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Berkshire Hathaway Meeting: Part 1 – Why I Go to Omaha

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Daraius:  Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger are 2 of my heroes!  So I was really looking forward to attending this year’s Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders Meeting!
“If you’re in the luckiest 1% of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99%.” – Warren E. Buffett “If all you succeed in doing in life is getting rich by buying little pieces of paper, it is a failed life.  Life is more than being shrewd in wealth accumulation.” – Charles T. Munger

Most folks know Warren Buffett and his partner Charlie Munger for their unsurpassed track record of growing their investments ~20% annually for FIFTY consecutive years!  Or in other words, Berkshire shares have gained ~2,850,000% since Buffett took over.

But I’ve always been more inspired by their compassionate kindness, strict ethical compass, unusual generosity, piercing intelligence, and sheer wisdom.

And for showing the world that it is, unequivocally, possible to be successful in business AND to achieve that success in an honorable way.  A way of honesty, integrity, and generosity.

Me and 2 of My Idols

Berkshire Hathaway Meeting 2015 Index:

What’s the Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders Meeting?

One of my favorite treats is attending the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting (affectionately called “Woodstock for Capitalists”) in Omaha, Nebraska.  I attended my 1st meeting in 2007 with my good friend Mike, and I was hooked!

At 7:00 am on a Saturday morning, ~30,000 folks flock to the CenturyLink Center to attend this event.  What I love is the folks you find here are so much more than your typical (read: know-nothing) Wall Street suits.

You’ll Also See Broke College Students, 8 Year Old Kids Waiting to Ask Questions, and Laid Back Mid-Western Types (Who May Own a Gazillion Dollars in Berkshire “A” Shares)!

Buffett and Munger answer questions from shareholders without ANY screening.  Even more invigorating was that Buffett and Munger answered the questions EXTREMELY bluntly and candidly.  There was no lawyer-ing around in their replies!

There is virtually no other public company which has its top managers answer shareholder questions so honestly and with so much respect towards their shareholders.

The Men Behind the Success of Berkshire Hathaway

Berkshire Shareholders Meeting 2015

This year I attended the meeting with my friends Stefan, who writes Rapid Travel Chai, and Mike.  See Stefan’s recap of the meeting here.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites at Omaha Airport using IHG hotel points.  The room rates were ~$200+ during this weekend in Omaha.  So using 20,000 IHG hotel points per night saved us money!

The Holiday Inn Express & Suites Is Only a ~10 Minute Drive from the CenturyLink Center

Mike and I didn’t get our meeting passes in the mail, so I took an Uber from the airport to the CenturyLink Center to get them.

There was a long line to get into the meeting on Saturday morning.

I Didn’t Realize the Arena’s Baggage Rules Were Sponsored by Spirit Airlines! 😉
NetJets (a 100% subsidiary of Berkshire) was having a labor dispute with the pilots during the annual meeting.

Well dressed and mild-mannered NetJets pilots were handing out red NetJet bags outside the stadium.

Guerrilla Marketing at Its Best!

Except that the URL on the bag led to a site explaining the pilot’s grievances.  And hundreds of folks ended up carrying these red bags into the meeting.  Brilliant!

This was the 50th anniversary since Buffett took control of Berkshire Hathway, so there was an extra-large turnout.

The Meeting Is Like a Rock Concert for Finance Geeks, Like Me!

It usually isn’t too difficult to get seats on the main floor of the stadium.  A lot of folks leave newspapers on seats and don’t come back (instead they mill about the shopping areas or sit with their friends).

So any seat with newspapers on them are likely unoccupied…and if someone comes to sit in them, you can always move!

It Took a While to Find Lower Level Seats

Words of Wisdom From Warren Buffett & Charles Munger

The best part of the annual meeting is listening to Buffett and Munger answer questions for ~7 hours.  And unlike virtually every other public company, Buffett and Munger are extremely candid and forthright in their answers.  They don’t shy away from calling a spade a spade!

Buffett is the more personable of the 2 men, always answering questions with a lot of detail and sincerity.  Munger is more concise with his answers, but always extremely insightful with his dry, droll sense of humor.  Munger is famous for remarking, “I have nothing more to add” after Buffett has answered a question.

But Munger answered all the questions this year, which delighted me!

And I was touched and energized by the certitude with which Buffett and Munger talked about generosity, ethics, and making a living in an honorable way.

Not to mention their unabashed skepticism about Wall Street, Consultants, “Beta,” or whatever else is the flavor of the day in the so-called “investing” community.

For example, Buffett quipped:

“Wall Street is the only place that people ride to in a Rolls Royce to get advice from those who take the subway.”

He also said:

“Beware of geeks bearing formulas,” – A warning to be skeptical of those who make things unnecessarily complicated.

I’ve arranged some of their quotes below by category.

