Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I Didn't Knock on Warren Buffett's Door But Sam Walton Knocked on Mine

We drove by Warren Buffett’s house in Omaha Saturday afternoon (that “we” is not the imperial pronoun. It included Gilda, Ellie, husband Donny and Rachel, Donny’s mother). Buffett doesn't live in a gated or secluded community. He resides in the Dundee neighborhood in a nice but not overly substantial structure. Nothing outlandish to make the neighbors self-conscious about his status as the second richest person in America. Just like any other house in the well-to-do Dundee neighborhood. We resisted the urge to knock on his door.

It wouldn't have phased me if we had knocked and he'd have opened the door. It would have reciprocated for the time the richest man in the world, at the time Sam Walton, woke me up one morning by banging on my condo door.

It was the Sunday of the annual meeting weekend in Bentonville, AR, back in 1981. Stock analysts, the press and Wal-Mart guests were housed in condominiums at nearby Lakes of Bella Vista. Dressed in his tennis whites—Sam had been ranked fifth in the state among amateurs—he mistook my front door for that of the chairman of a Mexican retailer, a company Wal-Mart eventually bought.

Sam profusely apologized for waking me up at 7 am and got back into his beat up pickup truck to search for his tennis partner. He, of course, had been up for several hours. His daily custom was to get into the office early and be out by 6:30 to pilot his small propeller plane to the far reaches of his growing empire of stores.

I consider myself fortunate to have known and even befriended many of the merchant princes of the last half of the 20th century, chief among them Sam Moore Walton.