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Reports from the Field: Can We Learn from Two 90-Year-Olds?

Nancy and I attended the Berkshire Hathaway (BH) annual shareholder’s meeting the first weekend in May.  This was the 4th time we’ve attended, and the first time post-COVID.  We and thousands of others came to hear Warren Buffet, 92, and Charlie Munger, 99, and their lieutenants Greg Abel, 60, and Ajit Jain, 71, hold forth on the state of the company, business, and the world.

Why do they come? The event is known as the “Financial Woodstock” and Warren Buffet is the “Oracle of Omaha”.  Shareholders get a couple of brilliant billionaires working for them near for free (annual salaries $100,000 a year).  Warren Buffet often says that he never would do what he does just to make money; it is helping others to achieve their goals that motivates him.

I glanced at the annual report for Starwood, a real estate company, and thought it might be interesting to listen in to the annual meeting.  It lasted 10 minutes.  When I was in the banking business, we had our meeting followed by a nice shareholder dinner. BH goes way beyond that.  The weekend begins with a Friday evening reception at the flagship jewelry store, Borsheims, and continues Saturday morning with a Q and A session that runs to mid-afternoon.  That is followed by a perfunctory voting session at 4, then a reception at Nebraska Furniture Mart from    6-8. On Sunday morning there is a charity 5K run sponsored by Brooks.

The Q&A is the main feature.  Attendees came from every state and 40 countries. It’s held in the city arena, with a capacity of 20,000. Attendees need to own stock. To be sure to get a seat in the arena (not everyone does), arrive at 6:30 a.m. Warren Buffet is welcoming and diplomatic. Charlie is concise and pithy. Nancy, an artist, finds the talk engaging. She is the one who wanted to attend again this year.

When we mention Berkshire Hathaway to people, they usually say, “Oh, you mean the real estate company?” That and a lot more.  BH wholly owns a variety of businesses and owns stock in others. They range from Dairy Queen and Brooks Athletics to Precision Castparts and Geico insurance.  The company is unique, combining manufacturing, retail, and financial entities.  I can’t think of any other similar US company at present.

Charlie and Warren say that with the current organization, BH could operate on “autopilot” for some time.  The two successors have each been with the company for about 30 years.  Greg Abel supervises the operating businesses, and Ajit Jain has the same role for the insurance businesses.

So, what did I learn at the meeting?

  • BH recently invested in several Japanese trading companies and sold its interest in Taiwan Semiconductor. Warren said that Japan is a better bet than Taiwan. Note: there were thousands of Chinese attending the meeting- mostly young.
  • Warren: We buy companies and their management- not stock shares. Acquisition candidates must have excellent existing management. BH steps up with cash or stock for the purchase.  By acquiring management, BH can run disparate businesses with more than 300,000 employees from a corporate office with less than 100 people.
  • Charlie – more bright young people should be working on solving the world’s problems, and not going into financial and wealth management.
  • Charlie – Real Estate defaults are coming.
  • Warren – Parents with money should discuss their wills with their grown children.
  • Warren – there is currently a lack of “value stock” opportunities and lots of competition.

If you have money, consider buying some BH shares and going to next year’s annual meeting in Omaha.

If you need money for a business purpose, speak with TABASFUNDING, and maybe by next year you will be buying shares and attending the meeting.


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