Everybody wants to be Warren Buffett. And it looks like everybody can.
There's the Warren Buffett of the flavor industry. There's the Warren Buffett of “superfancy hotels.” There are Buffetts of barges and of bass fishing, of Tampa, Thailand and Turkey.
There's even a Warren Buffett of C-block, where a stock-picking, Buffett-quoting convicted murderer has been dubbed the Oracle of San Quentin.
Some of the far-flung Buffetts -- particularly those of Canada, Mexico, technology and Africa -- are accomplished businessmen who join Buffett on Bloomberg's list of billionaires. But anyone can be a Buffett in his or her own narrow universe. Have a pet fish? You are the Warren Buffett of Fish-Feeding and Tank Cleaning.
Buffett himself, the man dubbed "Saint Warren of Omaha," is the rare investor whose image has been summed up, fittingly, in a number -- a Q Score, to be exact. The scores quantify the emotional connection a celebrity or other public figure has with consumers, including credibility and trust. The average for the executives included in a 2011 Q Score Company survey was 11, says Henry Schafer, the company's executive vice president. Buffett's score among men 50 and older was twice that. Among women, his connection was highest with 35- to 49-year-olds, at 21. (Bill Gates scored 16; Steve Jobs, 12.)
That's the thing about the Buffett brand -- its appeal is broad and, for a really, really rich guy, curiously demotic. The third-wealthiest man in the world is also a sort of Great Leveler, seemingly exempted from the rancor and distrust between Main Street and Wall Street. Big investors revere his savvy. Small investors emulate his common sense. He drinks cherry Coke, lives in the same house in Omaha that he bought in 1958 for $31,500 and argues he should pay more taxes. He just treated himself to a luxury car. A Lamborghini Huracan? No, a Caddy. A Caddy.
And while people around the world are anointed "The Warren Buffett of ..." this and that, willy-nilly, the 84-year-old investor actually wants his personal brand to take a back seat to the Berkshire Hathaway's.
That may be a long time coming. The Name-That-Buffett game is just too fun and too easy.
To be labeled the Buffett of Fill-in-the-Blank, it helps to be a budding or established conglomerateur flush with cash, and a value investor. Being a billionaire helps, too.
But, really, to share the mantle of the greatest investor of all time, you just need to be doing well in your line of work and come to the attention of a headline writer in a hurry. Headlines often bestow a Buffett brand in question form to draft off the name without having to be convinced that someone is worthy of it. No harm asking -- could they be the Warren Buffett of Pakistan/Kentucky/cricket? It so happens that in the financial world the Buffett name is click bait on the order of Beyonce.
Most Buffetteers are in finance, in at least 20 countries ranging from Brazil to Belgium to Pakistan. But they can also be found in sales software (Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com Inc.), the movie industry (Woody Allen), wine (Robert Parker), baseball (Billy Beane) and sports betting (William Walters), among many other industries.
A sampling of headlines:
“Warren Buffett of the fishing world: Connecticut fisherman Greg Myerson repeatedly breaks own striped bass records”
“Is This Billionaire the 'Warren Buffett of Africa'”? (Nigeria's Aliko Dangote)
“Meet Richard Kinder: The Warren Buffett of Energy”
“Mark Zuckerberg: The Warren Buffett of technology?”
“Is Ajay Piramal the Warren Buffett of India“?
“Get in on the Ground Floor With the 'Warren Buffett of MLPs” (the U.S.'s Robert Phillips)
“Masayoshi Son, 'The Warren Buffett of Asia,' Expected to Make Billions on Ailbaba”
“Murderer Turned Stock Picker is 'Oracle of San Quentin”
“Words of Wisdom From the Warren Buffett of the Philippines” (Wilson Sy)
“LeBron James: The Next Warren Buffett?”
“Meet Prem Watsa, the Blackberry Suitor Known as The Warren Buffett of Canada”
Dangote, Kinder, Zuckerberg and Son do join Buffett on the Bloomberg Billionaires List, as does “the Warren Buffett of Mexico,” Carlos Slim Helu. And LeBron James is friendly with Buffett. Zuckerberg reportedly spoke with the Oracle for hours about taking Facebook public, and has joined Buffett's pledge to leave the majority of his wealth to philanthropy. Watsa is a contrarian investor who heads up Canadian insurer Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. and is said to model his management style on Buffett's.
The buffet of Buffett associations is vast. Combining them all is impossible for anyone but Buffett, so often people choose one or two items. Gorge on value and a long-term outlook. Enjoy a delicious plate of insurance and free cash flow. Pile on the “buy cheap, sell high.” You may not have the well-balanced meal Warren has, but you're eating from the same table. Therefore, you must be just like him?
All of this reputational coattail riding hardly diminishes the Buffett name. A big part of Buffett's investment philosophy is making sure a business has a “wide moat” -- a big and sustainable competitive advantage over rivals. And Warren Buffett's image may be the biggest moat of all. You could call him the Norman Rockwell of Investing. Or the Einstein of Omaha. Or just about the most accessible, elite brand ever.