Peter Buffett cites an amusing story about when he decided to drop out of university and pursue a career as a musician.
“In the music industry everyone thought I was the son of Jimmy Buffett,” he says. The Buffett Peter was referring to is a famous American singer-songwriter, known for such hits as “Come Monday” and “Margaritaville” – but no relation to Peter.
No one thought he was the son of Warren Buffett, the world’s most famous investor and one of the richest people on earth.
Of course back then – Peter is 53 – few people outside a select community of investors and Wall Street bankers had heard of his father. “His worldwide fame is a pretty recent phenomenon,” says Peter.
That might also help to explain why Peter comes across as an unassuming man. Indeed, a normal guy – apparently unscathed by being one of the offspring of a super-rich and super-famous father. “We were brought up pretty normally. There weren’t any outward signs of wealth and we thought we were just another middle-class family, living in a suburb of Omaha, [Nebraska].”
His father famously still lives in the same house he bought three decades ago for just over $31,000 (€22,120) – and is known for his frugal lifestyle. He has also pledged his fortune to philanthropic causes when he dies.
Peter went on to establish himself as a successful musician and composer, writing numerous film and TV scores. He says that in the music industry having a parent like Warren was no advantage. “If music people don’t like your music, you don’t get the job.”
But Peter admits that these days the fame of his father does impact on his life. “It’s sometime odd being this exhibit A,” he says. “People ask how does this relationship work exactly.” But Peter reckons the name has been good in terms of public consciousness.
And it has helped with the success of his recently published book, Life is What You Make It: Find Your Own Path to Fulfillment.
A blueprint for how to find your own way in life regardless of your background – and not to rely on inherited wealth to fulfill your life, Peter’s book has been a huge hit in China, where it has sold more than 300,000 copies.
Peter admits he’s rather perplexed about the book’s popularity in a country where the idea, he says, of not passing on your fortune to the next-generation is seen by many as the equivalent of child abuse.
But the book has clearly hit a raw nerve among China’s next-generation, where parental and societal pressure to succeed are huge.
Maybe Warren’s old adage that he would give his kids “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything – but not so much that they could do nothing” is beginning to have more resonance – even among the newly rich in China.