Once a year, one lucky (and wealthy) person gets to have a one-on-one lunch with billionaire Warren Buffett. The winning bids have gone as high as $3.5 million, all to benefit the San Francisco-based charity called the Glide Foundation.
Bidding, which closes Friday, passed $370,000 with 51 bids as of today.
Berkshire Hathaway CEO Buffett has auctioned off the lunch via eBay for the past 12 years. The highest winning bid of $3.5 million went to an anonymous person in 2012. An anonymous bidder won last year with $1,000,100. The lowest winning bid was $18,000 in 2001, before the auction moved online through eBay.
We asked four past winners whether the most expensive lunch of their lives was worth it and here's what they had to say:
Money manager Mohnish Pabrai of Pabrai Investment Funds, his wife, Harina Kapoor, and their children had lunch with Buffett at Smith & Wollensky's in New York in 2008. Pabrai of Irvine, California, and his best friend, Guy Spier, paid $650,100 in the 2007 eBay auction benefiting Glide.
Pabrai called the lunch a "priceless" experience that "widely exceeded expectations."
"If you were living at the time of Ben Franklin, Einstein, Gandhi or Teddy Roosevelt and had the opportunity to bribe them and sit down for a meal, would you do it? I think Buffett will go down in history in the same way. I just found it interesting that he happens to be alive while I’m alive and is willing to take a bribe and sit down for a meal," Pabrai, 49, said jokingly to ABC News today.
Pabrai shared three pieces of Buffett's advice that he says have affected his life and that of his family:
1. Follow an "inner scorecard."
Pabrai recalls: "He said, 'You can live your life in two ways: with an outer scorecard – in which you care what other people think, or you can live your life with an inner score card.' He asked, 'Would you prefer to be greatest lover in the world but known as the worst, or would you prefer to be the worst lover in the world, but be known as greatest?'
"Warren is completely and totally 'inner scorecard.' He doesn't care what other people think of many of his decisions and facets of his life. He does what he thinks is the right thing to do, even if, in the short term, it’s unpopular.
"It’s documented in books about him, but I sense that this inner-outer scorecard attribute is very important to him. It’s an important trait he cares a lot about, and it has a huge impact on your life and how successful you are," Pabrai said.
Pabrai also said lunch with Buffett, 83, has paid other dividends, including leading to a lunch with Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman Charles Munger and annual invitations to Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire Hathaway events.
"I think that’s all part of his effort. He enjoys the lunch and he wants the people who bid that they got the better end of the deal," Pabrai said.
2. Don't be in a rush to get rich.
Pabrai said Buffett takes innocuous questions and turns them into "learning opportunities," which, in turn, has helped Pabrai become a better investor.
During the lunch, Pabrai asked what had happened to Buffett's former investing colleague, Rick Guerin, who, along with Munger, worked with Buffett in their early business days. Buffett talked about Guerin's high-risk investments that collapsed in the 1970s and forced him to sell his shares of Berkshire Hathaway.
"Warren went one step further. He said, 'Charlie [Munger] and I always knew we would get very rich. But we were not in a hurry. We knew we would get rich eventually. But Rick [Guerin] was in a hurry.' He went one step further behind that and said, 'Even if you are slightly above-average as an investor and spend less than what you earn, you can’t help but get wealthy in your lifetime.'"
Pabrai said that conversation was "seared in his psyche so strongly."
"It illustrated to me that Warren's inner scorecard – the issue of not being in a hurry and being very patient is very core to who he is," Pabrai said.
Pabrai said Buffett made clear at the start of the lunch that he had no other engagements and was willing to spend as much time with his guests as they liked. After three hours, it was Pabrai who ended the meal.
3. The most important decision of your life.
"Warren told my daughters, who were 10 and 12 at the time, that the single most important decision they’ll make in their lives was who they will marry."
As teenagers today, Pabrai's daughters still bring up Buffett's advice to him, which Pabrai said he appreciates as a father.
"I say, 'That’s good.' Keep that advice front and center at that age," Pabrai said.
Pabrai said his younger daughter encapsulated Buffett the best.
"I wasn’t sure what the kids would think about three hours with Warren, though I’m a big fan. I asked my younger daughter her impression maybe 10 minutes after the lunch," Pabrai said.
"She said, 'He’s just a kid.' I think that’s the absolute best way to describe Warren. That is a key thing about him versus other humans. Most of us, as we grow up, we lose absolute innocence and fearlessness that we have as six year olds. We lose that. Warren still has that. He says he still only eats what he ate when he was five years old."
"In the way he goes on about life -- the many facets -- he has the innocence of a kid and the enthusiasm as a kid," Pabrai said.
