Buffett has been hands-on in the series’ development, from supplying key financial and life lessons he felt it was important for children to learn to voicing himself and meeting with finalists in the series’ annual Grow Your Own Business Challenge.
In Hollywood, success is often predicated on who you know. Andy Heyward and Amy Moynihan know Warren Buffet. And Warren Buffet knows Andy Heyward and Amy Moynihan, co-presidents of A-Squared Entertainment. Together, they have created “The Secret Millionaires Club,” an animated financial literacy series in which Buffett serves as mentor to a group of kids whose entrepreneurial endeavors introduce and reinforce basic concepts of business and personal finance.
This isn’t Buffett in name only. Unlike the animated feature Yellow Submarine, in which the Beatles offered no creative input and actors voiced John, Paul, George and Ringo, Buffett has been hands-on in the series’ development, from supplying key financial and life lessons he felt it was important for children to learn to voicing himself and meeting with finalists in the series’ annual Grow Your Own Business Challenge. His name, too, was a useful calling card to attract such stellar guest stars as Jay-Z, Shaquille O'Neal and Bill Gates
“The Secret Millionaires Club” is comprised of 26 webisodes that appear on the series website. They have also been adapted as specials which air on the HUB cable network. Each approximately four-minute webisode dramatizes key age-appropriate components of financial literacy and starting a business, including creating a business plan, saving money, learning from mistakes and avoiding debt. Each ends with “Words from Warren” in which he reinforces the webisode’s key concept.
Buffett needs no introduction. Andy Heyward’s name may not be instantly familiar, but if you are a Gen Xer who came of age in the 1980s, you probably hold near and dear some of the era-defining series he shepherded to the screen as a producer, among them “Inspector Gadget,” “Strawberry Shortcake” and “Ghostbusters.” He has been honored with multiple Emmys, the CableAce award and the Humanitas award. Moynihan, his wife, has been associated on the marketing side with such iconic brands as Disney (she co-created and launched Disney Cruise Line), Hasbro and McDonald’s.
The couple became friends with Buffett as the producers of animated pop culture spoofs used to open his annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting. The billionaire investor was the inspiration for “The Secret Millionaires Club,” Moynihan told Millionaire Corner. “We were having breakfast with him and he was talking about how his own granddaughter had fallen into the trap of getting a credit card and running up a balance,” she recalled. “He joked, ‘You’d think my own kids would know.’”
Personal finance and the basic concepts of financial literacy are topics generally not covered very well in schools, the three agreed. “We decided we should do something. We could teach kids how (personal finance) works.”
After decades in children’s entertainment, Heyward and Moynihan began A-Squared Entertainment (“Content with a purpose”) four years ago. Children’s programming, Moynihan noted, is a highly competitive field. “You’re going up against Disney, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network.”
Changes in the industry and the way children interact with 21st century technology paved the way for an upstart company to make an impact. “Kids don’t sit back and wait until Saturday to watch cartoons,” Moynihan observed. “They watch whenever they want. And they are watching (not just on TV, but) on their computers and on their phones. What was once passive entertainment is very interactive now. You can do webisodes and put them on Netflix and Amazon. Kids will find them. It’s a great opportunity to create content with a purpose.”
“The Secret Millionaires Club” is something of a misnomer. The series is not about how to become a millionaire, she said. “It’s about developing good habits, making good decisions, and recognizing how those decisions can have a (positive) impact.” The series also take its cue from Buffett’s “philosophy of life and investing,” Moynihan added. “It boils down to ‘Find something that you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life.’”
In 2011, the series branched out into a sponsored educational program, "Learn & Earn" with in-school materials for teachers, at home activities for families and afterschool activities for youth organizations. This in turn inspired the Grow Your Own Business Challenge, in which children ages 7-14 participate in a national competition to develop new business ideas. Finalists present their ideas to Buffett (the latest Challenge was just announced).
“Warren has said that anyone who is pessimistic about the country and who feel the best days are behind us should spend a day with these kids,” Moynihan said.
Another spinoff product is “Business in a Box,” for now sold exclusively at Toys R Us, teaches kids the fundamentals of financial literacy through interactive play. Building on the series’ financial literacy lessons, the kit includes a calculator, business banners, DVDs and suggested activities. The episodes are also available separately on DVD.
Buffett and his family are “very inspiring people to be around,” Moynihan said, and she sees the series as an integral part of his legacy. “He was on Piers Morgan’s talk show,” she said, “and he remarked that he wants to be remembered as a teacher. He is tickled to go into elementary schools (and meet students). He’s having a lot of fun with this. He does it because he loves it.”
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.