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First in line, ready to learn
Josh Nilles and Slav Bukadin didn't set out to be the first people camped outside the doors of the CenturyLink Center on Saturday morning.
But like any good college students, they'd turned to a good source (the Internet) to figure out when they should get in line for a shot at the best seats (very early). So they left McPherson, Kan., where they attend McPherson College, at about 10:30 p.m. Friday, pulled in to Omaha around 3:30 a.m. Saturday, and booked it to the meeting place.
Armed with a couple of chairs and a few granola bars, they staked out a spot outside the doors. They were alone until a software engineer from Australia joined them sometime after 4 a.m.
Neither Nilles, 21, nor Bukadin, 20, is a shareholder — they got their meeting credentials from a friend — but both are interested in business. Though the atmosphere outside was more rock concert than business meeting, Nilles said his overnight pilgrimage to Omaha was about one thing:
“Just (Buffett) and his investment strategy,” he said. “I thought it would be cool to hear, in person, from one of the greatest business minds ever.”
A shareholder, and a dreamer, at age 13
Berkshire Hathaway is 13-year-old Dean Chou's second big investment.
His first was Google, one share. Six months ago, he decided it was time to cast a wider net. He bought four shares of Berkshire, through his mom.
The seventh-grader from Naperville, Ill., said his decision was simple. He sees Warren Buffett as “one of the greatest people alive” and figures the guy knows what he's talking about.
His dad, IT consultant Kan Chou, 52, joined him for the trip to Omaha. The elder Chou said he's been impressed with Buffett's willingness to speak out about tax rates for the wealthy, considering his high-profile status.
“I admire and respect him,” Chou said. “He has a passion to make money and a passion to be fair.”
Despite his early start in the investment world, Dean's not sure if his future is in business. Does he aim to be the next Buffett?
“Everyone dreams to be,” he said.
Meeting strategy turns leisurely
Over the years, Canadians Rod and Alberta Jack have refined their Berkshire weekend strategy.
When they first started making the trip from Waterloo, Ontario, about 15 years ago, they flew. Now that they're in their mid-70s and retired — he was a periodontist, she was a nurse — they take the time to drive.
On the day of the meeting, their schedule is a bit more relaxed than it once was. They'll spend the day at the meeting, then meet up with friends at a hotel bar to drink mint juleps while watching the Kentucky Derby. It's about leisure, rather than trying to cram in too many activities.
“We used to think every single thing was a bargain and we had to buy everything, everywhere,” Rod said. “Now we survey the place.”
“Here's our big purchase this year,” Alberta said, pulling a long box out of a bag and opening it to reveal a necktie covered with pictures of men's underwear. (Berkshire owns Fruit of the Loom.)
It was a big year for another reason: Alberta tried her first Dilly Bar. She'd always been uninterested in the Dairy Queen treat but was starving after waiting in line for the meeting.
“It's OK,” she said, then paused. “I guess I'd better say it's wonderful. My money's in it.”
Investor finds ‘like-minded' crowd
Between all of the Dilly Bar-eating and the Bill Gates and Bono sightings and the discount furniture, it's easy to forget that there's a business meeting happening.
But the numbers and the discussion about Berkshire's future and its role in the economy are what bring in people like Ed Borgato, an investor based in New York and Las Vegas.
He's been coming to the meeting in Omaha for 14 years. He's usually in the front row, or close to it. (“There's a system, with all of this,” he said.)
It's an important networking event, and he said that's not at all diminished by the carnival atmosphere.
“When you meet people in Omaha, you meet people who are like-minded,” he said. “There's a shorthand to it; when you meet people, you know how they think about the world, because they've come to the meeting.”
Borgato said he's been coming to the meeting long enough that he can anticipate how Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger will answer most of the questions. This year, he said he wasn't waiting for any particular topics to come up. The most valuable part, he said, is the chance to hear both men “talk about how they think about problems.”
High schoolers impressed with show
Even though they spent most of their morning across the street from the big meeting, Tara Johnson and Nikki Kollars were wowed by the big event.
The high school seniors from Arlington, Neb. — and dozens of students from other Nebraska schools — watched a live feed of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger from a ballroom at the Hilton Omaha, across the street from the CenturyLink Center.
They were pleasantly surprised to find that two octogenarians fielding questions about investment strategy could be entertaining. Both agreed that Buffett seemed ready for just about every question — and he was funny, too.
“He knows a lot,” said Kollars, 17. “He's really a genius.”
Their economics teacher, a Berkshire shareholder, loaned the girls a couple of shareholder passes so they could get a peek at the meeting. They walked across the street to the CenturyLink and looked in.
“I couldn't believe how many people are here,” said Johnson, 18.
Kollars agreed. The best part, she said, was being in the mix of all the excitement, if only for a few minutes.
“It's like a concert … for smart people,” she said.
Sights and sounds from the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting at the CenturyLink Center Omaha.
Warren Buffett and Bill Gates participate in the Omaha World-Herald newspaper toss at the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting.
Omaha World-Herald CEO and Publisher Terry Kroeger talks with Nightly Business News about Berkshire Hathaway's purchase of Warren Buffett's hometown newspaper.