Ideas with Impact
UNB Faculty of Management

A Visit to the Oracle: SIF Students join Berkshire Hatheway Shareholders for 50th Anniversary

Author: Ideas with Impact

Posted on May 21, 2015

Category: Students , Programs

The school year ended with a bang for Student Investment Fund (SIF) students Jeff Mott, and Ryan Chan, when they traveled to Omaha, Nebraska, at the beginning of May to attend the Berkshire Hatheway 50th Anniversary shareholders annual general Jeff Mott (left) and Ryan Chan (right) at the Berkshire Hatheway 50th Anniversary Shareholders annual general meeting.meeting.  There, they were able to join the tens of thousands of delegates who make the annual pilgrimage to this event to meet and listen to the legendary chair of Berkshire Hatheway, the “oracle of Omaha”, Warren Buffett.

Dubbed the “Woodstock for capitalists” by the Wall Street Journal, Berkshire Hatheway’s annual shareholders convention is always held in Omaha, where its head office is located, and is an event that investors all over the world dream of attending. With this year marking the 50th anniversary of Buffett taking control of Berkshire, the theme of the event was 50 years of profitable partnership. Since Buffett took over Berkshire, its shares have climbed more than 2,850,000%, so there was much for the 40,000 attendees to celebrate.

Jeff and Ryan attended the annual convention as guests of Glenn Cleland, director of UNB’s Centre for Financial Studies who oversees the SIF program, and his wife Susan Boyce.  The event ran from May 1-3, and the highlight was the panel discussion on day two with Warren Buffett and his vice chair Charlie Munger, in Omaha’s CenturyLink Centre. The Centre seats 20,000, so not everyone was able to get inside for this session, but by getting up at 3:00 a.m. to join the line outside the main doors, the two SIF students were able to score seats on the floor, about ten rows back from the stage.

“The AGM is a huge cult event in the Investment world,” said Ryan, who is finishing up his final year in the BBA program. “Warren Buffett is the most respected investor in the world and despite his success and fame, he’s so down to earth and his approach to investing is rooted in common sense. Charlie is really funny and the two of them bantered with each other and answered questions from the audience about investing for six hours. Unbelievable!“

Cleland has been taking SIF students to the Berkshire Hatheway Shareholders annual general meeting since 2010. Over ten students have made the pilgrimage to Omaha in that time, and are able to meet professionals from all over the world and talk to them about their experiences. One year, one of the students actually got a job through a contact he made.

“I got the idea from Tony Ariel, founder of Burgundy Asset Management,” said Cleland.  "He told me that he takes his analysts down to Omaha every year to educate them.  Since our goal in the SIF program is to have the students equivalent to professionals with 2-5 years work experience by the end of the year, I thought I could replicate this by taking students to the shareholders annual general meeting.   My wife and I own shares, and this allows us to take up to six others with us. “

For Jeff, who has just completed the requirements for the MBA at UNB, attending the shareholders annual general meeting was significant for personal reasons: one of his family’s closest friends owned shares in Berkshire Hatheway and made the trek to Omaha for the shareholders convention every year. “Growing up I used to talk to him about the trip. It was always a spring tradition for him. He never missed it. Sadly, he isn’t with us anymore, but I thought a lot about him while I was in Omaha and I knew that if he was there, he would have got up with us at 3:00 a.m. to line up outside the arena to hear Warren.”

During his visit, a journalist with the Omaha Herald interviewed Ryan and asked him what he was going to remember most about his experience. His answer: “Warren’s advice to never take shortcuts. Having patience and planning for the long term are what pays off.”

The moment Jeff says he’ll remember the most is when a nine year old in the audience asked the question, how do you make people like you? “Buffett told him to think of what he liked most in others and disliked most in others and to act accordingly. He showed respect for the question and it really made an impression on me.”

Another big highlight of the convention was the exhibition promoting the 80 plus companies owned by Birkshire Hatheway, including well known brands like Dairy Queen, Fruit of the Loom, Pampered Chef, Borsheims and Benjamin Moore. There was also a five-kilometre shareholders run, and a Ping-Pong match between Buffet and Bill Gates.

The New Brunswick Investment Management Corporation, the major sponsor of the SIF program, provided some support to help the two students finance their trip to Omaha. Attending the Berkshire Hatheway annual shareholders meeting was a rare opportunity that many top investment executives around the world never get to experience. Both students admit that it was a valuable experience for them and a great item to add to their resume that will make them stand out. 

“When they hear about this aspect of the SIF program,” says Cleland, “professionals in the investment world are impressed and say that it is one of the activities that separates UNB from other universities.”

 For more information contact Liz Lemon-Mitchell.