New bio shows Warren Buffett tough, vulnerable

Fri Sep 26, 2008 3:31pm EDT
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By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - People don't normally associate self-doubt and vulnerability with Warren Buffett. The author of the first authorized biography of the man many consider the world's greatest investor says they ought to.

Alice Schroeder, a former Morgan Stanley insurance analyst, said she spent 2,000 hours with Buffett, amassing 300 hours of recorded interviews, over five years to create "The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life."

The title is from a metaphor Buffett uses to describe the accumulation in life of knowledge and understanding, not just money. Bantam Dell Publishing Group, part of Bertelsmann AG unit Random House Inc, on Monday will release the 960-page book, which is on a short list for the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year award. Reuters obtained an advance copy. Buffett was unavailable for comment.

Schroeder began working on the book in 2003, a year before Buffett's first wife, Susie, died of oral cancer.

"The surprise was his vulnerability," Schroeder said in an interview. "Seeing him weep and suffer and be in real emotional pain -- when I would see him always answer the phone, 'never better,' until this happened -- was the biggest surprise."

His self-doubt, she said, "never relates to his business judgment, but it relates to whether people like him or not, how he's being perceived. He is sensitive to criticism from other people, which he seems to have internalized."

Buffett has built Berkshire Hathaway Inc over 43 years into a $207 billion conglomerate with at least 76 companies selling such things as bricks, car insurance, ice cream, knives, paint and underwear, and owning blue-chip stocks such as Coca-Cola Co and Wells Fargo & Co.

Forbes magazine this month put Buffett's net worth at $50 billion, which would be higher had the 78-year-old not begun to donate most of his wealth to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and family charities.   Continued...

<p>U.S. Investor Warren Buffett listens to a question during a news conference in Madrid May 21, 2008. REUTERS/Andrea Comas</p>