Warren Buffett did things his way in order to make $50 billion, and it was very consistent that during The Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy which was held at the main branch of the New York Public Library, instead of taking a book out of the building, Warren Buffett actually brought one in. He specifically brought in a well-worn printing of the hardcover book named I Remember, which is the autobiography of a gentleman named Abraham Flexner and it was written in 1940. Most modern philanthropists have never even heard of this person.
While flipping through the pages of the autobiography that Warren Buffett read nearly 50 years ago, he mentions that “Abraham Flexner probably influenced philanthropy as much as any individual in the country. Not in terms of the money he used but of what he brought to the game.”
This native of Louisville Kentucky was first brought into the public eye in the year 1908 for writing the book The American College. The book actually condemned higher education because it relied upon lectures instead of hands-on teaching and smaller classes. Andrew Carnegie was quite attracted to Abraham’s analysis of higher education, particularly because he really wanted there to be reforms in medical schools.
In 1910, the Carnegie Foundation published a document known as “The Flexner Report,” and this report actually set national standards for the training of physicians. “He was not a doctor,” said Warren Buffett. “He just was smart and straight thinking. And after he worked for a couple of years for Carnegie to do this, half of the medical schools closed. I mean, he actually changed medical education.” Abraham Flexner also made a major impact during the year 1930, when being backed by Louis Bamberger, with Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, in which he recruited individuals like J. Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein.
Buffett also said “I’ve studied what both the people with the money do and the people who were implementing the ideas of the people with the money. And it had an influence on me very early.”
Now that we know there was a long-term influence in Warren Buffett’s life, we are no longer mystified by his philanthropic philosophy and desire to donate so much of his money. Also, if you are curious as to why Warren Buffett is ready to outsource his philanthropy to Melinda and Bill Gates, then you don’t have to look any further than Flexner.
“Carnegie did not go out and visit all of these medical schools himself,” said Warren Buffett. “He got Flexner to do it. George Eastman wanted to start a great medical school in Rochester, and he didn’t know how to do it. He called up Flexner and said, ‘Tell me how to do it.’ And it was the same way with the Bambergers. So I believe in getting things done through other people.”
You can also look at Flexner’s influence to explain why Warren Buffett wants his fortune to be put into action within 10 years of his death. Mr. Buffett remembers a New York Times editorial about Flexner that he read in 1959 at the time of his death. This editorial ended by stating that “no other American of his time has contributed more to the welfare of this country and of humanity in general.” Warren Buffett has now set himself up to inject the largest amount of cash into philanthropy, and people are going to sing his praises the same way that they sang the praises of Abraham Flexner.