On February 17th, a group of 20 Berkeley Haas MBA students from the Investment Club trekked to Omaha Nebraska to meet Warren Buffett. We came to Omaha hoping to gain investment advice from Buffett, but left Omaha learning more about life. What struck me most about our visit was how Buffett embodied our four Berkeley Haas Defining Principles.Students always
In 1951, Buffett travelled to Washington DC and knocked on GEICOs doors until someone opened them. It was a janitor, who took Buffett in to see the only man in the building that Saturday. Buffett got to meet a senior executive who shared with him the ins and outs of the insurance industry. Buffett later used this knowledge to invest in GEICO. This seemingly random circumstance turned out to be the single most transformative stock investment for Buffett’s career. He suggests, “Keep exposing yourself to situations where you get lucky.” Buffett seems to always be gathering knowledge, whether through interviews or through reading every investment book in his local library.
Question the status quo
When asked “What is he optimistic about?” Buffett responded, “What is there not to be optimistic about?” While the short-term oriented media paints a gloomy world, the reality is we are living better now than at any point in history. Buffett remarked, “In the span of one generation, [in the United States] we have gone from 30 million houses to over 100 million.” While we learned a great deal about life from Buffett we also learned about investing. Notably, Buffett mentioned, “You don't need an information edge. You need to have the willingness to act when everyone else is terrified.” In our lifetimes we will see three to five cycles where it is raining gold. Some people will go inside their homes to avoid getting hit, while others will bring buckets outside and collect the gold. Buffett urged us, “The market is there to serve you, not to instruct you.”
Confidence without attitude
There is something about Buffett’s charming demeanor that makes him approachable yet confident. His memory is razor sharp, as is his intellect. Buffett recites stories and company fundamentals as though they were last week when in fact some were over 50 years ago. Furthermore, it is humbling to see Warren Buffett free up his calendar three times a year to host university students and share his knowledge with them. In addition, his sense of humor contributes to his approachable demeanor. From self-deprecating comments about his hearing to poking fun at BING (“But it’s not Google…”), Buffett kept us engaged with his humorous anecdotes. A sign of a leader is not being afraid to admit weaknesses: Buffett disclosed to us that growing up he had a fear of public speaking and explained how Dale Carnegie’s public speaking course helped him conquer his fear. It is hard not to be impressed by Buffett’s balance of confidence, approachability, and humor.
In 2006, Warren Buffett donated over $30 billion to fight disease and reduce inequality through the Gates Foundation. He gave his fortune away to people who utilized and benefited from it. In a recent letter from Bill Gates to Buffett, Gates shares that 122 million children under age five have been saved over the past 25 years in part as a result of Buffett’s contributions. One of our classmates remarked, “Buffett is a modern-day Robin Hood.”
After a jam-packed day of meeting Buffett and visiting two of Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio companies it was time to return back to Berkeley. As we sat in the airport awaiting our flight I thought back on Warren’s final piece of advice to us, “Find individuals who bring out the best in you.” We are fortunate to be part of a community at Haas that allows us to bring out the best in each other.
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