OMAHA, Neb. — The cost to dine with investor Warren Buffett has apparently spiked in value, with one deep-pocketed bidder forking over nearly $3.5 million during a charity auction Friday night.
The annual auction for a private lunch with the Nebraska billionaire closed following a flurry of activity in the final hours. In the end, the highest bid was a record-breaking $3,456,789.
The auction benefits the Glide Foundation, which helps the homeless in San Francisco. Buffett has raised more than $11.5 million for the group in 13 past auctions. The event provides a significant portion of Glide's roughly $17 million annual budget that pays for social services to the poor and homeless.
"We just had a most amazing, shocking experience occur in our great city," Glide's founder, the Rev. Cecil Williams, said in a statement Friday night. "We are shouting, dancing, rejoicing and celebrating."
The organization said Friday's winner bidder wished to remain anonymous. Williams said 10 people actively engaged in bidding.
Buffett became one of the world's richest men while building Berkshire Hathaway into a conglomerate. But he says most of the questions he gets at the lunches aren't about investing.
As in past auctions, the bids didn't reach astronomical levels until close to the end. Within the final hour of the auction's 9:30 p.m. CDT closing, bids jumped from $1 million to the final $3.46 million.
Buffett has supported the San Francisco organization ever since his late first wife, Susan, introduced him Williams. Buffett says Williams is a key reason why Glide has been able to help so many people after the world had given up on them.
"He's changed thousands of lives that would not have been changed otherwise," Buffett said before the bidding closed.
The previous four winning bids have all exceeded $2 million with records set every year. Last year's winner, hedge fund manager Ted Weschler, paid $2,626,411.
In fact, Weschler paid nearly $5.3 million to win both the 2010 and 2011 auctions, and he wound up getting hired by Buffett last year to help manage Berkshire's investment portfolio. Buffett says he doesn't expect to find another new hire through the auction.
Buffett's business brilliance and remarkable record of investment success as Berkshire's chairman and chief executive is a big part of the draw for bidders, though he won't talk about potential investments.
And Buffett has also made a mark on the world of philanthropy, so past winners of the lunch have also wanted to discuss giving. Buffett has slowly given away his fortune since 2006, and he plans to eventually divide most of his shares of Berkshire stock between five charitable foundations. The largest chunk will go to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Buffett and Gates have also been encouraging other wealthy people to give away at least half of their fortunes. Nearly 80 of the nation's wealthiest families have signed the pledge.
The Glide auction's winners traditionally dine with Buffett at New York's Smith and Wollensky steak house. The restaurant donates at least $10,000 to Glide each year to host the auction lunch.
Past winners of the auction have said they believe the time with Buffett was well worth the price they paid in the auction. The lunches often continue for several hours as Buffett answers their questions.
Buffett says many of the questions he gets at the lunches are about nonbusiness subjects such as family and philanthropy.
Buffett's company owns roughly 80 subsidiaries including insurance, furniture, clothing, jewelry and candy companies, restaurants and natural gas and corporate jet firms, and has major investments in such companies as Coca-Cola Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.
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