“It’s been a heck of a weekend,” says Kevin Wills, who works at insurance company USLI in Wayne, Pa., and found out Friday that he was a co-winner of the Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A) March Madness contest for employees.
Wills and Robert Keller, who works at Berkshire-owned Geico, will split $100,000. Both men had perfect brackets through the first 15 games of this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, until Middle Tennessee State University, a 15-seed, toppled Michigan State, a 2-seed, on Friday night. In other words: Warren Buffett’s big contest didn’t even last two full days.
No one in the Berkshire contest (or in the country) came anywhere close to a perfect Sweet Sixteen-- that would have earned them $1 million a year every year for life. Instead, Wills and Keller share the $100,000 prize for staying perfect the longest.
The co-winners correctly predicted the first 20 games of the tournament. Each of them predicted Yale (12) over Baylor (5). They called the University of Arkansas Little Rock (12) upsetting Purdue (5). They nailed Hawaii (13) beating UC Berkeley (4). After that happened, both men were certain they must be the last one standing, and both were surprised to learn they had a co-winner. After Michigan State lost, they were both out. That meant $50,000 each, not $100,000. (How disappointing.)
The two lucky winners couldn’t be more different in their approach to filling out the bracket, and in their interest level. Both spoke exclusively to Yahoo Finance on Monday.
Wills is a huge college basketball fan. He says he watches many games all season, unlike the many Americans who don’t start paying attention until the tournament begins. He’s the kind of person you would expect to win an office pool. “This week is always my holiday,” he says. “I take time off, get together with high school friends. I tend to watch all the late-night games when I get home. Lucky for me, I had gotten to watch Hawaii [before the tournament], and I thought they had a shot. And that was the team that put me through.”
Wills has worked at USLI for nine years as a product leader. He says that after his big win, “I’m a celebrity internally. I haven’t had a chance to do an ounce of work. Don’t tell Warren.” He and his wife plan to put the money away, except for perhaps buying some new furniture. "Maybe if it had been the whole hundred [thousand], we’d go on a trip," he says. "Well, maybe I’ll take the family on a trip to Hawaii.”
Robert Keller, on the other hand, is no college basketball fan, and in fact, has never filled out a bracket or entered a pool before this one. He figures he hadn’t even watched a college basketball game in more than 20 years. “Never done a bracket, but this contest was going on, so I figured I might as well,” he says. “I sat down with my computer and tried to do a little homework. I consulted all the expert web sites, and I tried to pick some upsets, because you don’t win by picking the favorites.”
Keller, who has worked at Geico in Atlanta for nine years as a fraud investigator, continually refreshed the Berkshire website on Friday after every game, watching the field narrow. After Virginia Commonwealth University beat Oregon State, there were only 18 perfect brackets left of the more than 100,000 people who had entered the contest. After Hawaii beat Berkeley, Keller says, “I texted a friend of mine, and I said, ‘Out of 18 people I bet I was the only one to pick Hawaii.’ Nope. One other guy. And then of course no one picked Middle Tennessee to win. So we tied.”
Keller says he plans to put the money toward his children’s college fund—after he buys a new barbecue for the backyard.
Here’s the craziest part of Keller’s win: He won’t even watch the rest of the tournament. “I haven’t watched the games since winning,” he says matter-of-factly. “I mean, I like sports, I like football, but I don’t really follow college sports. But when there’s 100 grand on the line, you’re going to watch.”
Both men couldn’t help but get excited when they were told, by their respective bosses, that someone from Berkshire had called to verify their employment. Wills says his boss texted him and asked jokingly, “You still work here, right?”
Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology.