from the Oracle of Omaha. However, yesterday the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway landed himself in hot water when he compared women giving mixed signals to the Unilever deal that fell through last week.
The story was told to a reporter during a CNBC interview on Monday. In the interview, reporter Betty Quick asked Buffett why the possible merger between Kraft Heinz and Unilever fell through so quickly, and what could be done. Buffett’s answer is lengthy, and he ultimately said the deal failure was the result of Unilever’s executive being too polite and even noncommittal. Then, in typical Buffett style, he told the following story:
“Well, if a diplomat says yes, he means maybe. If he says maybe, he means no. And if he says no, he’s no diplomat. And if a lady says no, she means maybe. And if she says maybe, she means yes. And if she says yes, she’s no lady.”
Now, despite what people are saying on social media, this actually isn’t a story directly from Buffett. It’s an old metaphor and, as a product of his time, it’s likely that the Chairman simply didn’t think anything about it. However, since the interview aired earlier this week there has been an outpouring of criticism and controversy surrounding the statement.
Of course, this is far from the first time that Buffett has made a dirty joke either in an interview or in one of his famous shareholder letters. The most oft-quoted dirty comment comes from a 2007 letter where the billionaire made a comparison between bad business deals and waking up with an ugly woman: “I’ve never gone to bed with an ugly woman, but I’ve sure woke up with a few.”
While this sort of thing is par for the course for the billionaire investor, it seems to come at a particularly inopportune time as the business world has become increasingly sensitive to the concept of sexual harassment, and the subject of women’s rights is a hot topic.
As of the time of writing, there have been no additional statements from Warren Buffett about the comment. While it’s likely that it was meant simply as yet another dirty joke to explain a complicated business situation, the ill-timing has caused quite a stir.
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