The Pilgrimage to Omaha – Enlightened and Humbled

berkshire-hathaway agm 2009

NUS MBA students Kashif Aslam, Kirti Chopra and Kuruvilla Alexander attended the Berkshire-Hathaway AGM in Omaha.

On the 21st of April in the midst of our final exams, we got a pleasant surprise in the form of an email about the chance to meet the “Sage of Omaha” or more popularly known as Mr. Warren Buffet. The annual pilgrimage to Omaha was happening and the NUS MBA would send its share of disciples.

The reason was Berkshire Hathaway’s Annual General Meeting and the place was Omaha, USA. The event attracts some of the most ardent investors and authorities in the field of finance, all willing to fly from all over the world to hear the Oracle speak.

The exams didn’t dampen the spirits as we sorted out the Visa, Travel and Accommodation formalities. After a marathon 26 hours of non-stop travel, we reached Omaha. Another few hours of sleep and we soon found ourselves inside the Qwest Centre with 35000 other people.

The AGM was very well organized, with a panel of experts filtering the questions and firing away at the CEO Mr. Warren Buffet and Vice Chairman Mr. Charlie Munger. As we sat there, we saw how simple Mr. Buffet made ‘Investing’ to be. It was truly a case of relearning. Questions spanned across different sectors, economies and topics. On one hand we had a Hedge Fund Manager asking whether BH would continue buying equity put options and on the other hand we had an 11 yr old asking what was the best investment to protect himself financially.

Buffet kept stressing on attaining the ‘right form’ of financial literacy. He said it wasn’t important whether you valued a company through DCF approach or Multiples Approach. Rather it was more important to understand the business fundamentally, to understand whether there was genuine demand and whether there was excess supply. Buffet confessed he hated fancy spreadsheets and BSchool jargons. He said being disciplined and not being emotional are the best skills an investor can have. Intelligence could cause more damage than good, this was reflected when he said ‘If you have an IQ of 150, sell 30 points to the next person’.

The AGM ended in the afternoon and then all the international delegates had a chance to meet Mr. Buffet personally. As we stood in the line, we had the chance to interact with the other delegates. An Indian doctor who shunned his profession and started his own broking firm, a group of Norwegians who run an AMC (they also sponsored the trip for some of their clients), a senior Japanese venture capitalist who took notes with the enthusiasm of a kid, these were just some of the people we meet during the AGM.

Later in the evening, we happened to meet an Executive at Dell, who had flown in from Texas to attend the AGM. Though an alumnus from Wharton, he explained that his true learning was after he had graduated from Bschool and started reading the essays and articles of Buffet and Benjamin Graham.

There was one thing we saw different in all these people and that was: their eagerness to learn and more importantly share what they had learned. For e.g. the Dell executive had created a club where Buffet fans would share their notes of their learning from the AGM, articles, books etc. Buffet himself is known as a selfless person, always willing to share his investment philosophy, money etc.

It’s a popular saying that ‘the teaching of a sage is reflective in the lives of its disciples’. The people we met at Omaha were the greatest testimony of the impact of the ‘Sage of Omaha’.

Kashif Aslam, Kirti Chopra and Kuruvilla Alexander 
NUS MBA Students, Class of 2009/2010