Home » General » Pilgrimage to Omaha: Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Event

Warren Buffett is regarded by many investors to be the greatest investor of all time. From humble beginnings, he has been able to build one of the largest and most stable holding companies in the world; at the time of writing, Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A, BRK.B) trades with a market capitalization of ~$500 billion.

Each year the investment community gathers in Omaha for Berkshire’s annual shareholder meeting. This event has been dubbed the “Woodstock of Capitalism” as it draws some of the biggest names from around the world and becomes the epicenter of business activity over the course of the weekend. It was estimated that this year’s meeting drew 42,000 people, though that was simply the figure being floated over the weekend and so the final tally may have been considerably more or less.

The official festivities this year took place from May 3-5.

What follows is a roughly chronological account of our journey to and through the Berkshire weekend.

Genesis

Our love of all things Buffett and Munger goes back well over a decade. As we were planting the seeds that would eventually grow into our fully-fledged investment philosophy, it was natural for us to come across two of the most revered names in the industry.

My brother and I like to refer to the Buffett and Munger mindset as simply common sense on steroids. After all, here are a few snapshots of what they preach both explicitly and by virtue of observing their actions:

  • Keep plenty of cash on hand for emergencies.
  • Avoid debt/leverage; risking what you already have just to get more doesn’t make any sense.
  • Spend time/do business with people you respect and trust. The potential for gains by engaging in business with unsavoury characters isn’t worth it and is far more likely to cause harm.
  • Be patient in doing your research on an investment. You should turn down more opportunities to invest than not. Once you’ve made up your mind on a high quality company (preferably at a decent price), trust your judgment and double down. That goes for your non-investment decisions as well.
  • Be careful to avoid the charlatans of the investment community and listen to your own voice; there are plenty of “investment experts” who are nothing more than salespeople with their own best interest far ahead of your own.

Suffice it to say that these guiding principles—among many more—have since formed the bedrock of our investing mindset.

While we have discussed making the pilgrimage to Omaha on many occasions over the years, it was becoming one of those things people discuss without putting anything concrete behind it. A part of me had begun to fear it may never happen; after all, Buffett and Munger are no spring chickens, sitting at ages 88 and 95 respectively (Buffett has since turned 89). Our time horizon for making the trek was certainly going to be limited.

Around January, however, we had a more serious discussion and decided to simply pull the trigger. Not wanting to let the moment slip, I booked both the hotel and the flight. Then it was official. We were actually going.

The Lead-Up

To request credentials for attending the Berkshire event, one must be a shareholder. Since my brother and I are both shareholders, we each received a package by mail which allowed us to request up to four Credentials (i.e., the badge and lanyard you wear during the event which allows for entry at various checkpoints):

Request for Credentials

We each filled out our requests for Credentials and mailed them back to Omaha in hopes of having this part of the journey sorted out before arriving. Although we did this around a month in advance of leaving, neither of us received our Credentials in time before leaving; Rick did get his in the mail thereafter while I never actually received mine. Not to worry, though, as there is a “Will Call” which I’ll discuss a bit later.

Wednesday and Thursday (May 1-2)

We flew out of Ottawa with United Airlines and really had no hitches along the way. We touched down in Chicago’s O’Hare for a brief connection on both sides and didn’t experience material delays whatsoever.

In the airport in Omaha, we took note of the Tornado Shelter. This is something we don’t normally see given where we’re from. It’s always important to know where to go to avoid a twister:

Tornado Shelter

Our hotel was the Residence Inn by Marriott where we stayed all six nights. It would be possible to see everything in a shorter period, but we wanted to make the most of the trip overall and not feel rushed along the way.

We spent plenty of time when we arrived both on the Wednesday and Thursday walking around and touring the city on foot. The hotel had a full refrigerator, so we stocked it with a few local brews and some supplies for making sandwiches and such in the evenings.

The standout restaurant that we enjoyed a number of times was RoJA Grill. There was a nice patio and ambience, but it was the food that kept us coming back. Authentic Mexican meals can be difficult to come by and we made sure to make the most of it while we were there:

RoJA Patio

Ryan (left) and Rick (right)

Two Great Meals

There was plenty of evening entertainment going on in the area, but this was also the period when the final installment in the Avengers saga came out. We decided to take it in at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema which also proved to be a homerun of a decision. It was the first theatre I’ve been to that is full service directly to your seat while you watch a movie.

