Assumption of Command

13 September 2005

"Random Dave Stuff," Part 1 -- An Encounter With Warren Buffett

For the past two years, I've been in the MBA program at the University of Kansas. This has afforded me the opportunity to have some very long days (I take classes at night, after work), and to feel the wrath of Mustang 23, who isn't what you'd call a "fan" of the Jayhawks. But it has also allowed me to spend some time -- "hobnob," if you will -- with various fat-cats. And cats don't come much fatter than the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett. He's known as The Oracle of Omaha, The Wizard of Wall Street, That Guy Who Looks Like My Cousin Martin. He's considered to be the greatest investor in history, and, with a net worth of $43 billion, is the second richest person in the world. Through Berkshire, he owns GEICO, Dairy Queen, Fruit of the Loom, Helzberg Diamonds, The Pampered Chef, Nebraska Furniture Mart, 8% of Coca-Cola, 12% of American Express, 10% of Gillette, 21% of the Washington Post, and, just for giggles, ACME Brick.

Otherwise, he's just like you and me.

Through my MBA program, I've had the opportunity to see him twice. The first time was in April, at Berkshire Hathaway's Annual Shareholders Meeting. I am not a shareholder, mind you -- at roughly $83,000 per share, it's a bit outside my pay grade (though they do offer "Class B" shares designed to be affordable for the average investor -- $2,700 per share). However, my Investments professor managed to procure a couple hundred passes, and made attendance 15% of our grade.

"Find a hotel room in Omaha for the night before, because I need you in line at the Qwest Center by 5 am." he said. "When the doors open at seven, run like hell for stage left on the arena floor, and start posting these 'Reserved' signs on as many chairs as you can. I want the entire class together and within ten rows of the stage. Kick the canes out from under the old people, if you have to; just make it happen!"

Good professor. I learned a lot from him.

Anyway, I spent the day listening to Warren Buffett talk about this and that, and got to sit ten yards, one barrier fence, and a glowering bodyguard away from Bill Gates (who is on the Berkshire Hathaway Board of Directors). I roamed the exhibit floor, where various Berkshire-owned companies had set up displays, but was disappointed at the amount and quality of the swag to be had. It was amusing, though, to see some of the wealthiest people in the world (to stereotype the average Berkshire meeting attendee) crawling all over one another to grab armfuls of inexpensive underwear from the Fruit of the Loom kiosk.

That was my first run-in with Mr. Buffett. Fast forward to the end of the semester: my Investments prof again arranged for the class to go to Omaha, this time for a ninety-minute Q&A session with Warren Buffett at Berkshire World Headquarters. This, too, was 15% of my grade, so I took a vacation day, drove to Lawrence on a Friday morning to meet the charter bus, and managed to lock my keys in my car. I learned that day that it is absurdly, frighteningly easy to break into a locked late-model automobile -- all you need is a blood pressure cuff and a fishing pole. Take the blood pressure cuff, insert it into the seam between the door and ...

Wait. I'm getting off track, aren't I? Let's try this again.

So, once again, I found myself going to Omaha for an audience with Cousin Martin. Wait, no ... I mean, with Warren Buffett. Sorry. My Investments professor instructed us to bring questions, as well as a digital camera. I took this picture of Warren Buffett drinking a Coke:

Here's a picture I took of him eating a Dairy Queen sundae in front of us:

Buffett's kinda shameless about product placement.

My professor also advised us to bring a book for Warren Buffett to sign. Now, I don't own any books by or about Warren Buffett, as I lamented to my as-of-then still local girlfriend, Emily. She surprised me by making a beeline for her bookcase and pulling a Buffett book right off the shelf, and suggested that I take it with me to Omaha. I did so, but didn't have an opportunity to have Warren sign it, as we ran out of time. He did, however, have us leave them with his secretary, and promised to sign them and ship them back to Lawrence. He even told us to include a note with instructions on how we would like the autographs personalized.

The semester ended, and months passed. Word came that Em's book had returned from Omaha, but I was unable to find my way to Lawrence to retrieve it. The fall semester started, and, wonder of wonders, one of my classmates who lives in Lawrence was nice enough to ferry it to Kansas City. Check it out!

In case you can't make it out, that says, "To Emily - Warren Buffett." I figured it was her book, after all, so I should have Warren personalize it for her. Of course, by the time I got the book back, she had moved, so I wasn't able to get it to her until Labor Day weekend (when I left Ft. Livingroom to spend three days at FOB Em's Townhouse). She seemed pretty pleased with it.

By now, you might be wondering which Buffett book I had Warren sign. Well, wonder no longer; it was this one:

I'm just disappointed that Warren didn't follow my suggestion and sign it:
"To Emily: Keep searching for that lost shaker of salt. -- Warren Buffett "