loren Eric Swanson: Bob Buford does it again

Friday, August 04, 2006

Bob Buford does it again

Thought you might enjoy Bob Buford's insights on finishing well from his latest: www.activeenergy.net

From the Mind of Bob…Musings for Friends
Halftime Incarnated II: What anyone can learn from Bill Gates and Warren Buffett about “Finishing Well” …
Peter Drucker gave me the primary concept of this museletter when he encouraged me to conduct the interviews that are the substance of my fourth book, Finishing Well. He told me that the distance between the exceptional people and the average is constant. People learn from pioneers who convince us that things are possible and then we do it for ourselves. To date, more than 2,700 people have scaled Mr. Everest. On a single day in 2001, eighty-nine people managed that feat. This year, about 250 made it. It’s my opinion that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are going to set a new norm for all of us who want to spend the second half of our lives for social purposes. The Economist magazine, which is my pick for the best news magazine in the world, calls this new innovation “Billanthropy!” in their cover story.

Thinking about Gates and Buffett has caused me to reflect on the principles that emerged from those sixty-two conversations I had with people who are exemplars in Finishing Well. Like Gates and Buffett, sixty of the sixty-two interviewees came from backgrounds of modest means and achieved first half success and recognition that they are now turning into second half significance. Here are four Second Half significance principles that emerge as I think about those interviews and particularly about the world’s two wealthiest men and their own just-announced, second-half decisions.

1. Finding a New Purpose for a New Season
We now live our life in seasons. Ten years ago, Gates and Buffett were intensely involved in their wealth-building enterprises. At that time, both men were asked about philanthropy and both said they weren’t ready yet to allocate time or money to social investing. Obviously, the season in life has changed dramatically for both of them. Bill Gates, Sr. told me, when we talked in Aspen, that his son had been doing Microsoft for more than thirty years and was ready for “something more.”

In Chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes, there is a wonderful poetic riff written by Solomon, the richest and, most say, the wisest man of his time. The whole chapter is worth rereading. Solomon begins,
“To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven”

Well, the season has arrived for the two richest men of our time. Bill Gates was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to cure the top twenty diseases.” That’s what I’d call a new passion and a new purpose in life. That’s what I would call Finishing Well.

2. Repositioning Yourself Over Time to Finish Well
The three ways I have discovered to do this are the parallel career, low-cost probes, and testing your way in. Bill Gates set his parallel career in motion in 2000 when he turned over the chief executive reins to Steve Balmer and started the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Since that time, Gates and his wife, Melinda (raised in Dallas!), have devoted from twenty percent to fifty percent of their time exploring what needs to be done to solve social ills around the globe. In their recent announcement to spend fulltime on these purposes, Gates appointed Ray Ozzie to his position of chief technology officer. Microsoft’s stock didn’t drop with this announcement because everyone had been well prepared. For his part, Buffett has spent the last several years making certain that the greatest innovator of our time was really just that and developing the relationship upon which he has made the largest philanthropic bet in history ($30 billion). Lots of probing going on as these two prepared to reposition themselves for Second Half significance.

In my case, I decided thirty years ago to invest whatever time and money I had in building God’s kingdom on earth. I acted on that conviction twenty-two years ago by beginning a parallel career that has turned out to be Leadership Network, which focuses on two movements – helping large, fast-growing churches grow faster and promoting the transition from success to significance for Halftimers. I transitioned to fulltime work in these two areas seven years ago when we sold Buford Television, putting the majority of the funds aside for Leadership Network. And as the expression goes, “I want to be giving while I’m living so I’m knowing where it’s going.” These dedicated funds will be fully spent within the next eight years.

3. Building on What You Do Best
Warren Buffett claims to have been “wired at birth to allocate capital.” He has just allocated the biggest chunk of philanthropic capital in history. Buffett became the world’s second richest man by picking great managers of business capital. Now he has done that within the social capital world by partnering with the most successful entrepreneur of our time. In doing so, Buffett continues to do what he does best – making money. He has outsourced his philanthropy to Gates, whose gift in managing large and complex scalable enterprises is unparalleled. When someone had suggested to Gates that he interconnect a few libraries, Gates’ answer was, “Why not do all of them?” “Billanthropy” is a genuine innovation. It’s not focused on guilt, but on impact; not on duty and obligation, but on measurable outcomes.

This results and performance focused approach is the major innovation in philanthropy since Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller created the field a century ago. Born out of the risk-taking venture capital culture of Silicon Valley, a from-scratch entrepreneur, not an aristocrat, Gates is a new breed: a venture philanthropist. As The Economist puts it, “He backs schemes, assesses them and then dumps failures.” He gets behind strong, entrepreneurial leaders and he does it with a hands-on approach. He’s engaged and passionate. He leads. He doesn’t just wait for pitches.

4. Do it now. Do it yourself.
Like most all the people I interviewed in Finishing Well, and, I must say, like my own approach, the rule is: Do it now. Do it yourself.

The Economist review of “Billanthropy” says that foundations face two dangers: the first is egocentric aristocratic management: “Administrators (who) come to like the perks and power of deciding who is deserving.” Warren Buffett has approached the task of allocating the bulk of his capital with uncharacteristic humility. He allocates the bulk of his capital to the proven better management of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation rather than the foundations of his children or his late wife, which he is taking care of separately with smaller amounts. It’s important, however, to note that Buffet tithed to his family first.

The second danger, says The Economist, is the vanity of philanthropist. Here’s how they put it:
“They often like the notion that their foundations will live on after them, carrying their name down from generation unto generation. But, after the founder has died, foundations tend to become sclerotic and directionless – the fiefs of administrators who have lost sight of the original aims. So if you aim to be a truly philanthropic philanthropist, spend your money fast: do as much good as you can when you’re alive, and let posterity go hang.”

I couldn’t have said it better. So be it with me as well!


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