Chef executive

A little more than a year ago, Doris Christopher and her husband, Jay, were on a flight from O’Hare to Nebraska to meet with Warren Buffett, the world’s second richest man and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, a holding company of diverse business including insurance brokers, construction firms, furniture manufacturers, fractional jet ownership — even a brick company.

Every year, thousands of investors flock to Berkshire’s annual meeting to hear the "Oracle of Omaha" hold forth on the prospects for investing success in the coming year. But on this early September day in 2002, Buffett wanted to hear what Doris Christopher had to say.

Just a week earlier, the $36 billion dollar man had never heard of Christopher. Now he wanted to know if the founder and CEO of The Pampered Chef would sell her company — a direct seller of 225 high-end kitchen tools including everything from vegetable peelers and cutting boards to skillets and fondue sets — to Berkshire.

But it wasn’t the cooking accessories that drew the interest of Buffett, whose culinary tastes run toward a simple steak and Dairy Queen ice cream. Instead, it was the fact that The Pampered Chef had grown by more than 230 percent since 1995, had no debt, offered juicy profit margins (estimated as high as 25 percent pre-tax) and boasted a following of 70,000 dedicated sales reps, or "kitchen consultants" as the company calls them.

So there was Christopher, a mother of two daughters and a former full-time homemaker, face-to-face with the man Fortune magazine calls the most powerful person in business. After a brief meeting, he made an offer. She accepted.

"We are extremely excited by The Pampered Chef," the notoriously tight-lipped Buffett said in a brief statement. "Doris Christopher has created from scratch an absolutely wonderful business and (CEO) Sheila O’Connell Cooper is exactly the type of manager Berkshire admires. They both clearly love the business and the people they work with. We are delighted to add The Pampered Chef to the family of Berkshire businesses."

While details were never released, it is estimated that Berkshire paid around $900 million for The Pampered Chef.