By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Warren Buffett, the world's third-richest person, on Tuesday offered strong praise for Jeff Bezos, the fourth-richest, saying he embodies the potential that can blossom when small business owners build their companies.
Speaking at a panel discussion in Long Island City, New York on the state of small business in America, Buffett called Bezos, the chief executive of retailer Amazon.com Inc <AMZN.O>, a "classic example" of how business owners can succeed by focusing not just on satisfying their customers, but delighting them.
"Twenty years ago he had a very, very, very small business," but Bezos today is still "thinking about how to further delight his customer," said Buffett, who has run his Omaha, Nebraska-based conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc <BRKa.N> since 1965.
Buffett is worth $66.4 billion while Bezos is worth $62.9 billion, Forbes magazine said on Tuesday.
Both also have a shared interest in newspapers, with Berkshire owning dozens of newspapers including its hometown Omaha World-Herald and Bezos owning the Washington Post.
The panel also included Goldman Sachs Group Inc <GS.N> Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein, Twitter Inc <TWTR.N> Chief Executive Jack Dorsey, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Earlier on Tuesday, in an opinion piece published by USA Today, Buffett, Blankfein, Bloomberg and Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter called for reduced regulatory burdens and increased transparency in borrowing.
They said this would help make it easier for small businesses to raise affordable capital they need to grow, without compromising consumer and environmental protections.
Buffett, 85, nonetheless said the restrictions in place now do not dampen his enthusiasm for America.
"The potential of men and women in this country has not been exhausted in any way shape or form," he said. "The luckiest person in the world is the baby being born in the United States today."
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)