This past weekend I attended Berkshire Hathaway’s (BRK.A) annual shareholder meeting in person in Omaha. While the online viewing of Warren’ and Charlie’s commentary produces many tangible take-aways, it was the intangibles – obtained only from being there in person – that provided the incremental value, explains Bruce Kaser, editor of Cabot Value Investor.
One intangible is the immense respect, loyalty and kindness of Berkshire’s shareholders. I chatted with many over the course of the weekend, and to a person they were kind, friendly, and open with their thoughts about the company and its leadership.
Some were new shareholders. Others have been shareholders for decades. There was a sense of being part of something rare and historic – that there has been no other person quite like Buffett in American (or world) history and that everyone there was participating in the making of this history.
Buffett’s letters to shareholders, as well as countless books and articles, have written about Borsheims and Nebraska Furniture Mart. But without visiting these businesses in person and on site at their actual stores in Omaha, it’s difficult to fully grasp what they are all about.
Similarly, another takeaway comes from walking through the convention hall in which many of Berkshire’s subsidiaries had booths. It’s one thing to read in a 10-K about the breadth of companies under the BH umbrella. It’s entirely another to walk through a Clayton Home model, buy See’s Candy, stand next to an actual Duracell Formula 1 car, eat a Dairy Queen ice cream bar, and see actual chemical samples from Lubrizol in person. No other company on Earth has such a breadth yet is unified by a common, high-quality culture and ownership.
One other takeaway comes from a chance meeting with Greg Abel, the next CEO after Buffett. While walking through the convention hall, I had a chance to very briefly meet Greg, chat for a few moments, and get a quick photo.
I fully recognize that first impressions can be misleading, and that he certainly was on his best behavior. But my sense was that what I’ve heard through various unofficial channels is true: He is a personable and low-key leader.
It would be impossible for anyone to truly replace the charismatic, living legend that is Buffett and the magic that he holds over all Berkshire employees, leaders and shareholders. But Abel seems like a good choice, partly because he in no way even attempts to replicate Buffett.
It would seem like Berkshire will continue to be a solid long-term investment. Now, if we can just get a cheaper entry price!