Warren Buffett and Donald Trump are two of the best-known businessmen on the planet. Both are self-made billionaires who have dominated headlines for the last three decades. In the process, they've both garnered huge cult followings. These businessmen are innovative, opinionated, unique, and extremely successful.
But here at The Motley Fool, we aren't satisfied with saying they both did pretty darn well. To Trump, business is about winning -- second place is just the first of the losers. Thus, it's necessary to answer the question that everyone's asking: Who's the better billionaire?
So, taking a page from Trump's Miss USA pageant, I will examine each billionaire based on a number of important criteria. He who excels to the greatest extent will be crowned Mr. Billionaire 2005.
|Nickname||Oracle of Omaha||The Donald|
|Net Worth||$44 billion||$2.7 billion|
|Car||Lincoln Town Car||Limousine|
|$50 million penthouse
New York, N.Y.
|Education||Master's Degree in
|Bachelor's Degree in
|Annual Salary||$100,000||$46.5 million|
|Friend||Bill Gates||Regis Philbin|
On paper, it's a close competition. Buffett's biggest advantages are his net worth, a nickname that isn't reminiscent of a duck, and the fact that Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) chairman is a far more interesting companion than Regis. But I think it's hard to beat Trump's salary and that 16-year age difference. Even the apparent wealth gap isn't that big. If you assume that Trump grows his net worth by 12% a year, by the time he's Buffett's age, he'll have $16.5 billion. Edge: Trump.
The most conspicuous difference between the two billionaires is their style. Buffett places an exceptionally high value on integrity. He's subtle and tends to let his achievements speak for themselves. His strong sense of humor and understated sense of irony make his letters to shareholders not only informative, but also delightful to read. He definitely seems to enjoy life.
Trump, on the other hand, has not yet been accused of conveying "folksy wisdom." And he has said that "subtlety and modesty are appropriate for nuns and therapists, but if you're in business, you'd better learn to speak up and announce your significant accomplishments to the world -- nobody else will." Trump also definitely knows how to make an entrance. Even so, it doesn't seem so much like he's having fun but rather trying to prove to everyone else how much fun he's having. Edge: Buffett.
Canceled because of rain.
Both billionaires are extremely successful in marketing their products. Decades ago, Buffett drank Pepsi (NYSE: PEP ) . But now that Berkshire Hathaway owns 8.4% of Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) , he's become a conspicuous Coke consumer. Buffett pitches his products in his shareholder letters and at Berkshire's annual meetings. He's no slouch when it comes to marketing.
Trump, though, is practically unbeatable in this area. He tattoos the Trump moniker on any available building, golf course, and casino -- even a bike race (The Tour de Trump) -- endeavoring to make the Trump brand synonymous with quality. People will pay millions just to name a high-rise after him. He also has his own TV show that not only reinforces that branding but also allows him do infomercials for other companies. As always, Trump himself says it best: "I'm a bit of a P.T. Barnum. I make stars out of everyone." Edge: Trump.
As a lunch date
Each year, Buffett auctions off a lunch on eBay and gives the proceeds to charity. The highest bidder gets to have lunch with Buffett in Omaha or New York. The cost of the most recent lunch: $351,000.
Trump, on the other hand, sometimes rewards winners on his TV show by inviting them to a meal. The primary problem is that to get lunch, you have to appear on his show and jump through all the hoops that entails. The cost of lunch: your self-respect. Edge: Buffett.
Buffett's management strategy is to hire intelligent, energetic people with strong integrity who are passionate about their business. Then he gives them the responsibility and freedom to achieve outstanding results. Buffett describes his management style as "delegating to the point of abdication."
Trump has a similar, though slightly different, philosophy. His strategy is: "Get the best people and trust them, but watch them closely." Maybe it's seeing him fire people every week on TV, but Trump seems significantly more aggressive and paranoid. After all, he says things like "If someone screws you, screw them back 10 times harder." Both billionaires' management styles work for them, but Trump's seems like a lot more effort. Edge: Buffett.
Keys to success
Interestingly, both Buffett and Trump suggest similar keys to success. Both read extensively -- Buffett reads five newspapers daily, while Trump reads seven. Both recommend that people work in jobs they love. Buffett seems to feel life is too short to spend it doing a job you hate, while Trump notes that he's "never seen anyone succeed who didn't love what they were doing."
Similarly, both emphasize persistence, though once again, they approach the topic differently. Buffett recommends patience -- if you don't find a good investment, keep looking. Trump notes, "If there is a concrete wall in front of you, you have to go through it." Buffett, I think, would instead suggest looking for a path around it -- or a shorter wall.
While neither man totally ignores innate abilities, they see many critical success factors as a matter of choice. For instance, Buffett considers honesty and dependability to be key qualities. Trump, on the other hand, focuses on confidence, toughness, discipline, and thinking big. Both philosophies seem reasonable. Tie.
Buffett is a patient investor and a superb capital allocator. While he's willing to buy average businesses at low prices, he prefers to buy wonderful businesses at fair prices. He generally isn't a trader -- his favorite holding period is forever. While he has bought REITs for his personal portfolio, he generally avoids real estate, saying, "Why should I buy real estate when the stock market is so easy?"
Trump, on the other hand, is a dealmaker, a real estate developer, and one of the biggest landlords in New York City. He doesn't just allocate capital. He adds value by renovating, developing, managing, and rebranding his real estate. He, too, has a value investing strategy, noting, "The best deals are made when no one else wants them."
Both Buffett and Trump use leverage. Buffett owns several insurance companies and invests the float that those companies generate. He never wants to make a bet so big that it could threaten the company. Trump, on the other hand, borrows money, a riskier type of leverage. Trump came close to personal bankruptcy in the early 1990s, falling $900 million in debt when his casinos weren't performing as hoped. Last year, Trump Hotels & Casinos filed for bankruptcy -- it was recently restructured as Trump Entertainment Resorts (Nasdaq: TRMP ) .
I find Buffett's strategies attractive, though as a member of the Motley Fool Inside Value team, I'm biased because we use similar techniques. In fact, several times this year, we've recommended a stock only to find out later that Buffett was buying at the same time. The fact that Buffett's strategies have led him to 20%-30% annual returns while Trump seems to have difficulty avoiding occasional bankruptcies makes the decision relatively easy. Edge: Buffett.
By a difference of 4-2, Buffett is the better billionaire. Since these folks place a high value on meals, I'll buy him dinner next time he's in Vancouver for his prize. But The Donald doesn't have to feel too bad. He's still a billionaire, and, as he says, "I love losers, because they make me feel so good."
If Buffett's strategies intrigue you, check out ourInside Valuenewsletter. We offer a no-obligation free trial for the curious. And with a year's subscription, we'll throw in a copy ofStocks 2006, 55 pages of our best stock picks for the new year, a $69 value.
Richard Gibbons, a member of the Inside Value team, prefers being a mid-30s thousandaire to being a 59- or 75-year-old billionaire. He does not own any of the securities mentioned in this article. Microsoft and Coca-Cola are Inside Value picks; eBay is a Stock Advisor recommendation. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.