Michael Steinhardt

Did anyone catch investor and philanthropist Michael Steinhardt on CNBC’s Squawk Box telecast this past week? Steinhardt, the Chairman of Wisdomtree Investments bashed Warren Buffett, the Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and prince of Omaha Nebraska.

Isn’t that sort of like bashing the Dalai Lama or cute kittens?

During the interview, Steinhardt criticized the hedge fund industry. He said it was not up to snuff anymore – the mentality has changed; and he reported that performance is not what it used to be. When he had his fund, he said, running a hedge fund was for the elite; but this is no longer the case.

Steinhardt then discussed investor and financial celebrity Warren Buffett, saying, “…he is the greatest PR person of recent times and he has managed to achieve a snow job that conned virtually everyone in the press to my knowledge. And it is remarkably that he continues to do it….. …he gave 2.5 cents for the first 70 some off-years of his life. He gave away nothing. Then in one fell swoop, he gave away almost all of his money thoughtlessly to one guy. Faultlessly. And from that moment on, he became the greatest advocate to philanthropy. And pitched all the bumbling billionaires to do the same. And many of them did.” He also criticized Buffett for the way he treated Salomon Brothers’ head, John Gutfreund, many year’s ago.

Was Steinhardt wrong?

No. Most people know that the media worship Warren Buffett and give him the light touch during interviews. Few are critical of his corporation’s most recent performance, returns, or practices. But see the interview for yourself. Link here. Don’t you think Steinhardt’s criticism of Buffet sounds like a cranky, competitive, ego-driven case of sour grapes? I don’t think it is the case, but the perception can be different.

So what if Buffett waited until he was older before he started publicly giving away his wealth? He wasn’t a miser. So what if he gave it to Bill and Melinda Gates’ foundation to manage? Why not allow the professionals to manage it?

Steinhardt has donated hundreds of millions of his wealth, and he donates actively – taking active roles in advising and creating organizations. With Charles Bronfman, he founded Taglit-Birthright Israel, and he donated tens of millions of dollars to NYU and other institutions, and he has influenced other wealthy families to increase their philanthropy and manage their outlays actively.

I wonder if Buffett will reply? Tag(lit), you’re it.

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