Tag: Warren Buffett

Nina Gerson is a senior studying Finance with a minor in Latin American Studies. Today, she’s a guest blogger sharing her experience on a recent trip to Omaha.

A group of twenty Olin Business School students had the chance to take a trip to Omaha, Nebraska and meet with Warren Buffett, one of the most legendary investors of all time and the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

The trip began with visits to two of Berkshire Hathaway’s subsidiaries, Nebraska Furniture Mart and Borsheims Fine Jewelry. As we listened to the subsidiaries’ management speak about their partnership with Berkshire Hathaway, we were able to glean insight into Mr. Buffett’s leadership style and his ability to build an empire.

We had the opportunity to have lunch and a Q&A session with Mr. Buffett, and all questions were fair game. With refreshingly witty anecdotes and impressive knowledge, Mr. Buffett commented on the pressing issues of today, from nuclear weapons to income inequality.

Mr. Buffett did not shy away from reflecting on his personal life. He emphasized the importance of family and true friendship, saying, “You don’t feel bad about your life if you feel good about your family.”

He had an outstanding ability to simplify his investing strategies, so that his advice was practical and accessible, while still being profound and cutting-edge. Mr. Buffett opined, “People make the game hard because it is so easy.” He spoke about the importance of investing where you are knowledgeable and being brave when the market disagrees, particularly in tough times.

Although many of us may had already read his books and heard stories of his successes, we all appreciated hearing this wise man speak about his life and his outlook for our generation. A key takeaway for me was witnessing Warren Buffett’s humbleness and sincerity, even when speaking about himself and his success.

I have no doubt that this unforgettable experience will have an enduring impact on all who were present that day on the future perspectives of both their business and personal lives.

Click below to expand images.

There is no denying, Warren Buffett is an extraordinary businessman. And Berkshire Hathaway is an exceedingly successful company. But, can it survive beyond Warren Buffett?

BRKThis is the question Lawrence Cunningham tackled in his book, Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values.

Cunningham is the Henry St. George Tucker III Research Professor of Law at George Washington University and is considered an expert on Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffett.

Hillary Sale, Walter D. Coles Professor of Law and Professor of Management, moderated a panel discussion in Emerson Auditorium at Olin Business School on February 25, 2015, that included Cunningham, Assistant Professor of Finance Radhakrishnan Gopalan, and MiTek Chairman and CEO Tom Manenti.

Cunningham argues that the leaders, companies and board of directors of Berkshire have been cultivated and are strong enough to make the transition.

Tom Manenti

Manenti recounted the story of MiTek and how it became a Berkshire company. MiTek discovered they fit the criteria for acquisition and started pursuing the course. Gene Toombs IV, Group President at MiTek, thought his assistant and Manenti were playing a joke when he was called at home to come into the office and return a phone call to Warren Buffett.

In his initial letter to Berkshire, Toombs had enclosed a sample of their building materials product, an extremely sharp piece of metal, wrapping it in Styrofoam and tape, hoping Buffett would not injure himself on it!

Manenti said Buffett knows within five minutes of talking to a CEO if he will be doing a deal with that leader. The person’s character shows itself right away.

Gopalan spoke about Berkshire companies and their valuation. There is value because over time Berkshire has proven success and is able to acquire at a lower price.

Lawrence Cunningham

Lawrence Cunningham

Berkshire Hathaway has never sold a company it has purchased in 40 years. Some of the companies may have sold off internal assets, but the parent companies have never been sold. A remarkable record of success. And the best value is quality management, which allows companies to respond to a changing environment.

The board of Berkshire Hathaway has been working on succession planning for more than 20 years. One of the lessons Manenti has learned from Buffett is to have a plan. Every two years he receives a letter from Buffett asking who to contact of something were to happen to Manenti. Who would take over the next morning?

Manenti believes Berkshire Hathaway will remain strong because it will continue to follow the principles Buffett established. He quoted one of the Oracle of Omaha’s maxims,  “If you lose money, I will understand. If you cause us to lose one shred of reputation, I will be ruthless.” He also said that Warren Buffet, “makes you want to run your business with the highest level of integrity.”

Everyone has a list. A list of people they would like to meet at least once in their lifetime. And sometimes that opportunity falls right in your lap and the ensuing excitement is simply unbearable. For 20 students from the Olin Business School, the dream of a celebrity meeting came true: we met Warren Buffett! The trip to Omaha, Nebraska was full of interesting tidbits and words of wisdom from Mr. Buffett.

When you have the opportunity to visit someone so successful, being nervous comes with the territory. This meeting with Mr. Buffett, however, defies all the bias one attaches to money, success and power. The recurring theme during the question and answer session with him was humor! He is quick-witted and I can’t remember any one of his answers lacking humor, anecdotes and some sort of life lesson. Buffett’s use of one-liners also added levity to the tone of the session making us feel at ease. Our discussions ranged from what it is like to be rich, taxation, credit cards, investments, brand imaging, business strategy, and personal philosophies.

Mr. Buffett is like a professor who knows what his audience wants. Even while he addressed rather technical questions he interspersed them with stories that were relevant and made the points memorable.

Olin Business School students visit Nebraska Furniture Mart

Olin Business School students visit Nebraska Furniture Mart

Among the many highlights of the day were the visits to Oriental Trading Company, Nebraska Furniture Mart and Borsheims. With a unique spread of customers and businesses these visits gave us a view into Berkshire Hathaway and what it takes to be a part of it. It was evident from our conversations with the management teams of the companies that there was a recurring theme amongst their visions – customer satisfaction, autonomy and fantastic leadership. The visits further attested to the beliefs that Mr. Buffett shared with us earlier in the day, “I have never seen a company that has focused on delighting customers and hasn’t done well.”

I am sure you are curious if we asked him a question and what his response was. Olin Business School did ask him a question, “What would be the one thing we should unlearn when we graduate with an MBA?” The question prompted laughter from the audience and Mr. Buffett himself. Unexpectedly, he replied with another question, “If I give you an opportunity to pick one classmate of whose earnings you can take 10% of for the rest of their life, whom would you pick? What would be your criteria?”

Then, he asked us to list who we would short out of the same pool of classmates and write down why we would do that. The logic was simple, no one wants to work with people who are not likable. The main message of his view being that people are an important part of a business and no one wants to work with people who are not likable. Mr. Buffett elaborated by saying that if you can focus on those two criteria, you have a road map for life. He stressed that no matter how successful, brilliant or intelligent you are, if you don’t have the right people alongside and if you aren’t someone businesses would want on a team the future holds a lot of challenges.   He added that one’s traits become more pronounced the older and richer one becomes and admonished us to lose bad habits and gain good ones.

Selfie of the trip!

Selfie of the trip!

Meeting the Oracle of Omaha was like a dream come true for many students who traveled to Nebraska that week. So much so that some of us were shivering when we stood next to him for pictures. Most of us were star-struck by his insights, sense of humor and spectacular one-liners. We also came away with a database of one-liners that are worthy of being life lessons as well as life goals.

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