Author Malcolm Gladwell said in an interview last year:
[Fifty years from now], people will have forgotten Steve Jobs. "Who was Steve Jobs again?" But ... there will be statues of Bill Gates across the Third World ... There's a reasonable shot that -- because of [Gates'] money -- we will cure malaria.
This got me thinking: Great business leaders' legacies are often far removed from what their businesses accomplished. At current trends, the odds are high that Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) will be a more relevant company than Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) 20 years from now. But because of philanthropy alone, I tend to agree with Gladwell -- Gates will be known for ages.
The same might be true of Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B ) . Last month I sat down with value-investing great Mohnish Pabrai. Here's what he had to say when I asked him what the world will think of Buffett 100 years from now:
Morgan Housel: Do you think 100 years from now we will still look back at Warren as the best investor ever? Or will someone meet his 50-year track record, or is that a once-in-a-million-years record?
Mohnish Pabrai: Well, I think the package that is Warren Buffett will go down in history and will be remembered way beyond 100 years, because I think the package that is Warren Buffett is a remarkable package. And I think that the thing is, Warren's skills as a business leader get overlooked because he's such a good investor. I think his business leadership skills are vastly superior to his investing skills. Then I think more recently when he's put efforts behind, like, the Giving Pledge or his own work in giving money away, it's possible that the Gates Foundation, it's quite likely, actually, will come through with breakthroughs in vaccines. That will be Bill Gates' and Warren Buffett's legacy as well.
So I think the story is yet to be written on the impacts, and I think just the Giving Pledge alone is bringing in hundreds of billions into philanthropy that may not have come in. So I think that what people remember him the most for is up for debate, but I would say 100, 200, 300 years from now, people will remember."
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