Have you ever wondered what kind of a house a man like Warren Buffett lives in? Friday morning, I found out, and it gave me some serious food for thought on the final leg of our road trip back to Reno.
Warren Buffett has a home in Omaha, near his business headquarters. He’s owned the home for about 50 years. It’s in a nice neighborhood in Omaha, but nothing spectacular. HIs house is kind of like Omaha itself … nice, fairly large, inviting and friendly-looking. It wasn’t opulent – there were bigger and fancier houses in the same neighborhood. By all accounts, he has other properties in other places, but this is where he still spends a significant amount of his time.
That got me to thinking about wealth, motivation and grounding. I wonder what motivates a man like Warren Buffett. When you’ve got so much that you can give away $40 billion and still be massively wealthy, there’s got to be something that gets you up in the morning and keeps you going. At this point, business is on autopilot. Financially, your money is making money all by itself, with little if any involvement by you. You can start a new business; heck you can start 200 new businesses, but does it matter if they succeed or fail? When you’ve got enough wealth to fulfill any stray impulse without breaking stride, then what? Are there any “next levels” to reach for?
To me, financial wealth is very contextual. When you’re not working, someone who’s got a job can look wealthy. My first full-time job made me feel wealthy. I went from making $3.14 per hour part-time, to $1100 per month – a good chunk of money in Canada in the early 80s. At that point, my bosses began to look wealthy. As a business owner now, things have changed again, as I look around me at other business owners, in all stages. And I guess if you’re a millionaire, surrounded by billionaires, then a multi-billionaire looks wealthy. Wanting to reach that next level, for whatever reason, is certainly one motivator.
Then there’s fear. I had lunch recently with an old boss in Vancouver, who’s the founder and head of a mid-size law firm. For him, fear was a huge motivator to keep pushing the firm forward and reaching for new clients and new opportunities. But it wasn’t fear for himself as much as it was fear for the other partners, associate lawyers, staff and all of their families, who were at least partially dependent on his efforts. As I move away from self-employed business owner, to a business owner with employees, I understand that much better.
Some find motivation in competition. They want to be the best, so they look for ways to bring that product to market for less, or for ways to provide that service to a wider group. Competition can be a healthy motivator, or it can be a destructive one. There’s winning, and then there’s “destroying the field.” I guess it depends on each of us as individuals.
But I don’t think any of those things motivate us all exclusively. Can these things really satisfy us and make us happy at the end of the day? I don’t know that any of these things are real factors for someone like Warren Buffett, who has pretty much conquered it all.
That brought me around to the idea of service. Sharon Lechter talked about a service-based business, as opposed to a competition-based business. As a motivator, the desire to service the needs and desires of the market can be very powerful and less destructive than some of the others. With the Rich Dad books and products, Sharon gave a lot of information, and received a tremendous response from the market. Warren Buffett is spending much of his time these days on philanthropy, helping the Gates’ Foundation to direct his massive donation, along with all sorts of other projects. He recently auctioned off a lunch with him through eBay, with the proceeds going to one of his foundations. The auction closed at over $2.1 million! If Mr. Buffett’s goal is to spend his money raising up the world around him, then it will be interesting to see if he can spend it faster than he can make it!
And what about staying grounded through all of this? When you’re one of the richest people on the planet, there isn’t much to keep you grounded in reality. Maybe that barn-shaped, grey stucco house on the corner of a residential street in Omaha is what reminds Mr. Buffett that he’s still a part of the world.
I’m still thinking my way through all of this, but it does make me curious about what motivates each of us to push forward, especially once we achieve a certain level of success – and what that level of success looks like. I suspect it will be different for everyone.