Monday, July 03, 2006

Buffett and Gates

EI just posted my take on Buffett's donation in response to a poster on the Silicon Investor website:

"Why are you so suspicious? Gates got to be the richest person on Earth. So once you've done that what's the point in accumulating more billions (by selling MSFT stock and investing in other stuff). So you move on to plan two: Create the world's largest charitable foundation. Yes you do get a massive tax deduction so you never pay tax on your income for the rest of your life. Best of both worlds!

Buffett is more interesting. He stopped short of overtaking Gates - he realizes though that in dollar numbers he will never reach in his lifetime the level that Gates reached when MSFT stock was at its peak. The next move is more interesting - he has exchanged the option of making the Buffett Foundation bigger than the Gates one for outsourcing the job and not having to run a foundation - just sit on the board - so he can keep doing what he wants which is running Berkshire.

There is no point I think in giving billions (rather than millions) to your children unless you want them to retain control of your firm. In Gates case he was a minority shareholder anyway - though the biggest. So this wasn't going to be an option. In Buffett's case this ain't going to happen. His three children dropped out of college and aren't interested. They will now have plenty of charity to manage.

OTOH in Australia where there are no inheritance taxes you don't see this happening. Recently the wealthiest Australian resident, Kerry Packer, died. His son was already an executive in the family and public firms. He is now CEO and the shares primarily passed to him, so he is now the wealthiest Australian. Murdoch seems to have struggled with this. Though he is a US citizen now and even transferred the News Corp listing to NY. Will be interesting to see what the eventual outcome is there. Currently the inheritance will be divided among his various children. The News share structure is complex like Berkshires with voting and non-voting shares."

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