Given the troubles that have notoriously plagued the children of the world’s richest people, you might guess that the son of Warren Buffett (net worth: $47 billion) might not be particularly well adjusted. At the very least, you could probably assume that he might not know the value of a dollar or a day’s work. As it happens, Peter Buffett, Warren’s youngest, dropped out of college, sold his inheritance and followed his dream of becoming a musician (and netted a bunch of awards, an Emmy included, along the way). In his spare time, he’s lectured parents on how to teach their kids financial responsibility, which he’s now turned into a book, Life Is What You Make of It: Find Your Own Path to Fulfillment (Harmony, 2010).
The Observer: Why did you want to write this book?
Buffett: For decades, people would say to me, ‘You’re Warren Buffett’s son? But you’re so normal!’ It was funny to me that they were surprised I turned out like this. At one point, I was asked by Citigroup to speak at these wealth-management seminars they have for clients, and I talked about how to raise kids so they wouldn’t be screwed up about money. People kept saying I should do a book. I thought it was great to think that my story could help people.
Did you have an allowance? How much was it?
Yes. It was whatever the going rate was in the ’60s—50 cents, maybe a dollar.
Did you have summer jobs?
Yeah, as soon as I was old enough. I was really into photography, and my dad owned a weekly newspaper, so I got a job there as a photo assistant over the summer, just a low-level job helping out where I could.
You did a year and half at Stanford and then dropped out. How did your parents react to that?
Actually none of us—myself or brother or sister—have finished college. My parents were always saying, ‘Find something you love doing.’
In the book you talk about how you received an inheritance from your grandfather, and it was shares of Berkshire Hathaway, worth $90,000, which you sold. Now it would be worth $72 million. Any regrets about that?
People can’t believe I don’t, but it’s true. And I actually didn’t sell it all at once. It grew over time, so I was able to take advantage of that. But I absolutely don’t regret it. I have a way more interesting life than I would have if I’d just gone through school and taken a job I didn’t like.
Did your dad help cultivate your musical side at all? Did he sing around the house?
He would whistle and sing all the time. His favorites were “The Hut Sut Song” and “Mairzy Doats.”
Your dad dressed up as Axl Rose and did a power ballad for a Geico spoof earlier this year. Did you see the performance? How would you rate it?
He’s a total ham, as I’m sure you can imagine. As for the performance, I thought it was OK. Emphasis on “OK.”
You have the same folksy sort of writing style as your dad. But I can’t help but notice a distinct lack of sexual innuendos, which is one of his trademarks. He always manages to marry folksy business wisdom with innuendo in Berkshire’s annual report.
[laughs] He certainly does do that. I make those jokes, too, but not as much as him. I’ve actually called him out on it before. Two or three years ago, in the annual report, he made this joke about a girl in short shorts in the supermarket—I can’t remember what it was—and I was like, ‘Dad, come on, you can’t do this. This is too much.’ And he just laughed.
You say he’s always been supportive of doing what you love, but has your dad ever asked you to come work with him?
Before I left Stanford, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, I was thinking, ‘You know, my dad’s kind of this big-time guy, maybe I should at least think about it.’ We talked about the possibility, and he sent me some annual reports, but it just wasn’t for me. And I never got the sense from him he wished I would come work for him, but I always knew the door was open.
Your dad is famously giving almost all his money to charity when he dies. Are you ever like, ‘Come on. Throw me a couple of bones.’
[laughs] I’m really not. We’re all comfortable, and if we had an excess of money, we’d rather give it to charity anyway. And actually, when we all turned 40, we got $1 million, which was something that was never supposed to happen.
So how did it happen?
I think my mom somehow talked him into it. My sister and brother were facing big challenges in their lives, and my mom said, ‘This is going to change them. They’re adults, but it would help.’
Do you have any advice for Lloyd Blankfein’s kids? One of the boys just finished his second year at the family business [Goldman Sachs], and the other will be a first-year investment banker this June.
I don’t have advice for them, but I do for Lloyd Blankfein. I would just tell him to make sure his kids do it on their own. Let them learn how to fall down so they can get up. Respect them enough to know they can do it, like my dad. He wasn’t being a tightwad, or not being loving; the way he raised us was actually extremely respectful. Don’t write blank checks.
Now that you’re grown up, are there any perks that you get for being Warren Buffett’s son? Do you get to ride on a private jet every now and then? Do you get free car insurance?
There are some perks. Riding on a private plane sometimes is definitely one of them. Something I never take for granted!
Bess Levin is editor of DealBreaker.com.