Huntsman Alumni Magazine

Spring 2007

R.C. Willey chairman talks about how to build a successful company

Students learned this fall how to build a company Warren Buffett would buy.

Or, at least, they found out how William Child did that when he spoke to them at the September Dean’s Convocation. He talked about how R.C. Willey went from being a one-store appliance dealership with one employee to being a company that owns 14 large stores. He sold R.C. Willey to Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., in 1995.

Bill Child, Kenny Soetjipto, and Dean Douglas D. Anderson

Bill Child (left) talks with Kenny Soetjipto while Dean
Douglas D. Anderson listens.

Child is now chairman of the board for R.C. Willey and has just begun serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where he is serving as the director of Washington D.C. Temple Visitors’ Center.

When he spoke to the students he had nothing but praise for Buffett. He did tell a story, however, about how he convinced Buffett to make a business move he was reluctant to make.

After he sold the business, Child proposed opening an R.C. Willey store in Boise, but Buffett had reservations about going into new territory because of R.C. Willey’s policy of staying closed on Sundays.

Child said he told Buffett, "I will personally buy the land and personally build the building, and if we are not successful in six months we’ll close it and we’ll walk."

He said that if the business was successful, he’d sell it back to Buffett, at cost.

Buffett wrote about the experience in a letter to shareholders in 1999.

"The store opened last August and immediately became a huge success," Buffett wrote. "Bill thereupon turned the property over to us - including some extra land that had appreciated significantly - and we wrote him a check for his cost. And get this: Bill refused to take a dime of interest on the capital he had tied up over the two years."

"If a manager has behaved similarly at some other public corporation, I haven’t heard about it," Buffett continued. "You can understand why the opportunity to partner with people like Bill Child causes me to tap dance to work every morning."