Rick and I enjoyed a number of beers to go with our bottomless popcorn dishes, all while reclining in leather seats. We wound up visiting the Alamo a few more times during our stay as it was incredibly comfortable and well run.

Friday (May 3)

We again spent a fair amount of time exploring the area around our hotel and taking in the sights. As a city, Omaha reminds me a fair amount of Kansas City, which should come as no surprise as they are just a few hours apart by driving.

In the early evening we made our way to the Borsheims Cocktail Reception. Borsheims is a jewelry store owned by Berkshire since 1989 and hosts a free-food, free-drink event that—unsurprisingly—brings people in by the thousands. Make no mistake, however, as while the food and drink come free, plenty of money gets spent; there must have been fifty people/couples at a time being served by Borsheims staff, ready to sell discounted jewelry en masse.

Upon arriving and experiencing the long waits for the food and drink, we decided to make a hasty departure. Neither of us care for large crowds and, while it was worth seeing, we were happy to get out as quickly as possible afterwards.

We enjoyed a lively cab ride on the way back to our hotel and the driver offered to bring us by Buffett’s house. We were more than happy to accept the courtesy. It is indeed a modest home for someone of Buffett’s means, but truly keeps in line with who he is as a person. I have no doubt it meets all of his needs without any superfluous amenities.

We kept the rest of the evening rather tame as we had plans to get up early the next morning.

Saturday (May 4)

As noted above, we did not receive our Credentials by mail. This didn’t prove to be a showstopper, mind you, as there was a “Will Call” available at the CHI Health Center—the venue for the event—which allowed shareholders like ourselves to present photo identification and proof of share ownership to acquire a set of Credentials on the spot:

Will Call

We decided to attend the Will Call on the Saturday morning as we were too busy on Friday with other activities to take the time out of the middle of our day. This is the route I would recommend to others who need to visit the Will Call when attending the event.

We arrived around 05h30 in the morning and had the Credentials in our hands by around 07h45. There were several thousand in line, by my estimation, though it was moving very quickly. The ladies passing out the Credentials were friendly and clearly enjoyed their role in supporting a successful Berkshire event.

While waiting in line, the gentleman directly beside us was interviewed by a Chinese media outlet/television program. Diversity was indeed the theme, as there were people from all around the world at the event. Geographic diversity aside, there were men, women, children, great-grandparents, all gathered around a common theme.

I wondered to myself, not for the first time and likely not for the last, what the essence is of Berkshire that unites people. What are the values that draw in so many distinct people under a common umbrella and compels them to travel to a place which is, with no disrespect intended, in the middle of nowhere? If it was only about the making of money, why don’t other corporations draw such a positive crowd? No, it can’t just be about dollars and cents—not just the Berkshire event, but life itself.

The Credentials themselves were colourful and prove now to be a great souvenir and even better bookmark:

Credentials

Throughout the next few days, we would see scores of people making their way through Omaha with their lanyards proudly displayed; the distinctive, yet simple piece of plastic, representing membership to an exclusive club of like-minded individuals:

Rick (left) and Ryan (right) with our Credentials

Upon procuring our Credentials, we made our way into the venue and took our seats in the arena:

CHI Health Center

They opened the proceedings around 08h30 with a movie featuring plenty of pop cultural and investment icons. The Apple skit (“The App”) with Buffett working on a “new invention” was priceless. I don’t believe any of the content is available online (Buffett prohibits photos/videos being taken during this portion of the event), but it may be out there somewhere, if it has been released.

The Q&A with Buffett and Munger kicked off at 09h15 and I’ll provide a few of my favourite bullets from my notes (again, these are paraphrased notes, not direct quotes):

  • Buffett
    • We will consider buying back stock of Berkshire based on it trading in a conservative valuation range. The size of their cash stockpile will not change their approach for buybacks. The goal is always to ensure those who keep their stock are better off than they were before they bought it.
    • You can turn any good business into a bad investment by paying too much. What you can’t do is turn a bad business into a great investment by paying too little.
    • Buffett paraphrased Munger in saying that all investing is essentially value investing; you make a cash outlay for the hope or promise of more later. The considerations when you buy Amazon is the same as when you buy some other stock. The basic equation comes down to assessing the bird in the hand versus how many birds might be in the bush, how far away the bush is, and the likelihood of capturing the birds.
  • Munger
    • We didn’t get here by doing difficult things well. We got here by avoiding difficult things… keep life easy.
    • The right way to make decisions in life is with respect to opportunity costs.

