Warren Buffet meets with business students

Meeting the Oracle of Omaha
MBAs break bread with Warren Buffett

“Congratulations! Your name was randomly chosen as one of the 20 students who will be going to Omaha to meet Warren Buffett on January 12, 2018.”

There was a lot more to that email, but that was all I needed to read. I had been chosen to be among the UC Davis MBA students who would fly to Nebraska in the middle of winter to meet Warren Buffett, one of the greatest investors of all time.

Warren Buffet meets with business students

This is why I joined the Graduate School of Management—not this specific trip per se—but to experience impactful and insightful opportunities that could jump-start my career and be lasting memories.

Last summer, an anonymous donor pledged $2.68 million to Glide, a charity Warren Buffett supports, to have lunch with seven friends and Warren Buffett.

So, for us, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

He told the room full of students how UC Davis had long been giving back, that it’s a nice school and was welcomed back all the time.

Over two days in Omaha, we toured three of Berkshire Hathaway’s subsidiaries—Nebraska Furniture Mart, Borsheims and the Oriental Trading Company—and had lunch and a Q&A session with “the Oracle” himself.

What sets UC Davis apart from other schools invited to this unique event is our long-standing dedication to giving back our time to volunteer at Girls Inc. in Omaha during our trip. That track record was not lost on Warren Buffett. He smiled when he read “UC Davis” from one of the questions we submitted. He told the room full of students how UC Davis had long been giving back, that it’s a nice school and was welcomed back all the time.

Despite the snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures, I could feel the warmth and energy in the room as about 200 students waited for the Q&A to start. Warren Buffett made his entrance with a smile on his face and an excitement that matched his audience’s.

Students visit Nebraska Furniture Mart, a subsidiary of Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway

No frills, no security, just Warren. And for the next two and a half hours, he answered questions with topics ranging from Bitcoin to his personal and business relationships, the role of women in investing, cybersecurity and raising children.

He has been an investor under 14 presidents, was in school when the Dow was just 250 points, and now has a net worth of more than $80 billion. 

He talked of his humble beginnings in Omaha, born at the beginning of the Great Depression. Money was tight and they rarely left the house. He had a loving family, with two sisters and hard-working parents.

Buffett understood from an early age the importance of women in society, despite the extremely limited careers for women at the time and the general understanding that women should “marry well and marry young.” He attributes this to his strong, smart sisters and mother and has continued to be a big proponent of women’s rights.

“Progress is defined by innovation, which leads to productivity,” he said.

He stressed the importance being exposed to decent values at a young age and to surround yourself with good people. It really makes a difference how and where you grow up. 

Buffett knew from age seven (when he was making a nickel per week in allowance) that he wanted to pursue a career in investing.

“It’s important to find the job you would take, even if you didn’t need it,” he told the crowd of aspiring business students. “Find what turns you on and don’t settle in an arena you don’t want to be in.” You spend a lot of time at work, so find something you love.

Business students give thanks to Warren Buffett

I enjoyed his perspective on money and personal wealth. Buffett found success early in his career, being able to afford anything he could ever want in just his twenties. But we all want things in life that money can’t buy. He explained that money is an asset, but eventually with enough money for one person, its utility falls to zero. Instead, it can continue to help people around the world when it’s put toward things like paying for vaccines or building wells for drinking water.

“Once your family has what it needs,” he said, “figure out how to better the world.”

He is a strong believer that every life has equal value and he wants to do his part to leave future generations better off than those who have come before us.

This type of advice is something we can all strive for, no matter our status. He empowered us by telling us that every person in the room has the chance to do well in this world.

Buffett was also very optimistic for the future of our nation. He said we have a system in place now that uses 100 percent of our talent, regardless of each individual’s age, sex or background. There will always be shifts in the types of jobs available. Where some jobs are lost to technology, the efficiency gained tends to lead to jobs elsewhere.

“Progress is defined by innovation, which leads to productivity,” he said.

Buffett believes in the importance of surrounding yourself with people who can shape you to be a better person. His advice: Marry someone better than you, as that is the ultimate partnership. He stressed the importance of parents, which he considered the most important job in anyone’s life.

For more than two hours, Buffett answered questions and offered advice. As the session came to a close, the magnitude of what we had just experienced began to settle in. I was so thankful to have shared this experience with fellow UC Davis students. As I looked around my table, I thought this is what Buffett meant when he said to surround yourself with good people.