—The cost to dine with investor Warren Buffett has apparently spiked in value, with one deep-pocketed bidder forking over nearly $3.5 million during a charity auction Friday night.
The annual auction for a private lunch with the Nebraska billionaire closed following a flurry of activity in the final hours. In the end, the highest bid was a record-breaking $3,456,789.
The auction benefits the Glide Foundation, which helps the homeless in San Francisco. Buffett has raised more than $11.5 million for the group in 13 past auctions. The event provides a significant portion of Glide’s roughly $17 million annual budget that pays for social services to the poor and homeless.
“We just had a most amazing, shocking experience occur in our great city,” Glide’s founder, the Rev. Cecil Williams, said in a statement Friday night. “We are shouting, dancing, rejoicing and celebrating.”
The organization said Friday’s winner bidder wished to remain anonymous. Williams said 10 people actively engaged in bidding.
Buffett became one of the world’s richest men while building Berkshire Hathaway into a conglomerate. But he says most of the questions he gets at the lunches aren’t about investing.
Warren Buffett’s lunch auction, an annual fundraiser for the Glide Foundation in San Francisco, raised a record $3.46 million as online bidding nearly tripled the price in the last minute of the week long event.
The auction on EBay Inc.’s website attracted 106 bids. The winner, who wasn’t immediately identified, and seven companions get to dine with Buffett at the Smith & Wollensky steakhouse in New York. Bidding stood at $1.23 million about 30 seconds before the auction ended last night, according to EBay.
The event has brought in more than $14.6 million in 13 years for Glide, which serves meals to the needy and runs a church in San Francisco’s blighted Tenderloin district. The billionaire investor was introduced to the Rev. Cecil Williams, the founder of Glide, by his first wife, Susan Buffett, a volunteer for the charity who died in 2004.
“We met at Glide,” Williams, 82, said of Buffett at a gathering to watch auction results last night in San Francisco. “He just said, ‘I haven’t seen anything like this.'”
Buffett is chairman and chief executive officer of Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc. He earned his fortune and reputation investing in out-of-favor stocks, transforming his firm from a failing textile mill into a $200 billion seller of insurance, energy and freight hauling. He has pledged almost all of his wealth to charity.
“I was suspicious when I heard my wife raving about this place in San Francisco,” Buffett, 81, said in a video posted on the auction website. “What I witnessed was an institution and an individual that really never gave upon nobody. They took the people that the rest of the world had forgotten, people who’d given up on themselves, and they felt that every human being had a potential.”
The past two auctions were won by Ted Weschler, who was subsequently hired by Buffett last year to help oversee Berkshire’s investments.
Glide Lunch With Warren Buffett Results:
Year Winner Winning Bid 2000 Anonymous $25,000 2001 Anonymous $18,000 2002 Anonymous $25,000 2003 David Einhorn $250,100 2004 Jason Choo $202,100 2005 Anonymous $351,100 2006 Yongping Duan $620,100 2007 Mohnish Pabrai, Guy Spier, Harina Kapoor $650,100 2008 Zhao Danyang $2,110,100 2009 Salida Capital $1,680,300 2010 Ted Weschler $2,626,311 2011 Ted Weschler $2,626,411 2012 Anonymous $3,456,789
Buffett’s business brilliance and remarkable record of investment success as Berkshire’s chairman and chief executive is a big part of the draw for bidders, though he won’t talk about potential investments.
And Buffett has also made a mark on the world of philanthropy, so past winners of the lunch have also wanted to discuss giving. Buffett has slowly given away his fortune since 2006, and he plans to eventually divide most of his shares of Berkshire stock between five charitable foundations. The largest chunk will go to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Buffett and Gates have also been encouraging other wealthy people to give away at least half of their fortunes. Nearly 80 of the nation’s wealthiest families have signed the pledge.
The Glide auction’s winners traditionally dine with Buffett at New York’s Smith and Wollensky steak house. The restaurant donates at least $10,000 to Glide each year to host the auction lunch.
Source: Glide and EBay
—With assistance from Zachary Tracer in New York.
To contact the reporter on this story: Vivek Shankar in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.