Meeting Warren Buffett
On Friday, January 31, the seventh group of UC Davis MBA students had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to travel to Omaha to meet Warren Buffett. It was an experience I will never forget.
The Day Begins at the Nebraska Furniture Mart
The first stop of our day was at Nebraska’s Furniture Mart (NFM), which was founded in 1937 by Rose Blumpkin. It became a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary in 1983. The NFM was filled with different pieces of furniture and appliances—a one-stop shop for everything a person would need to build a home. We were given a tour through the furniture and appliance section, where we learned that NFM holds 100 varieties of every item they sell, so that every customer feels that there is something there especially for them. If a customer is unable to find what they want in the store, they’re more than likely to find their dream piece of furniture through their website, which has even more choices, with the same customer service one would find in the store.
We learned about their marketing strategy (making sure there’s something for everyone) and about their main target market segment (women). The NFM hold their own against IKEA, which they don’t feel is a competitor within their market. It was also revealed that NFM will be expanding by spring 2015, with the construction of a store in Dallas, Texas.
Q&A with the Oracle of Omaha
Our next stop was the Kiewitt Building, where students from all eight universities had the chance to sit in the exclusive Cloud Room for the Q&A session with Mr. Buffett. He opened up the session by inviting us to help ourselves to a table full of Coca-Cola products, and jokingly told us that whether we drink it or pour it on our neighbor, he’ll just be happy that we open the bottle since that’s one of the ways that Berkshire Hathaway makes its money. He clarified that this Q&A session was for us to ask anything that is on our minds – whether it be about business, philanthropy or about his personal life.
We took turns asking the Mr. Buffett prepared questions—the topics ranged from the $1 billion give-away for the 2014 March Madness to more serious topics regarding investments and important lessons he’s learned. Mr. Buffett was a great host—he had a wonderful sense of humor, always had a smile on his face, was very down-to-earth and relatable, and cordially thanked each speaker for joining him that day.
I was graced with the opportunity to be the first representative from UC Davis, and had the chance to personally introduce myself and our university, thanking him for giving us this opportunity to meet with him. I asked Mr. Buffett about what global issues he plans to tackle through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Initially, Mr. Buffett addressed the big picture, which he said that the biggest problem in the world today is C.N.B.C – Chemical, Nuclear, Biological, and Cyber warfare. His concern was for the harm that people are causing other people, which the Gates Foundation is unable to assist. However, the Gates Foundation, with the help of funding from Mr. Buffett, has teamed up with Rotary International to find a polio vaccine, which has already helped the lives of millions of people affected by polio. My classmate, David Granchukoff, a second-year MBA student, also had the opportunity to ask his question as well.
When asked what he thought made him and Berkshire Hathaway so successful, Mr. Buffett attributed his success to his bravery and courage to do something that people are scared to do. He mentions that the success of his subsidiaries was the idea of complete autonomy—he purchases businesses that already have a strong management team, and he allows each subsidiary to run the way the management team wants to run it. Mr. Buffett’s main involvement with each subsidiary extends to possible acquisitions that any company wishes to make.
His answer to each and every question was thorough and in-depth, sometimes beyond the question that was asked. In Mr. Buffett’s opinion, unconditional love is the most important thing a person could have in life—in the long run, money doesn’t matter (he said that his vast amount of money only allows him to travel better, otherwise, his everyday life is like ours.) He said as long as we enjoy what we do, enjoy the people we work with, and get the chance to experience unconditional love from our families and our loved ones, everything else in life falls to second place. He credits a lot of his success to his wife—that having that special someone who is there to love you and support you in all your hopes and endeavors is a powerful thing.
At the end of the Q&A session, Demetra Jones had the honor of presenting Mr. Buffett with the special gift basket from UC Davis with a bottle of UC Davis wine, 2 wine glasses, a bridge card set with GSM logos, and a variety of Mars chocolate.
Lunch at Piccolo Pete’s
The UC Davis team was fortunate enough to sit at Mr. Buffett’s table, where we had a choice of a variety of lunch options (a rib eye steak, cod fillet, veggie burger, or chicken parmesan) and drinks. We were able to talk to Mr. Buffett about a variety of topics, ranging from politics to the upcoming Super Bowl between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos to his favorite television shows. Our group took turns, so that everyone has the chance to talk to the Oracle. For dessert, we enjoyed root beer floats—Mr. Buffet’s favorite. After lunch, each of the eight universities took turns taking a group picture with Mr. Buffett, before heading to Borsheims.
Jewelry, Novelties and Rubber Ducks
After saying goodbye to Mr. Buffett after lunch, our next stop was Borsheim’s Fine Jewelry, another one of Mr. Buffett’s subsidiaries in Omaha. Borsheim’s was founded in 1870 and became a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary in 1989. We were able to take some time to roam around the store, which sells more than 100 items of jewelry.
The last place we visited as part of the Buffett tour was the Oriental Trading Company (OTC), a direct marketing company that distributes novelties, toys, and party items. Founded in 1932, it was acquired by Mr. Buffett as a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary in 2012. CEO Sam Taylor shared the history of the OTC, and we toured their warehouse and were able to see their operations. After the tour, we reconvened in the meeting room to have a Q&A with Mr. Taylor and the operations manager. When we came back to the meeting room, there was a set of rubber ducks on each of our seats to remember this remarkable trip: one duck with the hair, glasses, and suit of Warren Buffett; the other duck with the hair, glasses, and suit of Charlie Munger, Mr. Buffett’s close friend and vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Corporation.
As the day was coming to a close, our UC Davis group met up later in the evening for dinner at Mark’s Bistro, hosted by Chris Dito, the Senior Director for Career Development. We were able to reminisce about the day – what our favorite parts of the day were and how grateful we are to be the ones to meet such an inspirational man. We had a great time wining, dining, bonding, and networking with one another. After all, we all shared in a trip to Omaha that all of us will remember forever.
With the UC Davis GSM spirit, a number of students jumped at the opportunity to return to volunteer at Mr. Buffett’s favorite local charity, Girls Inc. The non-profit vouches for women empowerment and encourages the young girls of today to know and understand what they are capable of in life, giving them the tools they need to “take chances and be strong, smart, and bold.” Girls Inc. goes above and beyond a normal after school place of homework and recreation—it is a place where young girls ranging from ages 5-18 from various backgrounds come together and learn from their instructors and others about succeeding in life. Motivational speakers that have addressed the girls include former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, President Barack Obama, and Desmond Tutu.
On Thursday, January 30, a group of UC Davis MBA students met with students from ages 5-18 and helped tutor them in a variety of subjects, joined them for their afternoon recreational activities, and attended their 1-hour of structured instruction. On Saturday, February 1, a second group of students had the opportunity to go in and help Operations Manager Fatima Graves to clean up and organize different parts of the facility to ready it for the girls when they come in for their sessions on Monday.
During the Q&A session on Friday, Mr. Buffett told me that UC Davis is one of his favorite universities and he’s had a lot of good experiences with the students from our school. David Granchukoff followed up with Mr. Buffett and asked him why he is a big fan of UC Davis. Mr. Buffett commented that UC Davis was the first university that had volunteered for Girls, Inc. with students eager to volunteer each time a new group goes to Omaha, while other universities may have volunteered to copy us and follow suit, but UC Davis is the “original.” Out of the 200 universities that ask to have the opportunity to spend the day with him, UC Davis continues to be on the top of his invitation list. Even to one of the most successful businessmen in history, UC Davis continues to be special and unique, being second to none in its caliber of education and quality of students.