By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK, June 30 A bidder agreed to pay $650,100 to have lunch with billionaire Warren Buffett, surpassing last year's record for the annual charity auction.
Mohnish Pabrai, an Irvine, California-based investor who models his investment style on Buffett's, won the right to dine with the 76-year-old chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRKa.N) (BRKb.N). The five-day online auction concluded on Friday night on eBay Inc.'s (EBAY.O) Web site.
It was Pabrai's fifth year of bidding but the first time he won. The top bid surged nearly $250,000 in the final hour.
"He has had a major influence on the way I've invested, and also on the way I give back," Pabrai, 43, said in an interview. "To the extent societal rules or the wiring of your brains make it easy to acquire a lot of assets, then to the extent you can, you should try to improve the world."
A year ago, Buffett pledged most of his fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and four family charities. Forbes magazine in March estimated his net worth at $52 billion.
Pabrai invests more than $600 million at Pabrai Investment Funds, including $50 million in Berkshire stock. He said Guy Spier, a friend who runs the Aquamarine LLC hedge fund, funded about one-third of his winning bid.
The lunch for up to seven people will be held at a Manhattan steakhouse run by Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group Inc. SWRG.O. Pabrai plans to take his wife and two children, and Spier and his wife.
Auction proceeds will benefit the Glide Foundation, a non-profit group in San Francisco's Tenderloin district that helps serve poor and homeless people.
Buffett began donating the lunches in 2000, after his wife Susan introduced him to Glide, its affiliated church, and the Rev. Cecil Williams, who runs both.
The auctions were conducted live for three years, and have raised some $2.07 million for Glide since moving to the Web in 2003. Glide's annual budget is about $12 million.
Last year's winner, Yongping Duan, a Palo Alto, California investor, bid $620,100 to dine with Buffett.
Buffett has since 1965 transformed Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire from a failing textile maker into a conglomerate with more than 70 businesses ranging from insurance to ice cream to underwear, and a market value exceeding $168 billion.
((Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; editing by Stuart Grudgings Reuters Messaging: firstname.lastname@example.org, 646 223 6317)) Keywords: BUFFETT LUNCH/
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