Omaha is an opportunity to share our triumphs and failures
Standing in a line at 5am outside the Qwest Centre in Omaha was a surreal experience. People standing in line with me were business executives, high net worth investors, financial advisers, journalists, families with young children and yes, the odd Berkshire Hathaway shareholder who was there for the official business of the company.Updated: May 02, 2011 21:20 IST
Standing in a line at 5am outside the Qwest Centre in Omaha was a surreal experience. People standing in line with me were business executives, high net worth investors, financial advisers, journalists, families with young children and yes, the odd Berkshire Hathaway shareholder who was there for the official business of the company.
Dubbed as the Woodstock for capitalists, Berkshire's annual meeting in Omaha this year was attended by 40,000 people, all of them trying to get seats with a good view of the world's third-wealthiest man Warren Buffett or the 'Oracle of Omaha' and his business partner Charlie Munger while they expounded on their investment philosophy - and life.
Berkshire Hathaway gives out four annual meeting passes to every shareholder. Many, like me, own a token number of shares just to be able to attend the annual meeting every year.
In years gone by, a B-share of Berkshire would cost $3,000-4,000. However, since the merger of Berkshire with Burlington Northern Railroad and its inclusion in the S&P 500, the B-share has been split 50-to-1 and people can buy them for about $82 each.
In earlier years, Buffett would host a meet for visitors from outside the US, where he and Munger would sign autographs. However, as Buffett's fame and aura spread, the number of foreign visitors ballooned, forcing him to cancel the meet-and-greet event.
This year, the theme of the company video was a sci-fi cartoon in which a computerised trading cyborg from the future comes to the present to destroy Buffett, who is saved by Arnold Schwarzenegger. For the next five hours, the questions followed.
A lot of questions, this year, were about the global financial condition and the future of investing in an inflationary world. Buffett answered why he preferred investing in operating businesses compared to gold. There were also a lot of questions about the abrupt resignation of David Sokol and recent insider trading scandals.
On the reinsurance business, both Buffett and Munger were all praise for Ajit Jain, who is considered to be the next in line to succeed Buffett as Berkshire CEO. Buffett mentioned that they struggled with reinsurance for 15 years before Ajit joined them in 1985 and single-handedly built it.
Buffett's legacy has been marked by the clarity and simplicity of his thoughts. It has further been strengthened by the consistency of his actions. In his writings and interviews, he has created a body of knowledge for successful investing. The media made him into a god and now seems to be tarnishing the image that they created of him.
Buffett is a human being and has made almost every possible kind of mistake. The difference is that he has learnt quickly from his mistakes. We are fortunate he has lived a transparent life so we can learn not only from his successes but also from his failures.
This was my third visit to Omaha and I intend to go as long as the Buffett and Munger show goes on. Why do I make this annual pilgrimage? I go to Omaha because it attracts like-minded people, who share similar values and aspirations. It is an opportunity for me to meet with old and new friends and for us to share our own triumphs and failures.
(The author is managing director, Atyant Capital)