Monday, September 12, 2011

$5.3M Dinners With Warren Buffett Lead to Dream Job for Money Manager

A portfolio manager who paid a total of $5.3 million for two meals with Warren Buffett has just been hired to help pick stocks at Berkshire Hathaway.

In a news release this morning, Buffett's company says 50-year-old Ted Weschler of Charlottesville, Va., will join Berkshire early next year. He is currently managing partner at the hedge fund he started in 2000, Peninsula Capital Advisors.

Weschler joins 2010 Berkshire addition Todd Combs as a portfolio manager.

And in an unusual twist, Fortune's Carol Loomis reveals this morning that Weschler met Buffett by winning Buffett's annual charity "Power Lunch" auction for the past two years. Proceeds go to San Francisco's Glide Foundation.

Until today, the name of the winning bidder for bidding in 2010 and 2011 had been kept confidential.

Weschler paid $2,626,311 last year, and then won again this year with a slightly higher $2,626,411 bid.

Loomis reports that instead of lunch at New York's Smith & Wollensky steakhouse, the auction's regular venue, Weschler and Buffett actually had dinner in Omaha both years at Buffett's favorite steakhouse, Piccolo Pete's.

According to Loomis, the "two men liked each other right away" and Buffett invited his guest to come to Berkshire's annual meeting this spring.

Loomis writes: "At a large private dinner on the night of the meeting, (Weschler) introduced himself to this reporter, made an impression as smart and friendly, and described himself as having a great time."

At first, Buffett wasn't sure Weschler wanted the job. He tells Fortune:

"I very much wanted him to do it, but I didn't expect to get very far with the idea. Ted will no doubt make a lot of money at Berkshire. But he was already making a lot of money with his fund-you can get an idea of that from the size of his Glide bids-so money wasn't a reason for him to come."

After Buffett "almost apologetically" sounded out Weschler over dinner this July, he took a few weeks to think it over and then accepted the offer.

Weschler isn't talking now about his new job, but Loomis says she "can speculate that Weschler's long-time admiration for Buffett made this an offer he just couldn't refuse."

Like Combs, Weschler will be handling about $1 billion to $3 billion of Berkshire's money, and Buffett will continue to "manage most of the funds until his retirement," according to the news release.

It goes on to say:

"After Mr. Buffett no longer serves as CEO, Todd and Ted-possibly aided by one additional manager-will have responsibility for the entire equity and debt portfolio of Berkshire, subject to overall direction by the then-CEO and board of directors. With Todd and Ted on board, Berkshire is well-positioned for successor investment management at the time Mr. Buffett is no longer CEO."

Weschler is like Buffett in that he prefers to buy just a few stocks for long periods of time, although the new hire probably won't be able to short stocks and borrow money to boost his investing capital, as he has at Peninsula.

According to Peninsula's latest 13F filing in July, the hedge fund held almost $2 billion worth of publicly traded U.S. stocks as of June 30.

According to Fortune, anyone investing in Peninsula in early 2000 had a total gain of 1,236 percent as of the end of this year's first quarter, dwarfing Berkshire B shares' gain of 146 percent.