The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound executive director Norma Schuiteman stepped on to the stage Thursday night at the Kenneth J. Minnaert Center at South Puget Sound Community College, microphone in hand.
Some 250 supporters were there to celebrate the 25-year anniversary of the philanthropic foundation, which ended last year with $16.8 million in assets, triple what it had five years ago.
The foundation has come a long way since its inception in 1989, a nonprofit dedicated to providing financial support for nonprofit groups and college-bound students by managing and allocating money from 75 philanthropic funds. In the past 10 years alone, some $5.5 million have been put to good use.
Schuiteman introduced Peter Buffett, no relation to Jimmy Buffett, but rather the youngest son of the wise old billionaire investor Warren Buffett.
“You may think Peter was born rich — and he was,” she said. “And he made the best of a good situation.”
Schuiteman was referring to the young Buffett’s decision to follow his own artistic dreams, with the full support of his parents. Later in life he has become a full-blown philanthropist, working on behalf of impoverished and enslaved adolescent girls around the world.
As a young boy, Peter Buffett had no idea what his father did for a living. All he knew was that his dad seemed happy.
Buffett, 83, is one of the most widely respected investors of modern times, not to mention one of the richest in the world. Amassing a fortune of more than $60 billion isn’t what was important to his father, then or now, suggested his youngest son.
Peter Buffett, an Emmy award-winning musician and best-selling author, said his father has always enjoyed the competition of investing. “Making money was a scorecard for him,” Buffett said.
And in 2006, the senior Buffett announced he would donate his entire fortune to charity, with most of it going to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It will be the largest act of charitable giving in the United States history.
In 2006, Buffett also allocated $1 billion to each of his three children for charitable work only. This followed like-minded contributions of $10 million in 1999 and $100,000 in 1997.
Peter Buffett, joined by his wife, Jennifer, embraced their roles as philanthropists and co-presidents of the NoVo Foundation, (The name comes from a Latin word that can mean “change”). They’ve used the money to invest in what Buffett calls the most undervalued asset in the world — adolescent girls. They’re tackling tough global issues such as human trafficking and other forms of exploitation and violence against girls and young women.
When provided freedom, education and financial support, girls marry later in life, have fewer children and invest in their own communities at rates far greater than males, Buffett said. They help build stronger, resilient communities.
Buffett’s multi-media message Thursday night was one of equality, love, empowerment and compassion. He was joined in the musical performance by cellist-composer Michael Kott of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“All money is is energy,” he said. “Move it to places it is needed so people can love each other and support each other.”
Buffett, 56, recounted life as a 19-year-old Stanford University student from Omaha, Neb., who loved music and had no idea what he wanted to pursue as a major. That was when he received a check for $90,000 from his father. Unlike the money he received for philanthropy later in life, this was his personal inheritance. No strings attached, do with it as you will, his father told him. But know for certain, this will be your one and only inheritance.
Buffett dropped out of college, moved to San Francisco, turned his apartment into a music studio and went to work as a full-time musician — a pianist, composer and producer.
He was hired by advertising agencies to compose short commercials for such fledgling cable television networks as MTV and CNN. He signed a recording contract with a new age recording company, Narada Productions, then had his first major breakthrough scoring the “Fire Dance” scene in the Oscar-winning movie “Dances With Wolves,” produced and directed by and starring Kevin Costner. He later won an Emmy for best sound track for the 1999 film documentary “Wisconsin: An American Portrait.”
His music portfolio includes 16 albums and 25 singles. He’s also the 2010 author of “Life is What You Make It: Find Your Own Path to Fulfillment,” which has sold some 500,000 copies worldwide.
Buffett credits his parents with giving him the freedom to follow his dreams, to do what he loved, no matter what it was.
He says he’s at peace with the fact that he’s already received his inheritance, and has embraced the role of a global philanthropist, a role made possible by his father’s investing success and largesse.
Oh, and that Berkshire Hathaway stock worth $90,000 when Peter Buffett was 19? It would be worth $100 million today.