Milwaukee Talks: Peter Buffett
NEW YORK -- It's been a couple years since Peter and Jennifer Buffett left Milwaukee for Manhattan. With family still on the East Side and the couple still involved in a number of projects here, you shouldn't be surprised to see them strolling Downer Avenue occasionally.
Buffett, of course, is a son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett and is no stranger to OnMilwaukee.com readers, but we wanted to catch up with him to find out what's happening with his well-funded foundation and more.
A second installment of this interview, which took place in Manhattan's Soho neighborhood in May, will appear later in the week. In that interview, Buffett talks about his music, Radio Milwaukee and more.
OMC: Would you describe yourself as a Milwaukeean?
PB: Well, when people ask where I'm from, I usually say the Midwest, because that covers both homes, in a way. Obviously I was born in Omaha, but when people say, "Where do you come from," we'll say Milwaukee. I mean Jennifer was certainly born in Milwaukee, and that's where I spent a big chunk of my adult life, so we usually say we came here from Milwaukee. That's usually how it's referenced is we're from Milwaukee, yeah.
OMC: Other than the Starbucks on Downer, what do you miss most about the city?
PB: Um, well, I'd say the neighborhood in general.
OMC: Were you guys living on the East Side?
PB: Yeah, we lived on Stowell between Newberry and Locust, and so to be able to sit out on the front porch and watch the leaves change and all that, that's probably what I miss most.
OMC: What's your living situation like here? Are you in an apartment building?
PB: Yeah, we're in an apartment building. We're renting, and we're on the 30th floor, of what's called the sliver tower -- which means it's a skinny, skinny building. There's only two apartments per floor, which is kind of cool. It's nice that way.
OMC: Do you have a nice view then, presumably?
PB: We have a great view. You can see planes landing at JFK. I mean, we see all the way east and south. A tremendous view.
OMC: But not like the front porch.
PB: Exactly. The nice thing that's the same is that we walk everywhere, or we take the subway. So that's nice, but the difference is again, that when you're walking in Milwaukee … we walked, when we were there, from where Jen's cousin lives on Kenwood and Lake, right on the corner, kind of a major corner there, but she's tucked back a little bit, over to the Starbucks on Downer, and just smelling the air, and hearing the sounds, and seeing … it was amazing.
OMC: I'm struck again, coming back to New York, by how, sort of European, maybe, but how very not Midwestern it is in that everybody relies on public transport. That so goes against what the situation is like in Milwaukee. Do you ever see that changing?
PB: Well, only with the price of oil. But it is so accessible here.
OMC: Even that seems like it hasn't done it.
PB: I know, so far, it hasn't done a thing. Maybe with as much development as going on Downtown. Because it really is the density that creates services, and it may be that if Downtown gets dense enough, some sort of light rail will finally take hold.
OMC: Right. It still seems to me that it's that block of people are just determined to block it no matter what.
PB: It's amazing. I took the subway down here. I mean, it's incredible.
OMC: You buy your Metro card, and it's easy.
PB: Right, our neighborhood here is first and foremost about three square blocks around the apartment, because you have everything -- laundry and drugstore, and everything's really close, but then we're also a 10-minute subway ride or from anywhere, and that's a block away. So it really makes everything so accessible, it's great.
OMC: Do you get back to Milwaukee much?
PB: We were just back. My wife Jennifer's family is all from there. Jennifer grew up there, so we have personal ties forever -- her mom, dad, her brother, her twin brother -- so, there's certainly a personal connection there that will also be there. Also, even though I grew up in Omaha, I feel like I really grew up in Milwaukee.
OMC: How long were you there?
PB: Fifteen years. So I was almost there as long as Omaha. I lived there for 18 years until I went off to school. And even though when you're a kid, there's a certain element of development. When you're an adult … I moved to Milwaukee when I was 31 … so from 31 to 46, I was there, and I grew up a whole lot more between 31 and 46 in terms of things I learned about myself, my life, and everything else. So to me, it really feels like home, so I love going back. I can't imagine ever losing the feeling of Milwaukee feeling like home.
OMC: Does being outside of Milwaukee give you a different sort of perspective on the city? I know it's only been about two years, but do you feel like it's different when you go back?
PB: Well, yeah, sort of. Although, you know, I always felt so strongly that it was so full of potential, and had realized a lot of it, but a lot of the people of Milwaukee didn't necessarily know it. There's that classic thing about Milwaukee …
OMC: That's the Milwaukee disease.
PB: Yeah, exactly. And I think it does live, certainly, to some extent, and so coming at Milwaukee from an outside situation, you know, from San Francisco, and loving it then, and realizing that there was this sort of Milwaukee disease, I don't have so much of a different feeling when I'm gone, because I recognized it the whole time being there, and realized this is a great place, but it is incredible to go back and see the development, the continuing development.
OMC: It seems like it's changing quickly.
PB: Yeah, it really does … it's quite noticeable, what's going up and what's changing, and it's great. It's great to see.
OMC: It sounds like you are adjusting to New York life.
PB: We are. I tell everybody that it's easier to live here than to visit, because you visit here and you just think, "Oh my God, how can anybody live here?" I mean, that's what I used to think. There's so much going on, and your time is so compressed, but when you live here, again, you realize that every thing's a couple blocks away, and what isn't a couple of blocks away is phenomenal in terms of what you have access to. So it was very easy to adapt, actually. Except we really do, and especially Jennifer, really misses the green, birds, nature.
OMC: Are you guys planning to stay?
PB: We'll stay here for a while, for sure. I don't know how long we'll be here, but we'll be here a while. It's a good time for us to be here, and we recognize that, and really love that part of it.
OMC: When you're here, do you run into Milwaukeeans a lot? Today, a the Starbucks on 87th and Lexington, I ran into someone I know from South Milwaukee. It's not the first time I've been in New York and ran into Milwaukee people.
PB: I mean, I've done it right here… I ran into some Milwaukee people just a few blocks away. It was a while ago, but it does happen occasionally. Jennifer's done it too where she's walking down the street and runs into a couple of friends, so yes, it does happen. Which is really bizarre, when it does.
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MilwaukeeMan | July 11, 2007 at 1:34 p.m. (report)
Great interview. Peter, Jennifer and their family have done a great deal for Milwaukee. They lived here for years, way under the radar, giving, doing and making things happen. His thoughts on the City are great and even when he spoke at YPM/Fuel Milwaukee a few months ago I was surprised at how few knew that he was the son of the richest man in the world. Yet, as this interview does well, it show Peter has his own man. It will be fun to watch his Family Foundation truly change the world. Even more fun to know that he "started" in Milwaukee.
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