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I think I am like almost everyone else in not knowing much about Warren Buffett, other than (a) he is very rich (b) he is a very successful investment manager (c) he is donating most of his money to charity. It did puzzle me that he was doing this through Bill Gates' foundation and not setting up his own - the superrich would usually do this and let their children run the foundations, which automatically makes them big shots that politicians, journalists and of course charity organizations would pay respect to. Doing so also ensures that the next generation would be able to maintain control over the businesses, without having to pay the inheritence tax that would be necessary if they directly succeed to the wealth. While they would not enjoy the amount of income their parents did, this would hardly be a problem.

What made Warren Buffett decide not to pass control to the next generation, I have no idea. I only know he was separated from his wife for many years and she lived in California, not in Omaha, where he lived with a girlfriend, whom he married just a year or so ago when his wife passed away. I have no idea why he did not get a divorce (Catholic? probably not, but then, how would I know?), nor where their children (child?) lived.

I was therefore interested to read the following news:

NY Post: Warren Buffett fires granddaughter

by contentguy | September 7, 2006 at 10:21 am

AN infuriated Warren Buffett has renounced one of his granddaughters - telling her she is no longerhis relative "legally or emotionally" because she took part in a documentary about the lives of the very rich.


Nicole Buffett, the adopted daughter of Buffett's son Peter and biological daughter of Peter's ex-wife Mary, was featured in Jamie Johnson and Nick Kurzon's documentary, "The One Percent," which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival this year and is a follow-up to Johnson's "Born Rich."


Enraged that Nicole not only participated in the documentary, but also plugged it on National Public Radio and "Oprah," Buffett wrote Nicole an "angry letter" two weeks ago telling her she was no longer part of his life, a source tells Page Six.


Buffett wrote, "I have not emotionally or legally adopted you as a grandchild, nor have the rest of my family adopted you as a niece or a cousin."


I guess you would be interested to know a bit more about this movie:

The One Percent

This 80-minute documentary focuses on the growing "wealth gap" in America, as seen through the eyes of filmmaker Jamie Johnson, a 27-year-old heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune. Johnson, who cut his film teeth at NYU and made the Emmy®-nominated 2003 HBO documentary Born Rich, here sets his sights on exploring the political, moral and emotional rationale that enables a tiny percentage of Americans - the one percent - to control nearly half the wealth of the entire United States.

Confessions Of The Ultra-rich

"THE One Percent," Jamie Johnson's follow-up to his documentary "Born Rich" - which captured his Upper East Side peers talking about their richness - is premiering tonight, and it promises to be even more titillating than the first film, which had bratty heir Luke Weill bragging he could "buy" people. In the new movie, produced by Johnson and Nick Kurzon, reputed arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi details his role in the Iran-Contra scandal and says, "I gave credit to the CIA for $1 million . . . it was supposed to be a 'hush-hush' operation . . . unfortunately, it backfired a little bit on everybody. As businesspeople, we have ways of manipulating the government officials, and they have ways of manipulating us." Kinko's founder Paul Orfalea, asked if he wants to acquire more wealth, replies, "I want to go to the moon and look down on the Earth and say, that's part of my portfolio.' " The movie also has a scene of Nicole Buffett reading a letter in which her grandfather, multibillionaire Warren, disinherits her for being in the documentary.


Why was he so upset? I have no idea, but the non-granddaughter told journalists "Warren Buffett the investor is quite different from Warrent Buffett the person"; so the next question is what does she mean? I guess we all have to make our own guesses.

I did receive various glimpses of Warren Buffett as investment manager; people give him credit for first choosing the right companies to invest in, then putting the right people to run them, and leaving them alone to make decisions. There was the story about his neighbour (I think a professor at U of Nebraska), who found Buffett a nice guy and showed his confidence by investing 50K, which became 50M 10 years later. The one dramatic story was the rescue of Salomon Brothers, but the most recent offer to rescue AMBAC, the bond insurer in trouble because of the mortgage related CDOs, seem rather too sharp to me - he was willing to take over the municipal bond portion, the good part, for an increased premium, and was willing to keep the offer open for 30 days while the company explores a better alternative, provided he gets a 1.5% option fee. In fact the offer looks self-contradictory to me: you pay a fee to hold on to an offer because it is alreay very good, but if so, the chance of getting a better one would be low. Doing something like this would seem to make sense only in a fluid negotiating situation, to force another party that you know is capable of making a much better offer to a quick decision. In the absence of this factor, you either accept the offer already on the table or reject it, not pay money just to think about it.

In any case, I look forward to the definitive biography to be written on Warren Buffett.

added on 2/10/08

Buffett has just started to bargain hunt, investing $8B of his >$30B cash into Goldman Sachs and General Electric, buying 10% preferential shares convertible into common stock at advantageous strike prices - he gets better terms than others first because few others have that amount of ready cash on hand, but also because in these trouble times, having an investor with his reputation greatly increases the confidence level a company enjoys in the market

since I started on one tycoon, why not another - old article


Mr Wee Cho Yaw (Chinese: 黄祖耀; pinyin: Huáng Zǔyào)has at last decided to hand over control of UOB to his son Ee Chong, and it is a good time for me to summarise what I know of him.

