May 10, 2006
Country Warren and the
that buzz. Dough is the drug I’m thinking of.
Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett, who can scarcely be distinguished from
Pete Townshend or Country Joe McDonald (I think they’re about the same
age, actually), recently showed up in Omaha to the delight of 20,000
screaming, adoring, question-wielding fans for an event that some goober
described as “Woodstock for capitalists.”
The goober was Buffett himself, who apparently puts himself in the same
category as a hippie, war-protesting, dope-smoking rock star who might –
just might – take off his pants on stage.
event! It started with an animated film in which the lights of society
(think Snoop Dogg and Dick Cheney) compete to develop the invention that
will inspire Country Warren’s next investment. He has $44.7 billion
in cash sitting around, so he needs to invest in something. Why not
a gizmo invented by a cartoon character? Everything else seems to work.
traveled hundreds of miles for the Q&A session, hoping to get a chance
to ask Buffett about Latin American investments, the identity of his
apparently chosen but not-yet-revealed successor – or perhaps about all
those hotel rooms he is rumored to have trashed during his days as lead
guitarist of the Incredible String Band.
Business people who want to be like rock stars. The notion brings to
mind a thought. Would you like to hear it? The thought is this:
There is a
reason Mick Jagger is able to strut around on stage in leather while
people yell and scream for more. There is a reason people love it when
Pete Townshend smashes his guitar. There is a reason David Lee Roth can
show up looking like some sort of leopard/hairless cat crossbreed and
feel the love of the crowd.
people long ago decided to forsake all dignity and make spectacles of
themselves. It was a deal the implications of which they entirely
understood. You stop being a serious human being and start being a
sideshow. The money’s good. You get to travel. You get your pick of
groupies if you’re into that sort of thing. But you want people to take
you seriously about anything other than music or showmanship? Abandon
all hope, ye who enter here.
say, but what about Bono? He goes around and speaks to Economic Clubs
about Africa. He meets with the president. People take him seriously,
Because they want to meet a rock star. When Africa has all that
money Bono wants people to put into it, then talk to me about Bono being
brings us back to Country Warren Buffett and the Fish. Country Warren
not only shows up at an event he dubs “Woodstock for Capitalists,” he
takes the liberty of organizing it. Now, Omaha is not exactly Max
Yasgur’s farm, but he could probably find some mud for his fans to roll
around in. Instead of drugs, they could bring along laptops and do some
day trading. Instead of shocking exhibitionist sex . . . actually, come
to think of it, there’s no need to change everything.
whatever reason, many business people seem to want to sample that deal
that the rock stars have made – the one where they get adulation in
exchange for the forfeiture of their dignity.
Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina seemed not long ago to have the world
at her fingertips. Suddenly, she is prancing around on a stage with Gwen
Stefani, who is brought in for some reason to headline a product launch.
right, if you want Gwen Stefani to help you launch your product,
whatever. Get her up there on stage with your new laser printer and have
her sing about high-resolution color imaging. I don’t know if Gwen has
ever been in an office, but maybe she can sell office machines.
you stay in your seat. No, you’re going up there on stage. No, you’re
going near the microphone. OH, DEAR GOD . . .
board saw it, and it wasn’t long afterward that they showed Carly the
door. They didn’t want a rock star. They wanted someone to run their
Now, no one
is going to fire Warren Buffett. Warren’s the one who does the firing.
But perhaps Warren will notice in Omaha that capitalism really doesn’t
need its own version of Woodstock, just as Lee Iacocca doesn’t need his
own salad dressing, Donald Trump doesn’t need his own TV show and no CEO
ever needs to sing. Ever.
perfectly happy to let their business leaders be boring. Business
leaders would be wise to allow this of themselves. And leave the
prancing to Mick, who sacrificed his dignity long ago so you wouldn’t
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