Warren Buffett Buys Nebraska Furniture Mart, Scott Fetzer and an Airplane for Berkshire Hathaway
For all the fine businesses Berkshire had managed collect, one of the best was about to come under its stable. In 1983, Warren Buffett walked into Nebraska Furniture Mart, the multi-million dollar furniture retailer built from scratch by Rose Blumpkin. Speaking to Mrs. B, as local residents called her, Buffett asked if she would be interested in selling the store to Berkshire Hathaway. Blumpkin's answer was a simple "yes", to which she responded she would part for "$60 million". The deal was sealed on a handshake and one page contract was drawn up. The Russian-born immigrant merely folded the check without looking at it when she received it days later.
Scott & Fetzer was another great addition to the Berkshire family. The company itself had been the target of a hostile takeover when an LPO was launched by Ralph Schey, the Chairman. The year was 1984 and Ivan Boesky soon launched a counter offer for $60 a share (the original tender offer stood at $50 a share - $5 above market value). The maker of Kirby vacuum cleaners and World Book encyclopedia, S&F was panicking. Buffett, who had owned a quarter of a million shares, dropped a message to the company asking them to call if they were interested in a merger. The phone rang almost immediately. Berkshire offered $60 per share in cold, hard, cash. When the deal was wrapped up less than a week later, Berkshire Hathaway had a new $315 million dollar cash-generating powerhouse to add to its collection. The small stream of cash that was taken out of the struggling textile mill had built one of the most powerful companies in the world. Far more impressive things were to be done in the next decade. Berkshire would see its share price climb from $2,600 to as high as $80,000 in the 1990's.
In 1986, Buffett bought a used Falcon aircraft for $850,000. As he had become increasingly recognizable, it was no longer comfortable for him to fly commercially. The idea of the luxury was hard for him to adjust to, but he loved the jet immensely. The passion for jets eventually, in part, led him to purchase Executive Jet in the 90's.
The 80's went on with Berkshire increasing in value as if on cue, the only bump in the road being the crash of 1987. Warren, who wasn't upset about the market correction, calmly checked the price of his company and went back to work. It was representative of how he viewed stocks and businesses in general. This was one of "Mr. Market's" temporary aberrations. It was quite a strong one; fully one-fourth of Berkshire's market cap was wiped out. Unfazed, Warren plowed on.
I'll Take a CokeA year later, in 1988, he started buying up Coca-Cola stock like an addict. His old neighbor, now the President of Coca-Cola, noticed someone was loading up on shares and became concerned. After researching the transactions, he noticed the trades were being placed from the Midwest. He immediately thought of Buffett, whom he called. Warren confessed to being the culprit and requested they don't speak of it until he was legally required to disclose his holdings at the 5% threshold. Within a few months, Berkshire owned 7% of the company, or $1.02 billion dollars worth of the stock. Within three years, Buffett's Coca-Cola stock would be worth more than the entire value of Berkshire when he made the investment.
Warren Buffett's Money and Reputation On the Line During the Solomon ScandalBy 1989, Berkshire Hathaway was trading at $8,000 a share. Buffett was now, personally, worth more than $3.8 billion dollars. Within the next ten years, he would be worth ten times that amount. Before that would happen, there were much darker times ahead (read The Solomon Scandal).