On a sunny March Friday seven years ago, I found myself in the basement of Kiewit Plaza, a modest office building located at the corner of Farnam and South 36th Street in downtown Omaha, Nebraska.
My family and I had been in town for the adoption of our third son, and after nearly a month in the city, I was in desperate need of a haircut. The clerk at our hotel directed me to a simple, small subterranean two-chair barbershop. I soon realized it was located in the headquarters of Berkshire Hathaway, the investment firm made famous by billionaire Warren Buffett.
The 81-year-old Stan Dosekal greeted me warmly. In the midst of cutting my hair, he mentioned he was also Warren Buffett’s longtime barber, jokingly adding he was the secret to the Oracle of Omaha’s success.
Dosekal went on to talk about how down to earth Buffett was, evidenced not only by his $12 haircuts but also by the fact that despite his billions of dollars in assets, Buffett still lived in the same house he and his wife purchased in 1958.
I’ve long been fascinated by people like Warren Buffett – especially those seemingly unaffected by fame and fortune.
But I’ve also been intrigued when people like Buffett who are born and raised in conservative circles grow up to embrace very liberal philosophies – especially when it was those same foundational ideals that paved their road to later success.
Buffett eschews political labels, but he’s been very vocal in the past supporting both liberal politicians and policies, especially advocating for higher taxes for the rich.
This from a man who took a $35 deduction on his first income tax return in 1944 for his bicycle, which he used to deliver newspapers.
Berkshire Hathaway’s founder hailed from a decisively traditional and conservative Nebraska family. His father, Howard Buffett, was a 4-term Republican congressman. The family attended a Presbyterian Church. Warren Buffett has since described himself as agnostic.
By contrast, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ upbringing was decisively unconventional but he, too, benefited from growing up surrounded by traditionally conservative ideals. Born to a teenage mother who eventually divorced his biological father, Bezos’ mother, Jacklyn Gise, remarried a Cuban refugee named Miguel Bezos. Bezos had arrived in America at age 16 wearing a hand-sewn coat made from rags.
After marrying Jeff’s mother, Bezos enthusiastically adopted his new stepson, instilling in him the same grit and determination that propelled his emigration to America.
Bezos’ Texas grandparents also made a big impression on him. Spending summers on their ranch, Bezos remembers repairing windmills, vaccinating cattle and doing other types of chores. It was on that Texas ranch that Bezos learned the value of hard work.
Prior to launching Facebook from his Harvard dormitory, Mark Zuckerberg was raised in a Reform Jewish household. His father, Ed, was a dentist whose wife, Donna, worked tirelessly running the family clinic.
Like the Buffetts, the Zuckerbergs lived frugally, choosing to live well below their means.
Together the Zuckerbergs raised four children, suspending some of their own dreams in order to allow their kids to chase theirs.
“You have to encourage them to pursue their passions,” Mark’s father once said. “And you have to spend more time on them than you spend on anything else.”
Though separated by multiple generations, one of the common threads running through Buffett’s, Bezos’ and Zuckerberg’s professional successes are the foundationally conservative cultures of their youths – childhoods that prepared them in ways no socialist culture ever could or ever would.
It’s interesting to me that billionaires who benefited from an American culture that promoted, highlighted, encouraged and promulgated traditional ideals – values like hard work, initiative, individual responsibility and delayed gratification – would enthusiastically embrace a political ideology that stands in stark contrast to those hallmarks of conservatism.
By the way, the last I heard, Stan Dosekal, now 88, is still cutting 89-year-old Warren Buffett’s hair, as well as working out regularly at Omaha’s Pinnacle Fitness Club – proving the late President Theodore Roosevelt’s observation correct: “Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you’ve got to start young.”