Warren Buffett's life lessons to his children

Howard Buffett said it's important to surround yourself with good people

Despite growing up with more privilege than most, Warren Buffett's children were expected to address injustice in society and to try and support those who did not have the same opportunities they had.

It was just one of the many lessons the Berkshire Hathaway CEO instilled in his three children – and it stuck.

Howard Buffett has carried out a mission to do just that throughout his life, not only as a sheriff in Macon County, Illinois, but heading the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, one of the largest private charitable foundations in the U.S. that has been dedicated to improving the quality of life for the world’s most impoverished and marginalized populations since the late 1990s. 


"My brother and sister and I grew up in a home where we were aware of a lot of things, our parents talked about those things," Howard Buffett told FOX Business. "As a result, we were expected to do everything we could to address anything that we saw in our lifetime that we thought was unfair, unjust…. try to level the playing field and support people who did not have the same opportunities that we had." 

Howard G. Buffett

Howard G. Buffett, chairman and CEO of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, speaks onstage during the 2019 Concordia Annual Summit on Sept. 23, 2019, in New York City. (Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit / Getty Images)

During his stint as a sheriff, Buffett recalled walking into homes with "horrendous living conditions," including instances in which children were neglected and had not eaten in days. With his foundation, Buffett comes face to face with "such injustice in some countries," severe starvation and the displacement of thousands of refugees because of conflict.

His attention right now is on assisting Ukraine in fighting Russia by committing to spending half of the foundation's funding on the country. However, he has been on the ground in several war-torn communities, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo or the Sudan, to help them improve food security, conflict mitigation as well as combat human trafficking and public safety for decades. 


Many of these goals are daunting, and Buffett admitted that it will be impossible to achieve some of them, such as global hunger. 

Warren Buffett, Howard G. Buffett

Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., left, listens as his son Howard Buffett, president of Buffett Farms Inc., speaks during an interview in New York, on Oct. 22, 2013. (Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

"This is where my pessimism and optimism kind of collide. We'll never solve global hunger. It isn't going to happen. That's a fact," he said. "Then you have to be optimistic enough to think that, OK, but I can have an impact on it. And I can certainly have an impact in certain areas."

Buffett said one of the things his dad told him and his siblings was to "stay within your circle of competence, but always challenge yourself," he said.

Howard Buffett

First Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Yuliia Svyrydenko and Howard G. Buffett attend a press tour in the Zhytomyr Region of northern Ukraine. (Kirill Chubotin / Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

He was also reminded that failure was an important part of success. 


"That's also something that my dad taught me is you can't be scared to fail," he said. "The way you're going to get the really good things done is because you have failed and you've learned what not to do, and you've learned what to do, and you've learned how to do it better." 

One of the lessons Buffett is now instilling in others is to treat others the way you want to be treated and to surround yourself with good people.

Howard G. Buffett Foundation

Cooks are preparing dishes for Kharkiv residents on the Food Train in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Nov. 24, 2023. The autonomous Food Train, built and maintained by the Ukrainian Railways and financed by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, set out from Kyiv to (Ukrinform/NurPhoto via Getty Images / Getty Images)

"My dad always said, you can't do a good deal with a bad guy," Buffett recalled. 

If you have "people around you that aren't working, that don't have the same goals and don't have the same agenda, they don't have the same values or principles, you have to get rid of them," he added. 

Buffett made it clear that the foundation's team is dedicated to the work it does.

"I tell our staff all the time, think of the opportunity you have. We're spending hundreds of millions of dollars and trying to actually change some things in the world. Not everybody gets to do that."