Warren Buffett Resigns From Gates Foundation Board

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by Tyler Durden
Wednesday, Jun 23, 2021 - 11:50 AM

Update (1200ET): In a statement, Bill Gates responded to Warren Buffett's decision to leave the Gates Foundation board by saying he was grateful for all the wisdom and leadership Buffett has shown.

Read the full statement below:

Dear Colleagues,

Today Warren Buffett released a statement sharing his thoughts on his approach to philanthropy as well as announcing his annual gift to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the four Buffett family foundations he also funds. It is a very personal and powerful set of reflections and I encourage you all to read it.

As Warren noted, as he hits the halfway point of giving away his fortune, he has also decided that it is the right time for him to step down from his role as trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, after having served in the role for the past 15 years. However, he is continuing his incredible financial support, and today’s gift is his largest yet, coming in at more than $3.2 billion and bringing his total funding to nearly $33 billion. He said his goals are 100 percent in sync with the foundation.

I know Warren’s departure raises questions about the foundation’s governance. As I have mentioned previously, I have been actively discussing with him, Bill, and Melinda approaches to strengthen our governance to provide long-term stability and sustainability for the foundation’s governance and decision-making in light of the recent announcement of Bill and Melinda’s divorce. I plan to share additional information in July.

But today I would like to take the moment to celebrate Warren’s exceptional contributions to date. The impact of his prodigious generosity is hard to quantify. Even harder to quantify is how his values have permeated the foundation’s culture. I wanted to share statements the co-chairs made today about Warren:

Melinda French Gates
What made Warren’s extraordinary investment in the foundation so meaningful was not only its amount but what it represented: an unwavering belief that everyone deserves to live a healthy, fulfilling life and an optimism that a world like that is possible. I am grateful for Warren’s generosity, his leadership, and his friendship. His wisdom has been a guiding light through our foundation’s second decade, and the things we’ve learned from him will continue to help us chart a way forward.

Bill Gates
More than ten years ago, when we first got word of Warren’s gift to our foundation, we were speechless. It was the biggest single gift anyone had ever given anybody for anything. We were humbled by the trust he placed in us, and determined to work every day to ensure his resources helped improve life for as many people as possible. We will always have a deep sense of accountability to Warren, paying close attention to the data to track our progress and identify areas where we can do better. But the value of Warren’s gift goes beyond anything that can be measured. I am truly grateful for his wisdom and leadership, and most of all for his enduring friendship. Warren will continue to inspire our foundation as we work to fight poverty and help millions of people live healthier lives.

Warren always says his primary aim was to commit his resources to improve the health and welfare of others who have not had the same opportunities and luck he has. His gift has done that and more. It has helped to save literally millions of lives – from the provision of life-saving vaccines to treatments and protection from deadly diseases like HIV, TB, and malaria. His generosity has helped millions of people lift themselves and their families out of extreme poverty globally through our work in agricultural development and financial inclusion and allowed us to deepen and accelerate our work in the United States to advance education opportunities for Black, brown, and low-income students. Through the Giving Pledge, Warren has also worked with Bill and Melinda to encourage more than 200 billionaires to commit to giving away at least half their wealth. The ripple effects are incalculable.

When I became CEO at the beginning of last year, I flew to Omaha to have lunch with Warren and get his advice and guidance. He told me then that my most important job was to guard against the “ABC” risks of decay that all very large organizations face: arrogance, bureaucracy, and complacency. He has consistently pointed out that these risks are even greater for us as the country’s largest philanthropy.

He has urged us to “swing for the fences” and take risks that others cannot – always with the reminder that we should never be displacing private or public capital, but rather complementing it. Since we are not subject to the natural checks of market forces, he has reminded us to watch out for mission creep that takes us away from our core competencies – a caution that underpins my prioritization of robust internal and external checks on our budget and strategy processes to ensure we are always focused on our areas of greatest comparative advantage. And, most importantly, he has urged us to adhere to the highest standards of integrity and transparency.

In this year’s Annual Employee Meeting, Warren talked about the importance of having people in the world that you do not want to disappoint to help guide and focus personal decisions and goals. Warren is and always will be one of those people for me. I am fully committed to following his guidance to ensure we are the best possible stewards of his, Bill, and Melinda’s resources. Together with our amazing partners, I know we will continue to make him proud in the years to come and deliver on our shared vision of a world where everyone has the chance to lead a healthy and productive life.

* * *

In another potential indicator of how public opinion has turned against Bill Gates in the weeks since he and his now ex-wife Melinda Gates disclosed their divorce plans, financier Warren Buffett has resigned as a trustee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Buffett's position on the board was a major PR coup for the foundation, which is one of the world's biggest charitable enterprises.

Buffett, now 90, announced his decision to step down from the Gates Foundation board in a statement that also announced he had reached the halfway point in giving his Berkshire Hathaway shares to charity. Buffett gave away another $4.1 billion in Berkshire shares to give foundations.

In a statement shared with CNBC, Buffett said he was resigning from the Gates Foundation board "just as I have done at all corporate boards other than Berkshire's".

"For years I have been a trustee – an inactive trustee at that – of only one recipient of my funds, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I am now resigning from that post, just as I have done at all corporate boards other than Berkshire’s," Buffett said in a statement. "The CEO of BMG is Mark Suzman, an outstanding recent selection who has my full support. My goals are 100% in sync with those of the foundation, and my physical participation is in no way needed to achieve these goals."

While it's true that Buffett has slowly been pulling back from his non-Berkshire activities for years now, the timing of his departure from the Gates Foundation board is certainly curious. As Buffett himself concedes, he was an "inactive" member of the board. The board includes two other members, Bill and Melinda. Maybe Buffett simply couldn't stomach the awkwardness at board meetings.

Melinda Gates reportedly divorced her husband over his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, something that Buffett has been mum about - though Warren Buffett was never tied to Epstein like many other titans of American business and finance have been.

Buffett has contributed $27 billion to the Gates Foundation over the past 15 years. Mark Suzman, the foundation’s chief executive officer, told employees last month that he was in talks to strengthen "the long-term sustainability and stability of the foundation."

Suzman "is an outstanding recent selection who has my full support," Buffett said. Suzman has insisted that both Bill and Melinda remain committed to the Foundation even after their divorce.