Warren Buffett, founder and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and Forbes magazine’s third richest person in the world, announced in a letter to the board of trustees that he is resigning his position as a life trustee of Grinnell College. Buffett joined the board of trustees in 1968. Berkshire Hathaway elaborated on the rationale for Buffett’s resignation in a statement to the Scarlet and Black.
“Recently, Mr. Buffett has decided to resign from all boards not directly relating to Berkshire. Over a fifty-year period Mr. Buffett was on 19 different outside boards and not long ago was on five. Now he limits himself to the Berkshire board. At 81, Mr. Buffett has decided it is most productive for him to commit his time and efforts to items directly relating to Berkshire. He also remains committed to the time he spends on his philanthropic efforts.”
George Drake, former Grinnell President and Professor of History, said Buffett joined the board after encouragement from his friend Joe Rosenfield ’25. “Warren was the architect of our endowment,” said Drake, recalling that Buffett initially served on the Budget Committee and the Investment Committee, and as time went on reduced his role solely to investment.
Despite his long service, Buffett’s first college loyalty was never to the scarlet and black.
“He bleeds ‘big red,’” said Drake, noting Buffett’s support for the University of Nebraska. “He once told me, ‘I don’t particularly care about Grinnell College. Joe Rosenfield asked me to do this, and I’ll do anything for Joe Rosenfield,’” Drake said.
“In fact he thought we [Grinnell] were kind of a strange place.”
After serving on the board for nearly 20 years, Buffett was named a life trustee in 1987. Susan Schoen, Secretary of the College, explained that a life trustee “is automatically a category where they [life trustees] aren’t as active because of what’s going on with their own careers or what’s going on with their own lives.” Buffett’s role with the board shrank more following the death of Joe Rosenfield in 2000.
Buffett, known as the “Oracle of Omaha,” presides over a corporate empire that includes GEICO Auto Insurance, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation, and more than a 20-percent holding in the Washington Post Company. In recent weeks, he has played a large role in the growing battle over the future of the middle-class and the fairness-gap between Main Street and Wall Street. In mid-August Buffett penned an op-ed in the New York Times entitled, “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich.” Buffett observed that under the current tax code, he pays a lower tax rate than his middle-class employees. President Obama named his recent policy proposal, which would require millionaires to pay the same tax rate as the middle-class Americans, the “Buffett Rule.”
While some members of the Grinnell community may be disappointed with Buffett’s departure, perhaps the trustee they should focus on missing is Joe Rosenfield.
“He decided that his role would be to build the endowment, and he would do whatever it took to find the advice and the money to do that,” Drake said. “Warren was the key linchpin to that process…Once again it all comes back to Joe Rosenfield, the critical trustee for the college.”