OMHA, NEBRASKA – Warren Buffett puts on a good show. Especially when he is the show.
That show grew bigger as more than 40,000 Berkshire Hathaway shareholders poured into Omaha this weekend to celebrate his 50th anniversary running the company, at what the world’s third-richest person calls Woodstock for Capitalists.
Buffett and his chief lieutenant, Charlie Munger, answered their five hours of shareholder and investor questions at the annual meeting in the downtown CenturyLink arena, from a stage where they downed Coca-Cola and munched on peanut brittle from See’s.
But there’s more to do than just attend the main meeting.
Many get together with other shareholders. It’s a time to shop, which Buffett would prefer be done with some of Berkshire’s more than 80 businesses. It’s a time to eat. And for some wanting good seats at the meeting, it’s a time to be sleep-deprived. Really sleep-deprived.
Kyle Cleeton, an investment research analyst, said he got to the arena at 10 p.m. Friday night, nine hours before doors opened. “I wanted to be first in line,” he said.
Thousands more spent Friday night across town, where Berkshire commandeers a shopping center housing its Borsheim’s jewelry store and pitches a big outdoor tent, band included.
Shareholders ate meatballs, sausage, chicken teriyaki, carved roast beef, and cheese cubes — Buffett food, reflecting his taste for the uncomplicated. All free.
Many shareholders took photos of management consultant Rick Murray of Birmingham, Michigan, his three chihuahuas in tow in a stomach pouch.
“I’ve been a shareholder for 20 years, and this is my first trip,” he said. “I had met a client, and he said, ‘You know, Omaha is not that far from Michigan.'”
Saturday began with a mini-parade featuring two Texas longhorn steers, and a stagecoach from Wells Fargo.
Inside the arena, Berkshire businesses hawked their wares. The blinding yellow men’s “Berky” boxer shorts from Fruit of the Loom flew off the racks at $6 apiece. Kirby’s pet stain and odor remover, priced at just $5, drew less interest.
Meanwhile, Dairy Queen sold out its 26,500 ice cream bars, Mini Blizzards and cake slices. Buffett paid $1 for his 7:15 a.m. ice cream fix, just before joining Microsoft co-founder and Berkshire director Bill Gates in a newspaper tossing contest.
That entails shareholders competing to see who can toss copies of Berkshire-owned newspapers closer to a target than Buffett. Winning shareholders get rewarded with Dairy Queen ice cream bars.
The meeting was preceded by the annual humorous movie overseen by Buffett’s daughter, Susie.
It featured a spoof championship boxing match, directed by John Landis of “Trading Places,” between welterweight champ Floyd Mayweather Jr. and “Berkshire Bomber” Buffett, who trained by running an adding machine and once in the ring stuffed his face with See’s candies instead of a mouthpiece. (Mayweather defeated Manny Pacquiao in a real title bout Saturday night.)
Hotel rates can top $400 a night for the Berkshire weekend, Omaha’s top draw other than baseball’s College World Series.
Many shareholders who come from afar don’t seem to mind. They know, given Buffett’s age, 84, and Munger’s, 91, there won’t be many more.
“He’s not going to be doing this in 10 or 15 years,” said Tia Tucker, an optometrist from Temperance, Michigan. “To say you saw Warren Buffett, it’s almost history we’re watching.”