Buffett’s friend and business partner Walter Scott dies at 90

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(Bloomberg) – Walter Scott Jr., the Omaha businessman and philanthropist who made his fortune by teaming up with his friend Warren Buffett to buy electric utilities, has died. He was 90 years old.

The Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation announced that Scott passed away on Saturday, without revealing the cause of death.

“It is with great sadness that we recognize the passing of our founder, Walter Scott, Jr,” according to a statement posted on the Foundation’s website. “We are blessed to have known and learned from Walter as we continue his philanthropic legacy.”

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While Buffett put Omaha on the investor map, Scott was in many ways the city’s main patron. He turned the money he made in the construction, telecommunications and energy industries into civic amenities, including the zoo and the local University of Nebraska campus, which bears his name.

“You have to give something back to your community that will give people in the future a better education, a better opportunity, a better start in life,” Scott said in a 1997 interview for the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans. . “Wherever we are today as a society, we are building on people’s past experiences and what they have done to make the world a better place.

Scott had a net worth of over $ 6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

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Walter Scott Jr. was born on May 21, 1931 in Omaha, shortly after the onset of the Great Depression. Growing up, he worked on farms and ranches during the summers. Later, to save for college, he accepted a job as a gofer for Peter Kiewit Sons’ Co., a construction company, which collected supplies and food for employees.

He continued to work there while pursuing a civil engineering degree at Colorado State University and, after graduating in 1953, joined full-time. After a brief stint in the US Air Force during the Korean War, Scott returns to Kiewit.

The moment was fortuitous. The United States was in the midst of a construction boom. Kiewit has won contracts to help build entire sections of the national road network, dams and other public works. Scott has moved his family across the country to work on project sites, steadily rising through the ranks of the tight company. In 1979, he was appointed CEO.

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Over the following decades, Scott helped invest some of Kiewit’s money in a variety of other businesses, from coal mines to toll roads. Eventually, the company began to focus these other investments on the telecommunications industry. In 1998, Scott split many Kiewit businesses unrelated to construction into a company called Level 3 Communications Inc., which operated a fiber-optic network that served as the backbone of the Internet.

This is the kind of idea that captured the imagination of investors during the bull market of the late 1990s – a marriage between Kiewit’s construction skills and the vast opportunities of the Information Age. . After its IPO, Level 3 briefly hit a valuation of over $ 40 billion. But during the dot-com collapse in 2000, stocks fell. They never fully recovered, in part because other companies had built competing networks and there was an overabundance of bandwidth.

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Scott stayed at Level 3 after years of losses, before stepping down as president in 2014. Two years later, CenturyLink Inc. agreed to buy the business, ending a rare chapter. of Scott’s business career which lost investor money.

His experience with utilities went well. In 1999, Scott asked Buffett to invest in MidAmerican Energy, a dormant electric utility in Des Moines. The two businessmen had known each other since adolescence; the headquarters of Buffett’s conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., was at Kiewit Plaza, an office building in Omaha; and Scott had served on the board of directors of The Buffett Company since the late 1980s. But buying MidAmerican would deepen their ties.

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“From the start, the idea of ​​partnering with Walter seemed good to me,” Buffett wrote in a letter to shareholders in 2000.

Berkshire then funded a MidAmerican takeover with Scott, and she ultimately formed the foundation of a vast energy empire. With Buffett’s backing, the company bought utilities in the United States and Canada, bought gas pipelines, and invested billions in wind and solar power.

Towards the end of his life, Scott devoted more time to supporting a range of educational causes and charities in Omaha. He set out his thoughts on philanthropy in 2010 when he signed the Giving Pledge, an effort by Bill Gates, co-founder of Buffett and Microsoft Corp. to get the richest in the world to donate the majority of their wealth.

One of his priorities, Scott explained in a letter about his decision, was to focus on young people.

“I have nothing against the elderly. I am one! “He wrote.” But I think society will get the most bang for its buck if I invest in things that help us produce educated and productive citizens. “

Scott’s first wife, Carolyn, died in 1983. His second wife, former Suzanne Marshall, died in 2013.

© 2021 Bloomberg LP

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