Interview by Mirela Sula
Many people fear losing their jobs at this time of crisis. Yet many others are taking actions and creating new opportunities for themselves by starting their own business. We have interviewed Mary Buffett, the former daughter-in-law of the renowned billionaire investor Warren Buffett, to give us her nuggets of wisdom for the readers of Start Up Today Magazine. There are many things you can take away from this conversation, but especially when you are serious to grow your business, Mary emphasises:
Do something you love doing or are interested in.
Make a 5-year plan. Keep overhead very low and do everything you can
to let people know about what you are offering…
Can you tell us about your beginnings in your journey of growing your business?
I did what I enjoyed, and was good at doing it. Eventually, it turned into more of a business rather than a hobby. Then I was able to get paid for my opinions and my time by helping other businesses.
You were married to Peter Buffett – the youngest son of Warren Buffett for 12 years. Please tell us about that period in your life.
It was a wonderful period. I only knew that his father owned See’s Candy and Blue Chip Stamps. But having lived in Beverly Hills, most people’s fathers’ owned businesses. When I met Peter, he was a struggling musician. I had already been involved for over ten years or more in the music industry as a songwriter, singer, producer, manager, eventually worked for Hugh Hefner’s Music Publishing Companies, Playboy Music, as their managing director. I was 19 at that time. I went into other businesses after that, including skateboards. The movie “Dog Town” was made about that period of time, and with some of the skateboarders that were signed to our company, including Alva Skates. During that period, Peter’s sister, Susie, wanted me to meet and help her brother in the music business. When we met, I was a single mom with twin daughters. We all fell in love: especially the girls and Peter! I visited him in San Francisco, and we decided I would manage his career and recording studio. Soon we would marry, and he adopted both of our daughters. They are the only children he has.
As Warren became more and more known to the world, it was much more than I bargained for being attached to the richest man in America. I was however very close with Peter’s mother Susie, who lived a few blocks from us in San Francisco. We moved to Milwaukee Wisconsin in 1990 and our lives changed. The girls and I moved back to California and Peter stayed in Milwaukee. We divorced in 1993.
In one of your presentations you emphasise that: “The long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it will transform and realign the American retail and service economy. It will be a difference unlike any of the past crises that Americans have ever experienced. Can you share more insight on this topic?
Well, it already has put many restaurants out of business. Very few people are going out like they used to and all businesses are feeling the loss of people coming into stores shopping etc. We are all just going out for the bare necessities, food shopping etc.
You also mention that most of street businesses are not as capitalised and lack the marketing heft of their national competitors. – What do we need to know about marketing at this time of crisis?
As I mentioned, with very few people going out like they used to, many businesses don’t have the volume of customers. Marketing a special value you have or specific food/meals if you are a restaurant would help. Instead of just marketing your business, focus on one or two things that make you special.
Many people have lost their jobs and they may be searching to start their own business – what would you suggest to them?
Do something you love doing or are interested in. Make a 5-year plan. Keep overhead very low and do everything you can to let people know about what you are offering. Having your own business, means you can usually work
from home, which means you can work many hours and doing research once things are closed.
You have created “Buffett Online School” – Can you tell us more about this initiative?
Buffett Online School was developed initially for the Asian market. There were so many countries I visited to carry out speaking engagements. An Online School seemed to offer the opportunity for more people to join. We do a monthly webinar talking about all things financial. We have many countries that are listening.
According to you, what are the main financial challenges that people are facing at this time of crisis?
Paying rent or mortgage, and buying food.
What would be the best advice you would give to people who have just started their own business?
Do as much work as you can without having to hire other people. If you need help, hire by the hour. Use your home if you can. Keep all costs at the minimum.
What is the feeling when your creation – which the author often sees even with a critical eye – turns into a bestseller?
I couldn’t believe it! But I was very happy that people were interested in learning how to invest as a value investor.
How is your relationship today with writing, and when will you be back with another bestseller book?
I write monthly Newsletters on my site – marybuffett.com. They are also available on Facebook and LinkedIn. I am thinking about another book soon.
What advice would you give for any woman who is new as a public speaker, or has a goal to appear on the big stages globally? (Beyond the Covid-19 pandemic).
To be yourself. Try to give personal experiences that others will relate to. Consider your audience as if they were just a room full of people; no matter how many there are.
In your opinion, how does financial independence empower a woman?
It’s everything. Even if you are married or sharing living costs with someone, you should always have some of your own money on the side; either to invest or to help if you’re out of work, divorcing, medical expenses, etc. To be able to hire professionals, you may need the likes of an attorney.
What advice would you give to women who want to be like you in their career or business journey?
I have worked in some fashion since I was 15 years old. I learned from each person I worked for and used those qualities for my own business. I never thought about starting a business. I would be working full time, only coming up with a business later in life.
Behind the woman in business, how is Mary as a mother – can you tell us some details about your family life?
I believe your family is the most important thing in life. I know many wealthy people who are very sad and lonely.
Your family should be first. I spend a lot of time with my children and grandson. It’s important to celebrate holidays together, cook together and try to do simple things like go to the park or beach outing. I am with my children at least once or twice a week. Fortunately, they live in the same area as I do.