1.   Investing

“If people weren’t so wrong, we wouldn’t be so rich” – Munger  (Responding to a question skeptical of Berkshire’s IBM holdings.)
“We would have been sweaty at night.  It is crazy to sweat at night” – Munger  (explaining why he doesn’t like leverage (or borrowing money))…To which Buffett impishly added “…over financial things”
Is This You at Night? Buffett and Munger Say It’s NOT Worth It! 🙂
“The hedge funds haven’t done badly. They’ve been collecting their 2-and-20 in fees.  The investors in the hedge fund have paid a pretty big price.” Buffett  (He has a 10 year bet with hedge fund Protégé Partners that the S&P 500 will beat the return on hedge funds after accounting for fees.  The S&P 500 again beat the hedge funds in 2014.)

2.   Being Generous & Living a Meaningful Life

“It’s crazy to not be generous.  We’re social animals and tied to other people” – Munger  (On what matters to him the most)
“I don’t want to be an example to people who want to get rich for rich’s sake.  That’s not enough of a life.  A crazy way to go through life.”  – Munger  (On how he’d like to be remembered)
“Do the most good.  No utility to me.  But lots of utility to others in form of vaccines etc.  [The money] helps millions who don’t have remotely good lives.” – Buffett  (On giving away his money)
“Will you really make a better decision when you’re 95 with a blonde on your lap?”  – Buffett  (On what he tells 75 year olds who want to give away their money later on)
“There’s no Forbes 400 in the graveyard.” – Buffett

3.   Going Against Conventional Wisdom

“Any company that has an economist has 1 employee too much.”  – Buffett (Explaining why he doesn’t make deals based on macro factors)
“If I die a little sooner, I’d avoid some months of drooling in a nursing home.”  – Munger  (Joking about why he likes sugar)
“I never went to business school.  What good is it?  Efficient market says companies are perfectly valued.  It set me at a handicap.  And to pay $30,000 for this!”  – Buffett  (Mocking the state of finance education in business schools)

4.   Selecting Partners

“Do we really want to be in partnership with this person and count on them to behave well in the future?  That stops a fair number of deals”  – Buffett  (On how to decide whether to do a deal)
“This works in marriage too.  Change yourself, not your partner”  – Munger (Doling out marriage advice)
You’ll Even Get Relationship Advice at the Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder’s Meeting!
“The trustworthiness is more important than the brains”  – Buffett  (On hiring)

5.   Greed

“We’ve seen smart people with high IQs self-destruct to make more money than they need.  That’s madness.”  – Buffett  (On selecting staff)
“There’s a big tendency to raise prices to what can be collected, and then rationalize that it’s worth it.”  – Munger  (Expressing his distaste on the high cost of attending US universities)
“Investment banker aided fraud.  Not exactly novel.”  – Munger  (On financial statements created by certain member countries of the euro)

6.   Multitasking

“The idea of multitasking my way to glory has never occurred to me”  – Munger (On how the internet has changed his life)

7.   On Current Tax Rates

“I don’t shed any tears for American businesses complaining about high taxes.” – Buffett  (Explaining how the tax rate is close to the lowest it has been)

Other Shareholder Weekend Events

1.   Borsheim’s Cocktail Reception

In addition to the main Q & A session on Saturday, there is a cocktail reception at Borsheim’s on Friday evening.  I’d skip this event, unless it is your 1st time attending the Berkshire meeting.

In that case, it is certainly worth a peek.  And, boy, is it crowded!

You get free drinks, but we didn’t have the patience to stand in the line!

Sometimes Free Just Isn’t Worth It, and This Was 1 of Those Times

And just like the Frequent Traveler University & Chicago Seminars, there are regulars who form their own cliques on the side!

2.   Nebraska Furniture Mart Picnic

On Saturday evening there was a picnic at Nebraska Furniture Mart which is the largest furniture shop in the US.

It Was a Beautiful Day for a Picnic

We walked through the store and saw some uniquely American items, including this gun safe…

Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders Get Special Discounts on Purchases Throughout the Weekend
and massaging chairs!
You’re Going to Need This After Waiting in Line for Food!

3.   Investing Seminars

There are also other “investing” events throughout the weekend.  Many of these appear to be a way for money managers to ride the coat-tails of Buffett and Munger and get folks to invest in their funds.

We attended 1 event where the speaker was overly aggressive and condescending to women who asked him questions.  I couldn’t understand what the speaker was saying because he was speaking in Mandarin, but his body language made me uncomfortable and skeptical.

But Stefan (who speaks fluent Mandarin) explained that he wasn’t polite to the women asking him questions.  I’d never invest my money with such a person, because I didn’t trust him.

Trust Is a Major Factor When Deciding to Invest

And on Sunday, thanks to Mike, we attended the Markel meeting.  Markel is regarded as a “mini-Berkshire” whose managers use very similar value-investing strategies.

The Markel Meeting Also Drew a Large Crowd

And a little girl stood in line to ask a question!

It’s Never Too Early to Gain Financial Wisdom!

Bottom Line

I felt very touched and thankful to Buffett and Munger for sharing their wisdom, life philosophy, and showing folks an honorable way to conduct oneself in business and in life.

And I was very grateful to hang out with my friends and attend, yet another, Berkshire annual meeting.

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