Sunday, June 3, 2012

Annual Warren Buffett lunch auction begins Sunday

(AP) ? It's true that Warren Buffett hired the hedge fund manager who won the last two private lunches with him that are part of an annual auction, but he doesn't expect the event to become a recruiting tool for Berkshire Hathaway.

Rather, Buffett says it's miraculous that he found one of Berkshire's two new investment managers through the lunch. He offered Ted Weschler a job after he'd paid nearly $5.3 million over two years to dine with Buffett.

"We're perfectly situated now in respect to money managers," Buffett told The Associated Press. Besides Weschler, Buffett has also hired Todd Combs to eventually oversee the company's investments when the 81-year-old Buffett is gone as part of Berkshire's succession planning.

Buffett said he just hopes the 13th annual online auction will again raise a significant amount of money for the Glide Foundation, which provides social services to the poor and homeless in San Francisco.

Bidding begins Sunday on eBay and continues into Friday evening. Most of the big bids tend to arrive late in the auction. The previous four winning bids have all exceeded $2 million with new records set every year. Last year, Weschler paid $2,626,411. He did not respond to a message last week.

"It's gone way, way, way beyond my expectations," Buffett said. "We'll see what happens this year."

Besides his business success, Buffett's philanthropy is also a draw for bidders. Buffett has slowly given away the bulk of his fortune since 2006. The plans to eventually divide most of his shares of Berkshire stock between five charitable foundations, with the largest chunk going to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Buffett and Gates have also been encouraging other wealthy people to give away at least half of their fortunes. Nearly 80 of the nation's wealthiest families have signed the pledge.

The auction provides a significant portion of the Glide Foundation's roughly $17 million annual budget. Buffett's late first wife, Susan, introduced him to Glide's founder, the Rev. Cecil Williams, after she became a supporter of the charity.

"We were really blessed to run across Warren Buffett years ago," Williams said.

Buffett said he was impressed by the work Glide does in helping people for whom the world has forgotten to find hope again.

"I just think what they do is extraordinary," Buffett said.

Buffett was diagnosed with prostate cancer this spring, but remained committed to the auction. Williams said he was impressed by Buffett's commitment.

"He let us know that he was going to make sure things will work," Williams said. "We're just very excited about it again this year."

Buffett has said that his prostate cancer was detected early and isn't remotely life-threatening. He plans to undergo six weeks of radiation treatments starting in mid-July.

At the lunch, Buffett will spend several hours discussing whatever it is the winner would like to talk about, traditionally at New York's Smith and Wollensky steak house. The restaurant donates at least $10,000 to Glide each year to host the auction lunch.

The only topics the billionaire chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway will not address are potential future investments. Buffett says many of the questions he gets at the lunches are about non-business subjects such as family and philanthropy.

Past winners of the auction have said they believe the time with Buffett was well worth the price they paid in the auction.

Buffett's company owns roughly 80 subsidiaries including insurance, furniture, clothing, jewelry and candy companies, restaurants and natural gas and corporate jet firms, and has major investments in such companies as Coca-Cola Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.


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Buffett Lunch Auction:

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Associated Press

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