Billions to spare, but he's just No. 2

July 21, 1995|By Art Buchwald

THE GOOD news for America is that Forbes magazine has just come out with its list of the 10 richest men in the world -- and the United States has produced Nos. 1 and 2. Bill Gates, who owns Microsoft, is worth $12.9 billion, and Warren Buffett, the Omaha, Nebraska, investor, is listed second with a fortune of $10.7 billion.

I feel so sorry for Warren Buffett.

How would anybody react to coming in second in the "richest men" list and have the whole world snickering? I can't call myself a close friend of Warren Buffett, although I do wear Hathaway shirts, drink Coca-Cola and eat Mrs. See's chocolates -- all products in which Warren Buffett has large investments. But I am sure that he must be hurting over the fact that, wealthwise, he is No. 2. Americans don't like to finish second in anything.

Ten billion dollars is nothing to sneeze at, but it's chicken feed compared with Bill Gates' piggy bank. At this very moment Warren Buffett has to be wondering where he went wrong.

Some may ask what solace, if any, can Warren Buffett take from this list?

Warren Buffett, whose credit card rating is now in question because of the Forbes second-place ranking, still has certain advantages over Bill Gates. Bill Gates has all his dough tied up in software, while Warren Buffett owns Capital Cities/ABC Inc., lTC lot of Salomon Brothers and chunks of newspapers all over the world.

If the bottom falls out of the computer market, Bill Gates' worldly goods would go up in smoke, while Warren Buffett could live on Mrs. See's chocolates for the rest of his life.

A group of us on the porch of the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club recently discussed the advantages of being the No. 1 billionaire and the drawbacks associated with being No. 2.

Stuart Weisberg said, "I have a question. When they go to lunch, does the richest man in the world pay or does the second richest?"

Jim Ayres replied, "The second richest. If Bill Gates picked up the tab, it would look as if he were patronizing Warren Buffett and hinting that Warren couldn't afford it."

"What about the wine?" I asked.

"Since it's Buffett's lunch, he would pick a wine from one of the better vineyards to prove to Gates that as far as he was concerned money was no object," Stuart said.

Jim said, "Would either man bring up his fortune during the discussion?"

The answer from Ken Machlin was firm. "No. One of the unspoken rules of being the richest men in the world is never discuss how much money you have. Multimillionaires do this sort of thing all the time, but billionaires prefer to talk mergers and acquisitions and the odds of the Japanese going broke."

I said, "Despite being friendly in each other's presence, there must be tension between the two men. When you're No. 1, you're always looking over your shoulder to see who is coming up from behind. On the other hand, when you're No. 2, you spend all your time explaining to your family why you failed."

Art Buchwald is a syndicated columnist.

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