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D.F. Krause
  D.F.'s Column Archive
May 10, 2006
Country Warren and the Capitalist Fish

Oh, catch that buzz. Dough is the drug I’m thinking of.


Berkshire 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.”


Oh wait. 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.


What an 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.


Students 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.


Ah. 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:


For God’s sake, stop!!


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.


These 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.


Ah, you say, but what about Bono? He goes around and speaks to Economic Clubs about Africa. He meets with the president. People take him seriously, D.F.


Yeah. 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 taken seriously.


Which 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.


For 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.


Erstwhile 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.


Now, all 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.


But Carly, you stay in your seat. No, you’re going up there on stage. No, you’re going near the microphone. OH, DEAR GOD . . .


The H-P 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 business.


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.


People are 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 have to.


© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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