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18 April 2024

'Crisis bodes well for creativity'


By Ryan Harrison

Peter Buffett's career as a songwriter and musician spans more than 28 years, during which he has won an Emmy award, produced ads for MTV and Coco-Cola, performed with Akon and played ukulele with his father, world-renowned investor Warren.

His family connection to one of the shrewdest business brains has seen the younger Buffett accept more than $1 billion (Dh3.6bn) for his charity, NoVo Foundation, from the Berkshire Hathaway Chairman.

Peter was in the UAE this week for the Future Capitals summit in Abu Dhabi, where he spoke about art and the financial crisis. He told Emirates Business his views on the Emirates' growth and efforts to develop the country's art scene, as well as what it is like to be the son of a man who's reportedly lost $16bn in the economic downturn.

Despite his fleeting visit, Peter said he was keen to bring his Native Indian show, Spirit – The Seventh Fire, to theatres in the UAE.

Will art take a back seat during the financial crisis?

No, it won't be side-tracked. As historically people want a feeling of safety, security and community in any crisis so they turn to what makes them feel good, which often is the arts in some form. People who are losing their jobs are starting to think what they want to do with their life, so it bodes well for creativity.

You must have heard that the UAE will soon host the Guggenheim and the Louvre. What do you think?

It's a young country yet has traditions that can be pulled into a modern context, and I hope that's not put aside. Bringing in these museums can be a wonderful way of keeping the history of the world alive, but it's not the same as digging deep into your own roots and saying what is it about us that makes us who we are.

What do you make of the most popular pastime in UAE, Shopping?

Consumerism can lead to potential wastefulness, which is an issue with the environment now – if you're buying a lot of stuff, you're probably throwing a lot out. The question is why is someone buying something? If it's to make you happy then you have to wonder what's really going on. It's not a regional issue for Abu Dhabi or Dubai, it's globally because the United States has championed it.

What's your reaction to Dubai's rapid expansion?

I landed in Dubai at night so drove to Abu Dhabi for a conference in the dark. All I saw was cranes. If you look at an apartment building, it's the size of a village. And that is a concern because there is a danger you lose the relationships with people. I've lived in an urban centre where there was an incident outside and everyone went out onto the street, and it was the first time I met my neighbours.

How's your father handling the financial crisis?

He's never looked at anything in the short term. So for him it's just a function of all the things that everyone else now knows it's a function of, whether it's greed or the components that made up this false reality which led to it collapsing. He takes the Rick Van Winkle approach to stock investing – so he could fall asleep for 20 years and wake up and that would be fine with him.

What has driven your father for so long?

He doesn't do what he does to make money. People think money for him is the end game but for him doing it is the whole point – it's so much fun for him. He has driven himself to the same office for 45 years now and just loves doing it. Some people say isn't your dad disappointed you're not in business, but I say we do the same thing – we do what we love.

In the past two years, you collaborated and set up the social action website IsThereSomethingICanDo.com with singer Akon. What's the latest?

Akon and I might do a show in Omaha when my dad has his big annual meeting in May. For a gig I did back in September, I got my dad and Akon on stage with me playing. I should get an ambassadorship if I can pull those two worlds together. Akon's a good guy although he's had a bit of bad press in the past. He remixed my song Anything, but I would never have guessed we would be as musically compatible as we were on that song – and he wants to do more.