Guy Spier, manager of Aquamarine Fund in Zurich, Switzerland, and his wife joined Pabrai and his family over lunch with Buffett in 2008.
“The most important thing I got from that lunch was learning Warren Buffett was not marching to anyone else’s tune. He was marching to the sound of his own drummer,” Spier, 48, told ABC News. “He wouldn’t do one thing to increase the value of Berkshire Hathaway if it wasn’t aligned with who he was.”
Though Berkshire Hathaway is one of the most successful companies in the world, Spier said he was impressed that Buffett “wasn’t willing to sacrifice himself for it.”
“He has a very strong ‘inner scorecard,’ much stronger than mine would ever be,” Spier said, adding that Buffett’s “incredible mind” was something to behold in person, as opposed to watching him on television or at a large Berkshire Hathaway gathering.
Spier also said he had to “see him in action” to understand how “futile” it was to try to be a version of Buffett.
Six months after meeting Buffett for lunch, Spier said he made major life decisions, including letting go of a large portion of his staff and leaving New York City to move to Zurich.
“I hit a massive reset button in my life,” said Spier, who describes further how the lunch affected his life in an upcoming book called “The Education of a Value Investor,” out in September by publisher Palgrave Macmillan.
Hedge fund manager Ted Weschler famously received a job offer from Buffett to work at Berkshire Hathaway after winning the auction in 2010 and 2011 for $2.6 million each year.
"Glide is an incredible organization -- my meals with Warren were terrific (and continue to be), but my exposure to Glide was even more impactful," Weschler wrote in an email to ABC News. "Before I participated in the auction I researched Glide, culminating in a half a day with Cecil and [wife] Janice seeing the organization through their eyes. Simply incredible: they give hope and help to those that are most difficult to reach ... while all the while putting themselves at the back of the line. Needless to say, I feel very fortunate to be able to help Cecil, Janice and the entire Glide team."
|Ken Shubin Stein|
Ken Shubin Stein is the manager of Spencer Capital Management, and an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School teaching the Advanced Investment Research Course. He had lunch with Buffett in April 2014 following last year's GLIDE charity auction by the invitation of the winning bidder, Shubin Stein's friend and colleague, who wishes to remain anonymous.
Shubin Stein said he gleaned the following from nearly three hours of lunch sitting next to Buffett:
1. Be happy.
"Buffett is famous for following his 'inner scorecard.' but the nuance that really struck me over lunch was how this process of making decisions has enabled him to both make great decisions in life that are aligned with who he is, his preferences and strengths, and as a result, to be incredibly happy. He exudes happiness and alignment in a way I have not experienced before, and it really hammers home the point that it is a powerfully good idea to lead our lives in a way that makes sense for each of us individually," Shubin Stein said.
Shubin Stein learned to focus on the most important things when making all decisions, both personal and professional.
"Whether it is choosing a spouse, deciding about an investment, or choosing your friends and those you associate with, it is imperative to figure out what the key factors are that success depends on, and focus on getting those right," he said. "For example, with investments, he has talked about the importance of focusing on a company’s business model and its competitive advantages, hoest and able management that is shareholder friendly, and the right price. For friends, he advised picking friends who lift you up in life and make you better."
According to Shubin Stein, Buffett stressed the importance of reading widely.
"Sitting with him it was impossible not to be impressed by his intellect and his curiosity. He strongly engaged with everyone at the lunch and was genuinely interested in what they had to say and where they came from. He is deeply curious about life and loves to read and learn," Shubin Stein said.
Buffett is "very careful about structuring his life so he can spend his time doing what he loves," which often involves reading and talking to interesting people, Shubin Stein said, and he avoids things and people that don’t contribute to his happiness.
"Overall it was inspiring because much of what he does to lead such a great life is accessible to the rest of us," Shubin Stein said.
|Courtenay Wolfe of Salida Capital|
Courtenay Wolfe, formerly of Salida Capital in Toronto, met Buffet after the firm won the 2009 auction with $1.68 million.
As president and CEO of Salida at the time, Wolfe told ABC News today, "Lunch with Warren Buffet was a once in a lifetime experience."
"I highly recommend the opportunity to anyone in the future that is bidding," she said. "The Glide Foundation is also an incredible charity; one of the most impressive I have seen. It is a very worthy cause that has a huge impact.
“I also recommend the winner take the time to go to San Francisco after the lunch to learn about the Glide foundation and all the benefits their winning bid helped fund."
(The Glide Foundation, associated with Glide Memorial United Methodist Church and pastor emeritus Cecil Williams, serves low-income individuals and families in San Francisco.)