Peter Buffett, the youngest of Warren Buffett’s three kids, grew up in a modest five-bedroom home in Omaha, walked to public school every day, and even had the same English teacher that his mother had.
Life was surprisingly normal for a kid raised by a billionaire who is today’s third richest man in the world.
What may have helped preserve a sense of normalcy in such an extraordinary situation was the fact that the Buffett children were completely oblivious to their dad’s career and successes.
“Growing up, we really didn’t know what my dad did. It was quite mysterious,” Peter told Stephen Dubner on a 2011 Freakonomics podcast.
“In fact, when my sister filled out a form, in fourth or fifth grade, about what our parents did, she put ‘security analysis,’ and it was assumed that what he did was check alarm systems. To a kid, it was like, ‘What do all the numbers on the page mean? And what exactly is the New York Stock Exchange, and buying and selling and all that?’ So we really didn’t know.”
It took a quarter century until Peter fully grasped what his father did: “[Finding out] was very gradual … I was probably about 25. The truth is, it just wasn’t around … We didn’t grow up around the exposition of wealth.”
The air of mystery — around his wealth and career — that Buffett chose to maintain in his household may have lifted any pressures his children felt to follow in their father’s footsteps.
While Peter did consider getting involved with Buffett’s company when he realised his dad wasn’t checking alarm systems and was doing quite well for himself — “I thought, ‘Well it’s dumb not to at least explore this a little bit'” — it wasn’t for him.
“I knew it and he knew it, and he wasn’t pushing it at all,” Peter tells Dubner of the time he was flirting with the idea of working with his dad and Berkshire Hathaway. “I grew up to him saying, ‘Do what you love. There’s nothing more important than that.’ And we both knew that this wasn’t something I was passionate about.”
Today, Peter is a composer, musician, and author — and his dad maintains his modest lifestyle, residing in the same $31,500 Omaha home, using a flip phone over a smart phone, and choosing reading or bridge over any other pastime.
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