Omahan Warren Buffett’s success in business and his focus on philanthropy have earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The Omaha investor, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., is one of 15 people who will receive the government’s highest civilian honor from President Barack Obama in a ceremony early next year.
In announcing the recipients Wednesday, the White House said Buffett is one of the most successful investors in the world, and it praised his decision to donate 99 percent of his net worth to charity.
The White House also noted that Buffett, along with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, created the Giving Pledge, a campaign that encourages wealthy Americans to donate at least 50 percent of their money to philanthropy.
In a press release about the Medal of Freedom recipients, Obama said, “These outstanding honorees come from a broad range of backgrounds and they’ve excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place.
“I look forward to awarding them this honor.”
A spokesman for Buffett said he declined to comment on the award.
During the worst months of the 2008-2009 recession, Buffett was a forceful and vocal defender of the country’s economic and political system and its future. That stance was credited by many as helping to calm the financial markets and soothing jittery consumers and decision-makers.
In an opinion article for The New York Times published in 2008, Buffett said he was confident in the U.S. economy. He made several investments in the following months that built up capital in key U.S. businesses.
And just this week, the Times printed Buffett’s thank-you note to “Uncle Sam,” in which he praised government officials for what he said were actions they properly took to stabilize the economy in 2008 and 2009.
“People will second-guess your specific decisions; you can always count on that. But just as there is a fog of war, there is a fog of panic — and, overall, your actions were remarkably effective,” Buffett wrote.
Buffett’s influence stems from more than 50 years of building Berkshire Hathaway into an economic powerhouse, based on ideas of investing and ethical business conduct that he discusses each year in his widely read letters to shareholders.
In recent years he has spoken out regularly on business-related issues, and he holds a series of private meetings with business students during the year to spread his ideas and inspire future business leaders.
His good-natured observations — not always positive but consistently realistic — are widely published and broadcast, making him one of the most recognized Americans at home and abroad.
In June, Buffett and Gates founded the Giving Pledge. They have pledged nearly all their own wealth, more than $40 billion apiece, to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
By August, 40 wealthy families or individuals publicly announced they had signed the pledge, with each posting a letter explaining why on the Giving Pledge website.
Buffett also raised the issue of philanthropy on a business trip to China in September.
Philanthropic groups have praised Buffett and Gates, who is a close friend of Buffett and serves on the board of Berkshire Hathaway, for their own giving and for initiating the pledge campaign.
The White House said the Medal of Freedom is presented to “individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
President Harry S Truman originated the medal in 1945 to recognize non-military Americans. About 450 people have received the award since then. Recipients with Nebraska ties include President Gerald Ford, an Omaha native, and entertainer Johnny Carson, who grew up in Norfolk, Neb., and worked in Omaha.
Last year’s honorees included theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, tennis legend Billie Jean King, actor Sidney Poitier and the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.