Stewart Horejsi’s business was in a funk. It was 1980, and Brown Welding Supply, his family’s third-generation distributor of hydrogen and oxygen tanks, was battling competitors intent on expanding into its corner of Kansas. While “it was a profitable business,” says Horejsi, 75, who lives in Paradise Valley, Ariz., “the competition just grew.” Frustrated, he bought 40 shares of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK/A) for $265 each with the company’s cash after friends told him about Warren Buffett, the company’s then-little-known chairman. He bought another 60 shares two weeks later at $295 and 200 more at $330 a month after that.
Horejsi’s peak holding of Berkshire shares
Today, he’s a billionaire. The 4,300 Class A Berkshire shares Horejsi says he acquired over the years are now worth $745 million; combined with other holdings, that gives him a net worth of at least $1.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. In addition to Buffett, the world’s fourth-richest person, at least six current or former billionaires derive their fortunes from the stock. They include Charles Munger, the company’s vice chairman, and David Gottesman, a Berkshire board member and founder of asset-management firm First Manhattan.
Until now, Horejsi (pronounced “Horish”) had never appeared on such a ranking, and there are probably other Berkshire billionaires to be uncovered. In a June 2010 Fortune magazine article, Buffett said he knew of two shareholders who qualified for the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans but weren’t on it. These lost billionaires probably fall into one of two categories: investors in the early partnerships Buffett managed, the first of which was started in 1956; or business owners smart or lucky enough to sell their companies to Berkshire for stock instead of cash.
Other shareholders would be billionaires today if they hadn’t given so much to charity, according to Debra Bosanek, Buffett’s assistant. “There are a lot of them out there,” she wrote in an e-mail. Buffett declined to comment.
Horejsi got in early and held. He recalls some long-ago gatherings conducted in the cafeteria of Berkshire insurance subsidiary National Indemnity (BRK/A) in downtown Omaha. “There were 12 of us on folding chairs,” he says. He enjoyed the meeting so much that “I took friends and planted questions with them to keep” them going longer. Horejsi built his Berkshire stake to 5,800 Class A shares and, beginning in 1998, sold 1,500 of them. A year later he sold the family welding-supply company to Airgas (ARG), a distributor of industrial gases, welding supplies, and safety products. He accumulated control of four closed-end stock funds and now co-manages them through Boulder Investment Advisers, his money-management firm.
After trailing global markets in the aftermath of the financial crisis that began in 2008, Berkshire stock has surged 29 percent this year as of Sept. 17, outpacing the 21 percent return of the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index. Buffett has added $11 billion to his fortune this year, more than any other billionaire, according to the Bloomberg ranking.
Horejsi shares some habits with Buffett, such as drinking Coca-Cola (KO) and eating fudge from See’s Candies (BRK/A), a Berkshire company. He says he’s partial to Costco (COST) polo shirts and shorts. He travels on planes operated by NetJets (BRK/A)—another Berkshire company—to his other homes, in Mt. Hood, Ore., and Barbados, where he lives in a beachside estate called Bellerive that once belonged to Claudette Colbert. “He’s a believer in Warren Buffett,” says Richard Barr, Horejsi’s fraternity brother at the University of Kansas. “And he’s a firm believer in buy-and-hold.”