Generous billionaire inspires writer

By Christopher Adams

Children's book writer Lucas Remmerswaal has four-and-a-half months to get Warren Buffett and Oprah Winfrey on board. Photo / Natalie Slade
Children's book writer Lucas Remmerswaal has four-and-a-half months to get Warren Buffett and Oprah Winfrey on board. Photo / Natalie Slade

Lucas Remmerswaal is a man on a mission - a mission to change the way a whole generation approaches its finances.

But how does a Whangarei investment adviser and father-of-six plan on doing that? By writing children's books inspired by the ideas and principles of American billionaire investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett - the world's third wealthiest man.

Remmerswaal is in the process of producing an illustrated book for five-year-olds, another for 12 year-olds and a teaching aid for parents and teachers.

The books, both titled The 13 habits that made me $48 billion, inspired by Warren Buffett, have been illustrated by Australian artist Annette Lodge, who has published a number of her own children's books.

Remmerswaal says he has invested $64,000 in the project so far.

"All our money outside the family home is invested in this project."

But before approaching publishers, he wants to get Buffett involved, as he says that will be the key to his plan of launching the books on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

It's a big dream - Buffett is bombarded by hundreds of unsolicited emails and calls every day, and has a loyal personal assistant whose job mostly involves fending off unwanted inquiries. But Remmerswaal hopes the books will help avoid another global financial crisis.

"Everyone did it wrong," he says, referring to the greedy business practices that led to the recession. "Two billion dollars worth of retirees' savings wiped off the face of the earth, just in New Zealand.

"I'm just a poor house husband that's put his life savings on the line because I want to create a change from that Petricevic and Bryers thinking to Buffett thinking."

He says financial gain is only a small part of his reason for starting the project, and if it is successful, he plans on donating much of the money to the Success For Students charitable trust that he set up with his neighbour.

The Buffett project has received high praise from education royalty - national standards specialist Professor John Hattie from the University of Auckland, who met Remmerswaal last week, and viewed the drafts of the books.

"I think he's onto a winner and I think it's a stunning project," says Hattie. "The artwork alone is incredibly impressive, and that alone will engage young kids."

Remmerswaal could be described as a Buffett obsessive. He has researched the Omaha, Nebraska-based businessman intensely since the late 1990s. He recently spent a week in Omaha trying to get a meeting with Buffett, to introduce him to the project, but to no avail.

Apparently, Buffett doesn't answer his door to strangers.

There's nothing particularly strange about Buffett fanaticism. There are thousands of "disciples" of the so-called "Oracle of Omaha" around the world. The annual shareholder's meeting for his company, Berkshire Hathaway, fills an arena.

Despite being one of the richest companies on earth, the offices of Berkshire Hathaway occupy just a single floor of a modest office block in Omaha. Buffett, renowned for his frugality, employs only a handful of staff.

He reportedly gives 85 per cent of his net wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and family charities, and lives in a humble home - not even the biggest in the street - in a suburb of Omaha.

Remmerswaal says he has read every chairman's letter Buffett has released since 1977, as well as countless biographies on the billionaire.

There is much to be gained from the information contained in those letters and books, he says, but people are put off reading them because they think they are complicated. "All I've done is translated [the letters and books] for 5-year-olds, for 12-year-olds and for parents and teachers," he says. "I'm just a foreign language translator, that's what I'm doing here."

Next month Remmerswaal heads back to Nebraska to join the hordes at the Berkshire-Hathaway annual shareholders meeting. He will again attempt to make contact with Buffett.

The clock ticks mercilessly for Remmerswaal - he wants the book to be launched on August 30 to coincide with Buffett's 80th birthday. He has four-and-a-half months to get Buffett, and then Oprah, on board.

Hattie says there is much Kiwi kids can learn from the ideas in the Buffett books. "The message isn't so much about Warren Buffett, it's about key behaviours and key attitudes and Lucas is using [the books] as a medium," he says.

- NZ Herald

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