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BRK Shareholders Gather To Celebrate Capitalism

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Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting kicked off Friday and, as luck would have it, one of the 27,000 (tiny) fractional owners of the company is a DealBreaker reader. Curtis Walker has been liveblogging the jamboree, which, in year’s past, has included Warren Buffett losing to an 11 year old at ping pong, and teaching a tantric sex class. So don’t be assholes—he’s one of you!
Around 6am, I got up and hustled across the Omaha Qwest Center parking lot to see the performance artist, Michael Israel paint a huge portrait of Warren Buffet using Benjamin Moore house paint. Unfortunately, he painted quicker than I walked and I missed everything but the hauling away of the massive painting. It looked good though. After another 45 minute wait in line, this time in the bitter cold of a MidWest Spring morning, the doors were flung open and the crowd hustled into the building. People were literally trotting to get to their choice of seats, no mean feat when numbers were estimated at 31,000 this year.
A generous selection of danishes, soda, juice and coffee was laid out for everyone to grub on for the hour between the doors opening and the always entertaining BRK movie playing. The best part of the program
was a clip from British comedians, John Bird and John Fortune expertly (and hilariously) dissecting the Sub-Prime mortgage situation. Warren also tried his hand at acting again, joining the cast of All My Children. Afterwards, a news flash revealed that Susan Lucci had traded jobs with Warren and when she emerged, in person onto the stage, she promised to offer dividends, release weekly earnings guidance and raise BRK directors annual salary from it's current level of $900. The latter part was met by a standing ovation from the front of the auditorium, where the
managers all sit. Warren promptly burst onto the stage and set things right and began the shareholder Q&A session.
Rather than regurgitating the entire 6 hour session, I've pulled a few shining quotes from the event:
-Warren Buffet: "Mrs. B (of Nebraska Furniture Mart) worked for us until she was 103. She died a year later. Let this be a lesson to the rest of our managers."
-Charlie Munger on Business School: "The two most important things one can learn are: 1. How to value a business and 2. How to overcome influence from market fluctuation."
- Charlie Munger (paraphrasing): "Inflation is bad for civilization but great for capitalists."
- Charlie Munger on BRK: "We expect to make money at a lower rate than in the past, and as a stockholder we urge you to expect the same."
- Warren Buffet on America: "Your children will live in a better country than you, even if a few idiots run it in the meantime."
- Charlie Munger on Politics: "The politicians are never so bad that you don't live to want them back later."
-Warren Buffet on consumerism: "Living within your income now, guarantees a higher income later."
A couple of the protesters were back this year. The anti-abortionists hired a van to drive around with graphic posters of bloody abortions all over it. They managed to get it to tailgate the billboard truck that NU hired with alumni, Warren Buffet on the side urging folks to invest in themselves with an education. Inside the meeting, the folks from Oregon were back to tell BRK that operating 100 year old dams was wrong and they needed to restore the river. This message was especially poignant in light of the Pacific coast salmon collapse announced on Friday. Unfortunately, due to their continued disruptive behavior, most people were turned off to their message. Regardless, pulling down dams is a job for regulators and local governments, not the folks operating them. These protesters were treated with respect and their questions were addressed each time they got on the mic with their emotionally based pleas. There's no "Roger and Me" corporate mentality at this meeting. I should also mention that while security were numerous, they were in no way overbearing. It'd be nice if the TSA could run their checkpoints as invisibly and effectively.
This year's meeting was also marked by a large number of German investors interested in BRK's move into Germany with the purchase of Cologne Re by subsidiary General Re. Buffett will be embarking on a 4 country tour of Europe in an effort to expand Berkshire's brand and attract a new field of family owned business in Europe interested in monetizing their stakes to bring offers to him in the future.
Overall, the tone was optimistic, but realistic. After this fourth consecutive meeting, I feel as though I've managed to learn a few new things and reinforce the principles I've been able to wrap my head around in the past. There's a strong plan in place for Warren's inevitable departure for the company and plenty of new opportunities for him to chew on in the meantime.
Of note, Berkshire is doing their own 2008 shareholder meeting blog in an obvious (though futile) attempt to keep up with our coverage, you can check it out here.
Earlier: Inside the BRK Opening Reception
-- Curtis Walker is a writer based in Las Vegas, NV.