Lehman Brothers might not have gone under. Seriously.
One of the upsides of slaving for my corporate overlords is the fact that I get to go every year to the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, an incredible event that is put on by our sister publication. This year, the Oracle of Omaha made a return appearance onstage with the always-awesome Carol Loomis and revealed the behind-the-scenes story of a deal that didn’t get done:
As you can imagine, Buffett was hearing from a lot of people on that crazy weekend exactly a year ago, when the financial world was falling apart. AIG, desperate to come up with $18 billion, begged him for help. “Don’t waste your time on me,” he told them. “I’m not going to be able to do anything for you.” And around 6 p.m. on that Saturday night, as Buffett was rushing out to a social engagement in Edmonton, Alberta, he got a call from Bob Diamond, the head of Barclays Capital. Diamond was trying to buy Lehman Brothers and rescue it from oblivion, but he was having trouble with British authorities. So he had come up with another plan, one in which Buffett would provide insurance that might make it all work. It was all too complicated for Buffett to take in in a quick phone call, so he asked Diamond to fax him the details. Buffett got back to his hotel room around midnight and was surprised to find … nothing. Lehman went under, and within days, the world was in a full-blown financial crisis.
Fast forward 10 months. Buffett, who admits he never has really learned the basics of his cell phone, asked his daughter Susan about a little indicator he had noticed on the screen: “Can you figure out what’s on there?” It turned out to be the message from Diamond that he had been waiting for that night. (NOTE: Which raises another question: Why didn’t Diamond use the fax, like Buffett asked him to?)
I caught up with Buffett afterward, and asked him whether, in retrospect, he might have gone for the deal. He pulled the simple little Samsung phone out of his pocket and pondered it for a moment. It’s entirely possible, he suggested. “I don’t know.”
And we never will.
UPDATE: This from Swampland commenter deconstructiva:
Warren is famous for not being comfy with tech – doesn’t invest in tech cos., cell phone problems as mentioned, etc. (fax? what’s that?)