Many a grown-up would go to great lengths to get Warren Buffett's secrets for becoming a millionaire. But Warren Buffett's animated series Secret Millionaires Club has a strict "no-grown-ups" policy. The famous investor and philanthropist, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, voices an animated version of himself in the cartoon from Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment that airs on Disney's The Hub channel—Secret Millionaires Club Volume One is out on DVD now ($14.93). In the series, Buffett offers advice to a group of 10-year-olds who go on various business adventures and hobnob with the likes of Nick Cannon and Jay-Z (both lend their voices to the show, too). In an e-mail interview, Buffett told Fast Company why he feels financial advice is important to tweens and how the fundamentals of business apply to tykes and tycoons alike.
Why do this now?
There is no better time to teach kids about financial matters. If we can help kids understand money matters and the consequences of their decisions, we can help them develop healthy habits early on that will serve them a lifetime.
What's wrong with the way young people learn about money now?
I was lucky that my parents helped me develop the right financial habits from an early age. And I had wonderful teachers who taught me the fundamentals from an early age. Not calculus, but the basics. If you get the fundamentals right, the rest will follow. But not all kids get this. We are trying to teach the basics in Secret Millionaires Club, and hopefully help kids develop healthy habits from a young age.
If it were possible, what advice would Warren Buffett give to his 10-year-old self?
The same advice we are giving through Secret Millionaires Club. Things like: “The best investment you can make is an investment in yourself.” “The more you learn, the more you’ll earn.” “Find something you like to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” “Great partnerships will make any job easier.”
Do you think at 10 you already had a better appreciation of how money and finance worked than other kids your age?
I had great parents and great teachers who taught me from a very early age and helped me develop healthy habits that still serve me today. I taught them to my own kids, and we are making it available to all kids through Secret Millionaires Club.
How'd you come up with this cartoon idea?
My friend Andy Heyward, who is a producer of kids entertainment, and I came up with the idea to help educate kids about financial matters. I thought the idea of using the power of cartoon characters to carry a message teaching financial lessons at an age when it can help them.
How do the principles that guide a child's use of his or her allowance apply to (hopefully larger) sums they may acquire later in life?
Secret Millionaires Club helps kids understand the value of savings, the risks of borrowing and lending, the difference between “need” and “want,” and the discipline and knowledge to make good decisions their whole lives.
Is getting rich the goal here, and if not, what need is your advice via this character fulfilling?
Helping kids develop healthy habits from a young age is the goal. By helping kids understanding the basics, like making good decisions and understanding the consequences of your actions. We hope to help set kids on a positive path from a young age with lessons that will last a lifetime.
Do you expect that some future tycoon will one day be asked in an interview what made him decide to go into business, and he'll answer "Warren Buffett's Secret Millionaires Club?"
I wouldn’t be surprised judging by some of the kids who compete in our annual “Learn & Earn” contest. Thousands of kids compete and use what they’ve learned in Secret Millionaires Club to develop their own ideas. The finalists come to meet with me in Omaha, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them didn’t become tomorrow’s tycoons!
What sort of feedback are you hearing already?
We are hearing great feedback from kids, parents, and teachers. Kids have fun applying what they learn to create their own business ideas. Parents and teachers appreciate having simple messages and all the materials to help teach these important lessons to kids.
How is giving advice to 10-year-olds different from giving advice to full-grown adults?
The lessons of Secret Millionaires Club are practical, simple and relevant to us all at any age.
[Ed. note: For the record, we asked Buffett to explain the mortgage crisis to us as if we were 10 years old. He did not.]
[Mash-ups by Joel Arbaje]