Warren Buffett Inspired and Appeared in a Cartoon Series. Here's What I Learned Watching It.
Recently, I stumbled across Warren Buffett's Secret Millionaires Club, an animated series that ran from 2011 to 2014 and in which the Oracle of Omaha teaches a group of Midwestern eighth graders about business and finance.
It is delightful.
On each episode, the kids work with Buffett to solve a "real-life" business dilemma. The show features a range of big name entrepreneurs -- including Jay Z, Bill Gates and Nick Cannon -- who help the kids figure out what to do.
Here are a few pearls of wisdom from Buffett and his special guests:
"In business and in life, there are no failures. We just toss what didn't work and focus on what did."
In the first episode, "Be Cool to Your School," future Secret Millionaires Club members Elena, Lisa, Jones and Radley want to raise money to fund a school trip to New York City that was canceled due to budget cuts. After their first few business ideas fail, the crew decides to ambush Buffett at his favorite steakhouse (because Jones read on the internet that that's where Buffett hangs out!).
One of the first things Buffett tells the intrepid eighth graders is that he makes it a point never to give advice -- on an empty stomach. Solid tip there, sir.
He goes on to show the kids how their past failures provide lessons for where to go next. With their healthy popsicle business idea, the crew had a popular product that could be made and marketed cheaply -- it just had a distribution problem: all the popsicles melted before the kids could sell them. With a bit of prodding from Buffett, the kids decide to sell juice instead of popsicles ("Yeah! Juice won't melt!" Thanks, Elena.) and recruit Jones's skater friends to distribute the product.
And presto, the crew raises $10,000 (!) to finance the field trip, all while having tons of fun. As Buffett says, "When you do what you love, you never work a day in your life!"
"Making gold isn't magic."
Later in the series, there's a three-part story arc where Buffett and the Secret Millionaires Club kids get transported back in time to King Arthur's Camelot (because, of course). At least, that's what it's supposed to be. The costume choices are ... interesting.
Anyway, Arthur returns from fighting dragons to find his kingdom is bankrupt, and if he doesn't pay the bills soon he'll lose everything to his cousin, Morgan Le Fay*. Arthur asks Merlin to summon "the greatest financial wizard of all time" -- whom we all of course know is Warren Buffett.
Buffett tells Arthur there are six "golden rules" to finance, but refuses to say what they are. Instead, the king and the SMC kids must go on a quest to find them out for themselves.
The quest involves fire-breathing dragons, fake princes and giant trolls. For brevity's sake, I'll just tell you the rules:
- Something worth doing is worth doing well.
- If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Promotion keeps a business in motion.
- Failure isn't falling down. It's staying down.
- Not having a plan is planning to fail.
- A good reputation is the best thing a business can have.
*In traditional Arthurian lore Morgan is often Arthur's half-sister, not his cousin. But, SMC says she's his cousin, so just go with it.
"Giving is better than receiving, and sharing is better than keeping things only for ourselves."
In episode 22, Bill Gates has a special mission for the SMC: Help a village in Africa get electricity. Gates and Buffett send the four kids by themselves (seems normal) with instructions to basically figure it out.
At first, the club thinks they won't be able to help, but then Radley comes up with an idea for installing a waterwheel generator in a nearby stream. He teams up with a kid from the village, Adisu, but the two have a falling out when each think his ideas are best.
After Elena helps Radley and Adisu patch things up, they manage to build the waterwheel and bring electricity to the village -- until a storm hits. A spark sets the village school on fire and the waterwheel washes away.
Not surprisingly, the SMC crew leaves feeling like they made the village worse off than when they arrived. However, once back in the U.S., they get a video call from their friends in the village and Bill Gates, who has helped repair the school and build a new, improved waterwheel generator. Hurray!
It seems a little bit like the lesson here is "Bill Gates can fix anything," which sounds about right. But, the underlying theme of helping others, especially once you are successful, is admirable (and true to Buffett and Gates's own principles). As Gates says, "We're all fortunate to have so much, and so we should give back, with our money and our time."
If you want to catch up on all the lessons from Warren Buffett's Secret Millionaires Club -- and I highly recommend that you do -- the full series is currently on Starz, while season one is available on Kid Genius on Amazon Channels. You can also watch 26 shorter webisodes on the SMC site.