Sunday, June 10, 2007
Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway's Meeting
My last two posts were about shareholder meetings and heroes. They provide the perfect segue into my hero, Warren Buffet, and my experience at the Berkshire Hathaway meeting in Omaha, Nebraska in 2007. I chose to attend the meeting for several reasons, primarily because I was not sure whether my future schedule would allow me to take several days off, and to a lesser extent, whether Mr. Buffett would still be around in the next few years. Also, I have never been to the Midwest, except for Chicago, so I was looking forward to this trip.
First, if you plan to go to the meeting, plan early. All the hotels were booked almost seven months in advance, and I was lucky to get a great deal on priceline.com for the Comfort Inn at the Zoo. The location is far from some of the events, such as Gorat's and Borsheim's, but I did not rent a car and relied on the kindness of strangers, including a chance meeting with a Reuters reporter, to get me to various places. (He was very friendly, an ex-lawyer, and seemed to lament the fact that Bloomberg had sent several more reporters with more resources.) As almost everyone there was friendly, I had no problem getting around, but I do suggest renting a car if you go. Omaha, NE is spread out because they have such a low population density and lots of open space. As a result of this land affluence, the city planners could afford to build with disregard to future growth, creating sprawl. Taxis are extremely expensive because of limited competition and also the numerous highways they have to enter to get from one place to another. So even though Point A and Point B are literally one mile away from each other, sometimes you have to take two highways to get there. For a city slicker like myself, used to being able to walk anywhere or take public transportation in Singapore, Boston, San Jose, and D.C., it was a shock to see so much land and so much sprawl.
Other than renting a car, my second tip is to bring a raincoat. Spontaneous thunderstorms are not uncommon in Omaha, and its location smack in the middle of the country creates interesting weather. One day, lightning was so bad, closing the blinds at night made no difference in terms of ambiance. (Apparently, you can tell how close a storm is by counting seconds between thunder and lightning, and had I known that at the time, it would have added to the "Friday the 13th" weather atmosphere.) I (mistakenly) brought plenty of warm clothing, but Omaha is humid in May. So bring a light raincoat and some jeans, and you will be all set.
The first day I arrived at Omaha's main airport, I was happy to be there. Numerous people were there from all over the world, and I chatted up people from South Africa to San Francisco. One tip is to take the Hilton Omaha shuttle from the airport because you will be much closer to the city center and your hotel. The Hilton Omaha employees were so nice, they allowed me to take the shuttle from their hotel to my hotel at the Comfort Inn. (The Midwestern kindness is no lie.) If you have a decent-sized budget, the newer Hilton Omaha is the best hotel. It is right next to the Convention Center where the meeting is held, and its shuttles will also take you to various Berkshire events, such as sale day at the Furniture Mart (which is massive and sells much more than just furniture, including cameras, laptops, etc.). Another Hilton is a few blocks away and has a great restaurant that serves wonderful steak. This brings me to the best tip about Omaha. Have steak, more steak, and when you're done, top it off with a porterhouse steak. Gorat's Steakhouse is the most famous restaurant in Omaha due to Mr. Buffett's frequent visits, but the Hilton restaurants serve some mighty fine steak also. The only other place I had better steak was Michael Jordan's Steakhouse at NY's Grand Central station, but that's another story. (Just imagine two college students looking at the menu and trying to decide how to eat and not take out a small loan--and the bathroom had an attendant, which I had never seen before. It was all worth it, by the way.) So again, order the steak.
When I landed in Omaha, NE, I realized that I did not have my pass. Each shareholder is entitled to four passes/tickets. For most shareholder meetings, simply bringing the proxy is sufficient. Not so for this event. Here, you have to send back a small document asking for a pass when you get the proxy in the mail. If you do not do this, you can go the Convention Center the Friday before the meeting and get a pass. (I found this out after almost suffering a heart attack on Thursday, the night before I was to board the plane and saw an unusually colored paper sticking out of the annual report.) Everything worked out, and the staff was very friendly. The key point is that if you are a shareholder, you can bring three guests (at least in 2007).
I am still giddy about the visit, and there is much more to tell, but I will save the stories for another day. I shook Warren Buffett's hand, which was my last goal on my list of things to do before I turned 30. Yup, I am still giddy.