Very few people know the richest man on earth, billionaire Warren Buffett, better than his daughter, Susan Buffett.
She takes part in a portrait of the financial genius, HBO’s “Becoming Warren Buffett,” which premieres Monday at 10 p.m.
In the documentary, Susan, who was named after her mother and goes by Susie, provides a lot of intimate details about her parents, growing up in the family’s Omaha home, and what drove her father to give away a large chunk of his fortune to charitable causes, including her children’s charity, the Sherwood Foundation.
But despite Warren’s reputation for being frugal and highly opinionated about investing money, Susie said finances were rarely spoken about in the Buffett home. In fact, she said she had no idea how rich her father was until her late teens.
“My parents never talked about money. They didn’t fight about it at all, either,” Susie recently told Business Insider. “It was nonexistent, really, except that my brothers and I got a weekly allowance. We never got the lessons I think some kids get – you know, you can spend this much and you should save the nickel or whatever. None of that went on.”
Susie said there are a lot of aspects of her father that people often get wrong.
Here are five misconceptions about Warren Buffett, according to his daughter:
Warren Buffett wasn’t as stingy about donating to charity in the early years as his critics have said.
Before his large gift to several charities and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last year, Warren was ridiculed by critics for not giving money to charity. Susie said she believes this is a side effect of her father’s belief in investing for the long haul.
“His theory, of course, was that he was good at making money and there would be a lot more to give away if he could keep making it,” she said.
But she said her parents had been giving back to the community for decades. They just weren’t tooting their own horn.
“My mother was quietly giving a lot away,” she said. “She started a scholarship program, actually, when I was in high school. It was only a couple kids a year, but she started as soon as there was some money there to give away.
“Neither of them have ever been the type to look for any recognition when they were doing philanthropic things. And it was certainly my mother doing it more than my dad at that point. And so I think there was a little more happening than people realize.”
Warren Buffett is more generous with his children than people give him credit for.
“I actually agree with his philosophy of not dumping a bunch of money on your kids. And, by the way, my dad gets a bad rap for that,” Susie told Business Insider. “He has been much more generous than people are aware. I feel extremely grateful to have the parents I had and for what they’ve given us. But certainly, he’s not going to leave us $50 billion and shouldn’t. It would be crazy to do anything like that.”
Warren’s decision in 2016 to give much of his fortune to charity partly benefits foundations created by his children.
While Susan Buffett is credited with influencing her husband’s departure from the Republican Party, she grew up Republican as well.
“My mother, by the way, grew up Republican, too. And nobody knows that. That’s a funny thing,” Susie told Business Insider.
At one point, Susie recalled, her maternal grandfather ran the election campaign of her paternal grandfather, Howard Buffett.
“The only time my grandpa Buffett lost,” she said. In all, Howard served four terms in Congress.
It wasn’t an easy transition when Warren Buffett began living with Astrid Menks while still married to his wife.
- Scott Olson/Getty Images
In “Becoming Warren Buffett,” the family speaks about how thankful they were that Astrid Menks stepped into their father’s life after their mother moved out in the early 1980s – though she never divorced Warren.
Susie said it wasn’t as seamless as it appeared.
“There were absolutely growing pains,” she said. “I knew Astrid before my parents did. So, yeah, that’s a strange little part of it. It was very funny. My problem with it at the time was that I am very close to my dad, and, as my mother says in the film, he can’t find the light switch. I was just worried that he wouldn’t know how to eat, how to cook any food. He just doesn’t know how to function, except go to work.
“I think it’s fair to say I was a little bit mad at my mother about leaving. I didn’t quite get why she was leaving,” she said. “I was concerned about him being able to function in the normal world.”
Susie said she moved back home to Omaha for a month because she worried about her father.
“I had some trouble with it, for sure,” she said of Astrid moving in. “My mother and I had many talks over the years about it, and my understanding certainly evolved over the years and changed. And I totally got it eventually.”
Warren Buffett doesn’t stockpile his favorite soda, Coke, nor does he get it for free or at wholesale price because he’s Coca-Cola’s biggest shareholder.
- REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Though Warren has said he drinks roughly five cans of Coke every day, Susie joked that her father “doesn’t have a room dedicated to” storing the drink. He does have an old-fashioned soda fountain for the drink at the office for his holdings company, Berkshire Hathaway.
And just in case people thought that being Coca-Cola’s biggest shareholder means Warren gets free drinks, Susie said Warren pays retail for it.
“It was stockpiled more when my mother lived there,” Susie said, “probably because she figured it was cheaper to buy a whole big bunch at once than to go into the grocery store frequently. Astrid is more likely to try to find out where it’s on sale and buy it on sale.”