Warren Buffett comes across in the media as a very smart man with an impish sense of humor, particularly in his countless appearances on CNBC. But as one of his grandchildren found out, crossing the Oracle of Omaha can lead to a world of hurt.
The world's richest man severed ties with Nicole Buffett after she appeared in the well-regarded documentary "The One Percent," in which the scions of billionaires, including New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, spoke about what it was like to grow up wealthy. The film, made by Jamie Johnson of the Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) family, is well worth viewing.
Ms. Buffett, though, made the fatal error of not informing her grandfather about the motion picture debut, according to Marie Claire: "Asked in the film how he'd react to her interview, Nicole responds, 'I definitely fear judgment. Money is the spoke in my grandfather's wheel of life'."
That was a foolish thing to say and the younger Buffett knows it. The head of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK.A) has argued his whole career that money is not everything. He abhors inherited wealth and has argued persuasively why an inheritance tax is good thing. That explains why he is giving away most of his money to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
None of that occurred to Nicole Buffett, who told the magazine she really didn't understand who her grandfather was until he topped Forbes' annual list of the wealthiest Americans. To make matters worse, she shot her mouth off on "Oprah." Warren Buffett had enough, writing to his granddaughter that as far he was concerned, they were strangers. I guess he did not feel that close to her anyway. His son Peter adopted Nicole and her siblings, but he later divorced their mother.
I can understand why Warren Buffett wanted to teach Nicole Buffett, who gets by on $40,000 a year she earns as an artist and reportedly goes without health insurance, that she should not act like a spoiled brat. But the punishment did not fit the crime.
The letter he wrote Nicole seems especially cold: "I have not emotionally or legally adopted you as a grandchild, nor have the rest of my family adopted you as a niece or a cousin," the magazine quotes the letter as saying. "He signed the letter 'Warren'."
This goes to show you that even rich people have problems.
You can see Nicole Buffett in this trailer for "The One Percent."