When I first came to Singapore in 1983, there were a few (unconfirmed) stories circulating about him: he was supposed to be unpopular with the Chinese community for agreeing, as Chairman of Nanyang University Council, to its absorption into NUS, and the government was supposedly out to "get" him for one thing or another. This soon changed: in 1987 UOB was given permission by the stock exchange to take over Industrial and Commercial Bank, and everyone who talked about it agreed that this would not have been possible if Mr Wee was someone the government was trying to "get". The course of events illustrates a number of aspects of the Singapore system.

In addition to UOB, Mr Wee's family company also controls through various corporate channels major listed property/hotel companies UOL, UIC, Singapore Land, Haw Par, Hotel Plaza, Hotel Negara, and until its recent divestment to the Indonesial Lippo group, OUE. The building up of this conglomerate occurred gradually. Haw Par, for example, was originally under the Aw family that owned the Singtao newspaper group and other businesses in Hongkong, and used to have several newspapers in Singapore and Malaysia. Long before my arrival in Singapore this old conglomerate broke up, with the newspapers joining the company that eventually became SPH, while the properties and other businesses passed trhough several hands, including some scandal ridden foreign speculators, but eventually ended in the UOB group.

Shortly after my arrival, I began to read about UOB's attempt to take over Goldhill Plaza and some other properties, mortgaged to the bank by their owner family which had problem servicing the loan. Eventually UOL became the owner. UIC/Singapore Land were previously unrelated to UOB, till they went through an expensive merger process that first resulted in Singapore Land becoming a UIC subsidiary, then with the Indonesian Salim (林绍良)group becoming the controlling shareholder of UIC; the Salim group, however, soon invited Mr Wee to join them in running UIC, and later sold its shareholdings to the Philippines's Gogongwee group, leaving the UIC/SingLand in the UOB stable.

During the same period, a number of smaller banks, ICB the largest among them, became part of UOB. This was also the period when Keppel Bank took over Tat Lee, and was a few years later itself taken over by OCBC. However, in 2001 occurred UOB's major coup: shortly after the OCBC-Keppel Bank merger, DBS made a takeover offer for OUB, with the support of its then CEO Peter Seah but apparently without the prior clearance of OUB's major shareholder, the Lien family, which preferred to sell out to UOB instead. OUE, Hotel Negara and several other significant businesses all became part of the UOB group.

And all this expansion was taking place under the shadow of new MAS regulations that, when first announced, was believed to be aimed at causing the break up of the UOB group: banks were forbidden from owning more than 10% of any non-financial businesses, meaning that UOB had to divest major parts of its property and hotel stakes. In addition, a business linked to a bank can only own up to 2% of the bank's shares. Previously, the various UOB subsidiaries owned significant percentages of the bank's shares, so that, added to the family company's percentages and other allies', help to provide majority control. Yet, through a number of steps over several years, including distribution of shares of subsidiaries to bank's own shareholders, share buybacks by the bank itself, and selling of some of the shares to the family company, Mr Wee was able to retain control of everything except for OUE.

I am not privvy to the various inside machinations. All I know is, as an opportunity to take over something comes up, Mr Wee was there to take it, and somehow has not suffered any problem of over extending himself or dilution of control that others fell victim to. I saw him rise and rise but do not know how he did it. I am not sure anyone else understood it all either.

where is Peter Seah? where is David Lim? if your answer is "who?", I would not be surprised - once big shot CEOs, they have become almost unknown, except to the few people with long (actually not that long - just a few years) memory

Peter Seah is actually still in Singapore's senior business circle, as Chairman of the ST Engineering Group and CEO of ST Private Limited which is (as its website says, whatever that means) the operating headquarter of the ST Group; I would guess the headquarter is just another name for the Board of Directors, and its CEO means basically the same as Board Chairman. He is also a director of Capitaland, a government link real estate company. I could not find information on the web about David Lim in the Singapore business circle at all.

Peter Seah was the CEO of Overseas Union Bank (maybe you never heard of that either?), controlled by the Lien family - I do not know why Lien brought in an outsider instead of handing over to a family heir the way UOB did; in 2001 he was going along with the plan of DBS, the government linked bank, to take over OUB, but Lien decided to sell out to UOB instead, thus making Seah's position untenable. He then moved over to ST and became all but invisible.

David Lim's history was even more interesting: he was a civil servant and want sent to manage the Suzhou Industrial Park (you might like to read my short story

that covers the topic peripherally); since the project was  praised as a great success, he was due for a high reward, and became a cabinet minister; after few years he left politics and became CEO of Neptune Oriental Lines, but stayed only for a couple of years, after which he became less than invisible.

So what went wrong? Maybe this is not the right question to ask; maybe the question was what went right before that...