Link to pictures: A trip to Omaha
It still feels like a dream with me sitting in the front seat of a cream-colored Cadillac, with none other than Mr. Warren Buffett driving the car! I still have a hard time believing that this actually happened - I got this wonderful opportunity on the 11th of March, 2011. Every year, Mr. Buffett invites various top MBA schools from the US to visit him, generally 20 students per school. This year, I got selected from my school to visit Mr. Buffett. The "Oracle of Omaha" is one of the most humble people I have ever met - very humorous and energetic.
Thursday, March 10, 2011 - Arriving the day before the big day, we stayed at Hilton Garden Inn in downtown, Omaha. Omaha as such is not a very big city. There was hardly anything to see except the beautiful Qwest Center - not even people or vehicles were easily visible;-) The localities were quite excited as Lady Gaga, Janet Jackson and some other singers were to perform in the Qwest Center that month. I found the food in Omaha very delicious and differently prepared - It just tasted better. Unlike Californians, people were driving very cautiously and with discipline.
In the afternoon, we went to "Girls Inc.", a voluntary organization run by Warren's daughter.We played with the girls there and kept them engaged with our planned activities - Marshmallow Challenge and basketball/soccer/jumping rope. We got to see a whole together different perspective of life playing with these low-income families' kids. Most of these kindergarten and first grade girls were very smart. Hope they get the opportunity to do something in life! Some of them did not want to work in a team and some of them were quite bossy. Some of them started crying because they did not win the game and some were crying because they were unable to perform well in the game.
Friday, March 11, 2011 - It was a cold, sunny morning. We woke up with the sad news of earthquake/Tsunami in Japan. We had breakfast at hotel and went to our first stop - the Nebraska Furniture Market, owned by Warren Buffett. It was a huge market which had a huge furniture selection and a gigantic electronic store. Warren wasn’t there himself but the store manager told us the history of the store, that it was opened by his grandmother. The furniture market had at least 160 sample recliners on floor - I know this because all the 160+ people present there found a recliner to sit on when the manager was talking about the store.
Our next stop was Berkshire Hathaway. We (the Sacramento Working Professionals group) drove there on our rental car. We were seated in the chairs, waiting excitedly for Mr. Buffett to arrive. He arrived at the scheduled time of 10:30am. It was a wonderful moment for everyone, seeing him from a few feet distance. Mr. Buffett acted as the moderator for the Q&A session. Each school got a chance to ask 2-3 questions. Some of the briefings can be found at: UCD Blog by Richard Chen, a student from UC Davis who was with us on the trip.
- Leverage: Dangerous. Berkshire doesn't have to depend on others for financing.
- Question about what to do with your career: Answer: Do what you would do if you were retired. Buffett says that he loves what he does and he makes money at it.
- He told the story about what a person, who has yet to be born, on how they would shape the world. But the catch is that the person doesn't know what they will be born as: gender, what country, healthy or retarded. How would you shape the world's resources and society? How can you shape it to be fair for all?
- Joke: Buffett walked to the back row to hear a soft-spoken student ask a question. With this, Buffett tells a joke. Buffett is concerned that his friend, Charlie Munger, who he has never had a disagreement with, is losing his hearing. A doctor advises that he asks Munger a question from across the room in a normal voice and see if he responds. The next day, Buffett is in a room with Charlie Munger and from across the room, asks: "Charlie, I think we should buy Microsoft at $26, what do you think?" Munger doesn't respond. Buffett goes halfway across the room and asks the question again. Munger doesn't respond. Finally, Buffett goes up close to Munger's desk and asks him the same question. Munger replies, "For the THIRD TIME, I said YES." (Joke explanation: Buffett is the one who has a hearing problem)
- On Charity: Buffett says that normal people who give to charity are more generous than billionaires who give billions to charity. Why? Because when billionaires give money, they are not giving up anything. By giving away a billion dollars, is the billionaire going to sacrifice seeing a movie, expensive dinner, vacation, or anything else in their daily lives? Not really. But for a normal person, giving $100 to a charity, might affect if they go on vacation this year or affect their choice of meals later.
- Buffett on small town development. Basically, it's up to the person growing up in the town to give back to the town and develop it. But in most cases, really smart people tend to leave their small towns behind.
- Buffett drank one regular red can of Coke - He said he has a big share in Coke. So, basically he gets profit for every can we drink. He said he loves when people have coke!
- More on charity: Buffett remarks that he has paper stock of Berkshire Hathaway in a vault 2 miles from the building. He says that those pieces of paper can get him a huge pyramid tomb that will put the Egyptian pyramids to shame. I say that he should do that. That would be awesome.
At the end of the Q&A session, he said 4 people would ride with him in his car: 1 girl each from UC Davis and UC Berkeley and 1 boy each from Montana State and Maryland University. Thanks to my school for selecting me for this life time opportunity. It was a great moment sitting in the front seat with Mr. Buffett driving. In the car, he asked each of us about where we see ourselves in 10-years from now. On the way, he showed us the insurance company that he owns and told us that it is now $80 million or something.
Then I asked him a personal question, " What is the secret of your healthy living?" He said, "Happiness. I never take stress in life. I am always surrounded with happy people. I can never get irritated and have never in my life yelled at anyone. I have a really bad diet and I do not exercise but I keep myself surrounded by happiness all the time." It was a short 10-minute ride. Mr. Buffett (now 80 years) had good driving skills (or maybe I never noticed his driving mistakes as I was too engrossed listening to him and admiring him).
We reached his favorite restaurant: Piccolo’s Steakhouse where he treated all the students to lunch. It was good lunch, even though I could not enjoy it as it was the time when I was getting hit with flu. I had a terrible flu after my trip which took me almost 3 weeks to recover. We then had a photo session with Mr. Buffett in the restaurant. He was very energetic while taking pictures. Each one of us had an individual picture taken with him along with a group picture. We gifted him a Giants jersey with his name printed on it (since he is a huge baseball fan and we wanted to gift him something to signify California). Our photo session was the last time we saw Mr. Buffett in real.
Our last stop was Borsheim's Mall which he owns. It had a huge jewelry section which was realllyyyy expensive. Even though there was a special discount for us for purchasing anything, but it was still far from our reach! We left for the airport after this. Ahh, not to forget, on the way we thought why not check out Mr. Buffett's house! We found his address on internet. Omaha, being a small city, places weren’t too far away. We drove past his house and clicked some pictures. His house was in a beautiful, affluent-looking area in Omaha.
Mr. Buffett invited us to attend his annual Shareholder meeting in Qwest Center in April, 2011. Not that I am going but getting to attend his shareholder meeting is a privilege as buying his Berkshire Hathaway stock is far, far from my reach.
Link to pictures: A trip to Omaha