Susie and Peter Buffett: Children of stock market mogul talk philanthropy

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Trent Ostrom
CONTRIBUTOR

Peter and Susie Buffett, children of business magnet Warren Buffett, spoke at the Philanthropy Summit held at Mammel Hall about their upbringing in Omaha. The duo shared details about their lives as Buffetts and how their parents impacted the philanthropy the two are involved in today.

In 2006, their father announced that by the time of his death, he would give away all of his Berkshire Hathaway stocks for philanthropic use.

Eldest daughter Susie is Chairwoman of The Sherwood Foundation, the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation and the Buffett Early Childhood Fund.

Youngest brother Peter is co-chair and co-president of the Novo foundation and is an Emmy award winning musician. In the panel conversation, the Buffett siblings reminisced about how their parents raised them.

“My mother was a huge advocate for equality, and she used to have a bumper sticker on the back of her car that said ‘good people come in all colors,’” Susie said. “It still wasn’t a popular belief in the 1960s so she was very progressive.”

The Buffett children explained that their mother was who made the Warren Buffett that the world knows today.

“While he was a mess, she saw deep inside him what he could be and she helped him tap into that potential,” Susie said.

The siblings agreed their father has mellowed throughout the years. When asked about how Omaha has changed, Peter shed light on the development of the city.

“You know I can go down some of the older streets and they bring back a lot of memories,” Peter said. “I think the character of the city is the same it’s always been, but the institutions that occupy it now are different.”

While they are children of one of the richest men in the world, the two siblings were raised like any other family would raise them. They began working at 15, and weren’t pressured into pursuing any specific path in life.

Susie Buffett used the Berkshire Hathaway stock she was given at age 19 to leave the state and go to school, while brother Peter used his stock to start his music career in San Francisco.

“A lot of people think that I would be living in a giant shadow of my father, but that simply wasn’t the case,” Peter said. “They supported my decision and they let me live into something rather than try to live up to something.”

Now midlife, they chair some of the biggest philanthropic foundations. Each sibling has a specific focus in their philanthropic work in trying to make the world a better place. Susie explained why she focuses on early childhood development.

“You see the statistics for African American male high school dropout rates and it’s scary,” Susie explained. “But the problem isn’t at school, it begins when they are born and don’t have the same resources as other kids to knowledge, development and schooling. They ultimately don’t realize the disadvantage until they are in school, and at that point it’s too late.”

The work the two siblings do day in and day out brings them much joy.

“When you meet a beautiful young girl who’s been used, experienced unimaginable things and hasn’t had help it’s absolutely heartbreaking,” Peter explained. “When you can help that girl, and give her opportunities she would never had available to her that is the type of joy that’s absolutely incredible.”

In the future, both Susie and Peter would like to see schools actively teaching basic financial literacy.

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