It has often been said that Berkshire Hathaway has a unique corporate culture that will survive long after Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger pass. While many people may not challenge this claim, if you do you need only to travel to Omaha, Nebraska for a shareholders meeting.
2015 marked the 50th annual shareholders meeting, and by now the events have gained a certain reputation. With over 40,000 estimated attendees, the event can accurately be considered the “Woodstock of capitalism.” Shareholders from around the globe all come to hear the greatest investor from the 20th century give his advice on investing, success, life, and more.
iBillionaire, the app that lets you track the portfolios of billionaires, sent one lucky winner to Omaha this year to experience the famous event. As it turns out, I was that lucky winner. I found out I would be flying to Omaha, where I would be greeted by the Head of Communications & Content Strategy at iBillionaire.
On May 2nd, I woke early and took the shuttle to the Omaha convention center. Beneath an arena there was what can only be described as a “Berkshire trade show.” Booths were set up for many Berkshire subsidiaries. One could buy anything from Dairy Queen (I tried my first “Dilly Bar”) to RV’s to a Clayton Manufactured home. There are many other quirks to the Berkshire Meeting, such as the newspaper toss—where I came closest to WB and Bill Gates.
In the arena upstairs Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger sat side-by-side on a relatively small stage for over 6 hours during the Q&A session. Questions were fielded from a group of journalists, a group of analysts, and meeting attendees. The questions ranged from specifics about Berkshire Subsidiaries such as BNSF, to questions about Berkshire’s relationship to 3G, to questions about success in general (one attendee asked what advice the pair have on networking, the response: “Do your best!”).
The biggest takeaway from the meeting has nothing to do with the various questions or the witty responses. The biggest takeaway has more to do with the corporate culture of Berkshire. Lawrence Cunningham has devoted his latest book, Berkshire Beyond Buffett, to describing the corporate culture of Berkshire Hathaway. The most descriptive metaphor is that Berkshire companies make up a “family” at Berkshire—something that could easily be felt at the annual “family reunion.” The managers section of the arena was filled with families that spent their time—when not watching Buffett—meeting and having jovial conversation with old friends.
But the family metaphor extends beyond the managers. Even the other shareholders felt as if the 40,000 attendees were all kin. A conversation could be had with any shareholder about “how long you’ve held your shares,” “how many meetings you’ve been too,” and “how wonderful the patriarch of the family, Warren, is.” Warren Buffett seemed to be addressed by his first name everywhere, as if he was a familiar figure in the lives of his shareholders. Even my Uber driver—a resident of Omaha—had his shareholder meeting credentials proudly displayed on his dashboard. He told me about the history of Omaha, and how long he has attended meetings (he used to work for Nebraska Furniture Mart, a key Berkshire company and an important part of the annual meetings).
The corporate culture of Berkshire Hathaway, of shareholders, and of Omaha all can be portrayed as a large family. Everyone is grateful that Warren Buffett was able to bring them success, and they were all impressed he was able to bring them such an immense amount of knowledge every year. Berkshire Hathaway is a family company, even if it is publicly traded.
This piece was originally posted by The Financial Bulls. Seth Millerd is the winner of the 2015 #MeetBuffett contest hosted by iBillionaire.