Following the Q&A, we toured the convention hall where there were displays/booths selling the various wares from across the spectrum of Berkshire businesses. We visited most of them and did pick up some T-Shirts, hats, and the like. My biggest cash outlays were for some books:

  • Poor Charlie’s Almanack
  • A Few Lessons for Investors and Managers

The former is an indispensable collection of Munger’s wisdom over the years. I just finished reading it not long ago and plan to keep it out on my desk to sift through it a few more times. There are gems on every page.

The latter is an aggregated collection of Buffett’s quotes from his annual Letters to Shareholders. It’s the pocket-version of the hundreds of pages Buffett has graciously blessed us with over the years.

Sunday (May 5)

The final day of the shareholder weekend proved to be an enjoyable one.

We enjoyed our breakfast and made our way to the Berkshire 5k event. Given that it was such a nice morning and we were most interested in just enjoying the course, we decided to walk the distance:

After finishing the distance, we extended our walk to the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge which connects Nebraska and Iowa. It was a scenic, sprawling bridge, which extends over the Missouri River:

Our final planned event was to attend Gorat’s Steakhouse which is known to be Buffett’s favourite restaurant for steak. We had reservations for dinner but decided to hit up RoJA’s one more time for a final bit of high-quality Mexican cuisine. Although I’m sure Gorat’s makes a good meal, we didn’t regret our decision to forego the sirloin.

Departure (May 6)

I had a bittersweet feeling on Monday morning when it was time to leave. The Berkshire event itself, along with the hospitalities provided within Omaha, all lived up to and exceeded any expectation I might have had. I felt a sense of joy, knowing that the time in Omaha didn’t just represent a token milestone in life; it was representative indeed of something bigger, of doing what one sets out to do.

Rick and I had a dream from many years ago of attending the Berkshire meeting and now we had done just that. We kept our minds focused on the fulfillment of the dream and made it happen.

Buffett once wrote on the subject:

The most elusive of human goals—keeping things simple and remembering what you set out to do.

Warren Buffett, Letter to Shareholders, 1982

One more lesson to bear in mind.

Conclusion

Our vacation in May to take part in the Berkshire shareholder event was well worth the time and expense. There are some things you simply need to experience, and it should never be taken for granted that the opportunity will always be there.

We will be forever grateful to Buffett and Munger for the timeless advice and wisdom they’ve shared with us over the years. By vicariously gaining life experience by following their example, we have become better investors and better people alike.

We can’t say whether we will ever pass that way again or whether we’ll ever get the chance to see them in person again. Nevertheless, we understand how fortunate we are to have done so once. Beyond this, getting the chance to share the occasion with my brother is more good fortune than I could ever have expected from life.

Thank you for reading.

Ryan

Have you ever been to Omaha to see the oracles (we consider Buffett and Munger both to hold this lofty title)?

Full Disclosure: Long AMZN, BRK.B

4 thoughts on “Pilgrimage to Omaha: Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Event

  1. Johndeo says:

    Can you share more about the event? What else did Warren shared about buying stocks?

    1. Hi Johndeo,

      As usual, Buffett advocated for patience in building up a stock portfolio and making as few transactions as possible. “Inactivity bordering on sloth”, as he has said, can be the perfect recipe for success over time in the markets.

      Take care,
      Ryan

  2. Very cool Ryan.

    It would definitely be a solid life experience and great to see both buffett and charlie.

    Love the badge as a souvenir too!
    cheers man
    Passivecanadianincome recently posted…September 2019 – Stock Watch listMy Profile

    1. Hey Rob,

      Yeah, getting to see them in person was amazing. I didn’t mention it in the article, but we were just a few feet from them at one point. There was a throng of people around them taking photos (they were in a golf cart doing a television interview inside the convention hall), but it was pretty cool. Real legends of the investing profession.
      The badge was definitely a great souvenir. I brought a few back as presents for others as well.

      Take care,
      Ryan

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