The next chairman of the world’s wealthiest holding company will be a corn & beans farmer?

Howard G. Buffett, the middle son of Warren Buffett, is his father’s first choice to succeed him as chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, perhaps the world’s wealthiest holding company, with billions in its portfolio and NYSE shares running in excess of $100,000 a piece.

Howard Buffett appeared on last week’s episode of the CBS news magazine show Sixty Minutes. His qualifications to run Berkshire Hathaway? Is he a boardroom whiz kid and stock picker extraordinaire like his father? No, as reporter Leslie Stahl explains, “Howie” is a corn and beans farmer who works 1500 acres near Decatur, Illinois, and who spends about $50 million a year (based on a $1 billion outlay from Warren for Howard’s foundation) on philanthropic efforts that focus on world hunger and lately, conservation methods in agriculture.

“He likes not only farming, he likes machines,” said Warren Buffett, describing how his son is different from himself. The segment shows Buffett driving his John Deere tractor, using his John Deere combine “no-hands” on autosteer and digging up a corn plant to examine its root system. Warren goes on to say that he wants Howard to be his successor at Berkshire Hathaway because one of Warren’s main worries is that the next one to run the company could abuse its wealth and make it into a personal kingdom, whereas Howard “would add a layer of protection against that…he knows the values of the business.”

When it comes to values, Warren was very careful in his approach to his family. As children Howard and his brother and sister never knew they were a wealthy family. When Howard was starting out in farming, Warren purchased land for his son for $300,000, but then he required Howard pay him rent, so that he would learn the real business, and appreciate its true worth.

The Sixty Minutes story spends some time explaining Howard Buffett’s charitable work, which focuses on farmer education in the third world. The program shows Howard visiting a couple who farm and raise corn in Honduras and have been improving their operation through participation in his educational program there. On his farm visit, just like a farmer or crop consultant here would do, he digs up a plant to look at the health of the root system, cracks an ear of corn in two, and after a thorough examination pronounces that the couple are doing a good job raising the crop. He insists that participants in his program learn accounting and purchase their own seed, in order to assure that even after their participation in the foundation’s program ends, the farmers will be able to continue to use their knowledge, and be independent, in order to prosper.

To view the Sixty Minutes profile of Howard G. Buffett, go to


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