In his annual letter to shareholders, Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett shared a uniquely American story. In 1915, NFM’s founder, Rose Blumkin, “aka Mrs. B,” arrived in Seattle, WA. Even though Mrs. B could neither speak nor write English, by 1936, she had saved $2,500, with which she started a furniture store.
Over the weekend Mr. Buffett described the history of Nebraska Furniture Mart (NFM), now part of the Berkshire portfolio.
Competitors and suppliers ignored her, and for a time their judgment seemed correct: World War II stalled her business, and at year end 1946, the company’s net worth had grown to only $72,264. Cash, both in the till and on deposit, totaled $50 (that’s not a typo).
One invaluable asset, however, went unrecorded in the 1946 figures: Louie Blumkin, Mrs. B’s only son, had rejoined the store after four years in the U.S. Army. Louie fought at Normandy’s Omaha Beach following the D-Day invasion, earned a Purple Heart for injuries sustained in the Battle of the Bulge, and finally sailed home in November 1945.
Once Mrs. B and Louie were reunited, there was no stopping NFM. Driven by their dream, mother and son worked days, nights and weekends. The result was a retailing miracle.
By 1983, the pair had created a business worth $60 million. That year, on my birthday, Berkshire purchased 80% of NFM… I counted on Blumkin family members to run the business; the third and fourth generation do so today. Mrs. B, it should be noted, worked daily until she was 103… NFM now owns the three largest home-furnishings stores in the U.S. Each set a sales record in 2020, a feat achieved despite the closing of NFM’s stores for more than six weeks because of COVID-19.
A post-script to this story says it all: When Mrs. B’s large family gathered for holiday meals, she always asked that they sing a song before eating. Her selection never varied: Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.”
As James Freeman in the WSJ reports, Mr. Buffett continues in BH’s letter to shareholders to describe “the army of successful entrepreneurs who populate every part of our country.”
Today, many people forge similar miracles throughout the world, creating a spread of prosperity that benefits all of humanity. In its brief 232 years of existence, however, there has been no incubator for unleashing human potential like America. Despite some severe interruptions, our country’s economic progress has been breathtaking…
Our unwavering conclusion: Never bet against America.
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