“I’m not telling the group at Augusta what to do, but if I were running the club I’d have plenty of women,” Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/A), said yesterday in an interview with Betty Liu on Bloomberg Television’s “In the Loop” following his company’s annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska.
Augusta National, which hosts golf’s annual Masters Tournament, has been subject of criticism over its male-only policy. The issue gained attention this year when International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) promoted Virginia “Ginni” Rometty to chief executive officer. The Georgia club historically invites the CEO of IBM to be a member, including the four previous chief executives.
Buffett, 81, whose company owns a 5.5 percent stake in IBM, said he was aware of the policy when he joined. He said he doesn’t plan to resign his membership over the issue.
“I might prefer having female members, but I’m not on the committee” that nominates people to the group, he said.
Formerly IBM’s sales and marketing head, Rometty, 54, succeeded Sam Palmisano this year. Palmisano, who had been CEO since 2002, remains chairman. He, along with the CEOs of Masters’ co-sponsors Exxon Mobil Corp. and AT&T Inc., is a member of Augusta National, which sets its own rules as a private club and has resisted calls for change in the past. Augusta added its first black member in 1990.
The club and Armonk, New York-based IBM have declined to comment on the issue. President Barack Obama, through his spokesman, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney both said last month they favor the club changing its membership rules to allow women.
Buffett has taken a stand against exclusionary clubs and in support of women’s rights before. In the 1960s, he objected to Jewish members being excluded from the Omaha Club, a “downtown eating haunt for businessmen,” according to Roger Lowenstein’s book “Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist.”
He tackled the issue by applying for membership to the all- Jewish Highland Country Club, and was admitted in 1969. Buffett informed the Omaha Club, which then admitted some Jews, Lowenstein wrote.
At a conference last year, Buffett said that for most of its history the U.S. wasted women’s talents by restricting their career opportunities and failing to take advantage of their abilities.
“It’s incredible what happened,” Buffett said Oct. 4 at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, California. “We wasted half our talent.”
The investor and his late wife Susan were also long-time supporters of women’s reproductive rights, including abortion and contraception advocacy, according to the book and news reports, including a July 2010 article about abortion providers by the New York Times.
Berkshire spent more than $10 billion building its IBM stake.