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Bill Freehling is a business writer for The Free Lance-Star and Fredericksburg.com. This blog is on Fredericksburg-area business. Send an e-mail to Bill Freehling.
Doris Buffett biography gets a big-time boost
A biography on Fredericksburg’s own Doris Buffett is due out May 1, and the book got some priceless publicity this past weekend.
“Giving It All Away: The Doris Buffett Story,” authored by local writer Michael Zitz, will have its sales début May 1 at the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha, Neb., an event dubbed “Woodstock for Capitalists” that draws tens of thousands of people from all over the world. A store at the meeting called “Bookworm” offers books about Berkshire and its leaders.
Doris Buffett’s brother, Warren, is chairman and CEO of Berkshire. He mentioned the biography, for which he wrote the foreword, in his much-anticipated annual letter to shareholders, which was posted on the Berkshire site Saturday.
“Be sure to visit the Bookworm,” Buffett told shareholders in the letter. “Among the more than 30 books and DVDs it will offer are two new books by my sons: Howard’s ‘Fragile,’ a volume filled with photos and commentary about lives of struggle around the globe and Peter’s ‘Life Is What You Make It.’ Completing the family trilogy will be the début of my sister Doris’s biography, a story focusing on her remarkable philanthropic activities.”
Zitz, a longtime writer for The Free Lance–Star who continues to work for the newspaper part time in addition to his full-time job as Germanna Community College’s public information officer, has known Doris Buffett, now 82, since 1992. The book is a product of two-and-a-half years of research that involved Zitz frequently traveling with and interviewing Doris Buffett. He also interviewed Warren Buffett multiple times.
The 240-page biography, which includes many Buffett family photos that have never before been made public, is being published by New York-based The Permanent Press. It focuses on Doris Buffett’s triumph over personal adversity—including growing up with a sometimes verbally abusive mother and some rocky relationships—to emerge as a renowned philanthropist who has given away more than $100 million with plans to continue.
Much of that charity—which has focused on helping abused women, prisoners being released to society, the mentally ill, early childhood education and more—has touched the Fredericksburg area. Zitz said the book includes ample details about Doris Buffett’s life and deeds in Fredericksburg.
Zitz said he and Doris Buffett plan to sign copies of the book at the “Bookworm” store during the meeting. “Giving It All Away” will be available on Amazon.com on May 1, and a wider release will take place this fall.
More local connections
Buffett’s letter also addressed the 2009 operating performances of numerous individual businesses owned by Berkshire. Among the subsidiaries with local connections are auto insurer Geico and grocery distributor McLane, both of which are among the area’s largest employers.
Geico, which has a regional headquarters office in Stafford County, now has an 8.1 percent U.S. market share, Buffett wrote. That’s up from 2.5 percent when Berkshire bought Geico in 1996, representing a growth of about 7 million policyholders. Only State Farm and Allstate have a bigger market share.
Buffett wrote that Geico’s growth may slow in 2010 because of slumping auto sales and more people going without insurance in the face of a challenging economy. But he wrote that the company’s reputation as a low-cost provider—a message hammered home by an $800 million annual advertising budget—should help.
Buffett also singled out McLane, whose McLane Mid-Atlantic distribution center is off U.S. 17 in Stafford. McLane, whose biggest customer is Walmart, had pre-tax earnings of $344 million on sales of $31.2 billion in 2009.
NOTE: This article ran in the March 3 edition of The Free Lance-Star newspaper.