By: Will Reisman
05/29/09 8:00 PM PDT
SAN FRANCISCO — He’s worth nearly $37 billion, is responsible for some of the most influential investing methods in the world and commands an almost messianic following, but deep down Warren Buffett is still a kid at heart.
That description comes from a Mohnish Pabrai, a Southern California investor who had the chance to grab lunch with Buffett last year — an opportunity that will soon be extended to someone else. An annual auction to sit down with the powerful investor starts next month, with proceeds from the event benefitting the Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco.
Along with his friend, Guy Spier, Pabrai put up $650,000 to meet his idol as part of the charity, which has raised $4.3 million for Glide, a local nonprofit organization that serves low-income residents. Having put up the highest bid for the event in 2007, Pabrai, his wife, two daughters, and Speir sat down with Buffett for a lunch in New York City last June.
“My two daughters ordered hamburgers, and Buffett told them that anything they left on their plate, he would eat,” said Pabrai, who is based out of Orange County. “It was amazing that, even at 78, he still is very childlike and innocent, yet also an absolutely brilliant man.”
Pabrai said he talked with Buffett for three hours during their lunch together, with topics ranging from managing philanthropy foundations to how much one should leave for a tip after dinner.
“I had someone videotape the lunch for me,” said Pabrai. “And I watched it later and realized we talked about 54 different subjects.”
Buffett agreed to do the charity with Glide 10 years ago, and the auction quickly became so popular that it moved to eBay in 2003.
Last year’s winner, Hong Kong man Zhao Danyang, spent $2.1 million for his lunch with Buffett. When bidding starts June 21, Pabrai said he expects this year’s total to exceed that, despite the woeful economy.
“We’ll never have another Buffett, and the number of potential lunches with him is declining with each year,” said Pabrai. “It’s like meeting Einstein or Galileo, so I think you’ll see people putting up $2 million, $3 million, or even $5 million to meet him.”
The higher the bid, the more it will benefit Glide, which is seeing a surge in interest because of the current economic crisis, according to the organization.
“Mr. Buffett’s generosity and longtime commitment to Glide’s work is amazing,” said the Rev. Cecil Williams, Glide’s founder.
“These times are especially hard for people at the lowest income levels. We put 100 percent of the charity auction proceeds into the community — feeding the poor, providing clothes, shelter, affordable housing and free health care to those who need it most.”
About the auction:
- What: Warren Buffett Lunch Charity Auction
- When: Bidding starts at eBay at 7 p.m. on June 21. Bidding closes June 26 at 7 p.m.
- Why: 100 percent of the charity benefits the Glide Memorial Church
- Last year’s winning bid: $2.1 million, by Zhao Danyang
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