A Greenwich woman who spent five years chronicling the life of billionaire Warren Buffett said Thursday that her relationship with the investor has grown awkward since the best-selling biography was released last fall.
Alice Schroeder, author of "The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life," said that while recent media reports of a personal falling-out with Buffett, 77, had been played up, the legendary investor had been ambivalent after seeing some revealing details of his personal life appear in print.
"It's really awkward between us now," Schroeder told more than 50 people gathered at Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams, 45 E. Putnam Ave., Thursday night for a book-signing.
Despite their cooling relationship, Schroeder said her goal as a biographer had been to expose a more personal side to this "steely businessman," who, she noted, had given her unprecedented access to his files, family and business partners.
The fact that her book had provoked a mixed reaction from its subject means, in some ways, "I did my job right," she said.
Schroeder, a native of Texas who has lived in Greenwich since 1996, once covered Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., as an insurance analyst, during which she developed a business relationship with him that would later pave the way for her for work as his biographer, she said.At the book-signing Thursday, she described Buffett as not only a grandfather figure widely respected for his business acumen, but also a vulnerable and sometimes insecure man.
For instance, the investor was often wounded by negative press coverage and could show a surprisingly fragile ego, she said.
At first, "I thought this man was impregnable, and it turns out it wasn't true," she said.
In a humorous aside Thursday, she related how Buffett had been crushed when a group of Hooters waitresses, who apparently did not recognize him, passed him by to flock to Bill Gates for autographs during an impromptu outing with some of his colleagues.
"He wants to be loved," Schroeder said, adding that Buffett has a tendency to develop surrogate mother-like relationships with some of the people in his life.
The biggest challenge the author said she faced during her extensive and sometimes deeply personal conversations with Buffett was to avoid becoming too personally invested and "getting dragged into being one of his mothers," she said.
"You try to be a fly on the wall "¦ and then you back away."
Another occasional challenge was getting Buffett, a shrewd negotiator, to reveal certain pieces of information, according to Schroeder, who said she hired a negotiations expert to help her deal with her subject.
Buffett usually took the "dangler" approach during negotiations, she said, giving his biographer a hint that he might give up certain information without committing to doing so. Other times he took a more aggressive tack, which she called "Buffetting" -- as in, "buffeting people into submission."
Though she gleaned a number of business insights from Buffett, Schroeder said she deliberately chose not to write an investment text, adding that Buffett had already imparted much of his investment wisdom in the letters he has written to investors.
Asked by an audience member why Buffett sometimes holds onto assets that he knows are overvalued, Schroeder said she believes the investor has a tendency toward inertia, having learned that you can ride cycles and turn out OK.
His most important quality as a manager and business leader, she later said, is his consistency in dealing with his employees, who rarely deal face-to-face with him but nonetheless know what his expectations are, she said.
"He stays on message," she continued. "He's very comfortable with repetition."Related Links
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The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder
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