This weekend I attended the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting in Omaha, Nebraska. The event has earned the nickname “Woodstock for Capitalism” because it brings people from around the world to Omaha for the chance to ask questions of legendary investor Warren Buffett.
In the investment community, when I hear people express their desire to attend the event, I always tell them that attending is worth it for the networking alone. There are many conferences around the country that you can attend to spend the weekend speaking with like-minded individuals. This one is one of the best and happens to be close to me geographically.
This year’s event was as well attended as I’ve seen in the past five years, but wasn’t my best experience due to my schedule, which didn’t allow me to be in Omaha for the weekend. The event itself is top notch and because it is only a couple hour drive from my house, my family and I did drive over on Saturday morning.
The secret to really enjoying the meeting itself is to get a good seat, which means getting to the arena early. Because we ended up getting there barely in time for the meeting and because of the large attendance, I ended up in one of the overflow rooms, which slightly detracted from experience. I also had to leave the meeting early this year, so I did not have much chance to do any networking.
Much has been written about the meeting itself, you can read more here, here, and here, so I’ll only comment on a couple discussions I found interesting. As always, Charlie Munger, now 90 years old, was in prime form this year. His responses are always brief and brutally honest, and get a chuckle from the crowd most of the time.
It seems like every year I’ve gone to the event, there is always some sort of controversy. Right at the start this year, Buffett address as decision to abstain from voting on the Coca-Cola compensation package. As a large shareholder of the company, some thought he should have been more vocal about his line of thinking. Instead, Burkeshire Hathaway only made the announcement that they abstained from the vote after everything was done. This lead into conversation that I thought was fascinating as Buffett talked about his views on serving on the Board of Directors and the politics and social aspects such a position. This conversation ended with a brilliant singer by Charlie “insert Charlie quote “.
Mr. Buffett was also proactive this year and addressing the focal calls from a few shareholders to increase or begin paying a dividend. He had prepared a couple slides on the issue and walk us through the math on the voting results like a comedian excited to get to the punchline. I’m sure he felt by bringing the issue out and showing us that 97% of shareholders voted against the proxy item brought forward by shareholder, he would at least put the issue to bed for some period of time.
The most frustrating part are shareholders that, when they get an opportunity to ask a question of Mr. Buffett, waste it by asking something that we all know if it isn’t going to answer. At least two of the questions in the morning session asked about politics and the president or about which stocks Mr. Buffett was buying. There were other more useful questions, like how BRK’s capital is being allocated to Ted Weschler and Todd Combs, and about working with an active partner like 3G.
If you’re a value investor interested in speaking to like-minded people, take the opportunity to attend the shareholders meeting and the entire weekend. It’s worth it. I’m lucky to live close enough to Omaha to take this event in every year and I always enjoy myself.