Buffett-Gates friendship too big to fail

By Laurie Bennett

February 19, 2010 at 11:00am

The much publicized friendship between Warren Buffett and Bill Gates has become an empire - extending even beyond Buffett’s huge gift to the Gates Foundation.

The two men share a love for cherry cokes, burgers and bridge. They are both deeply concerned about poverty and the health problems of the poor. And their financial involvements have become increasingly intertwined during a friendship that has endured nearly two decades.

The two were introduced in 1991, when Gates’ mother persuaded him to participate in a get-together with Buffett and Katharine Graham, then publisher of the Washington Post.

Gates & Buffett
Gates & Buffett
University of Nebraska

The two men were reluctant to meet, worrying that they would find conversation difficult. But as Gates was quoted in the Financial Times years later, “We talked and talked and talked and talked and paid no attention to anybody else … He’s a great teacher, and we couldn’t stop talking.”

Their closest financial connection was forged in 2006, when Buffett gave the Gates foundation the bulk of his Berkshire Hathaway fortune. At the time, the gift in stock was valued at $31 billion. He is now a foundation trustee.

From its beginnings, the Gates-Buffett web has been a family operation.

Bill Gates’ wife, Melinda French Gates, is co-chair of the foundation and a former Microsoft exec. Along with Buffett, she also a director of the Washington Post Co. The Post’s position in the web was further cemented by its 2004 acquisition of Slate, the online magazine launched by Microsoft.

Another mutual interest is Costco Wholesale Corporation. Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman Charles Munger is a director, as are Gates’ father, Bill Gates Sr., and Gates Foundation CEO Jeffrey Raikes.

Some business connections are even more direct. Gates and former Microsoft exec Charlotte Guyman are directors of Berkshire Hathaway. Gates’ private investment arm, Cascade Investment, is a Berkshire Hathaway stockholder.

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