Time Stood Still – We Met the Oracle of Omaha
It was the morning of April 7 in Omaha, Nebraska, and I was among 20 fortunate UC Davis MBA students preparing for a rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
We started off at 8:00 a.m. in our best business attire on our way to have a lunch with Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, on his home turf.
First, we toured the Berkshire Hathaway’s Nebraska Furniture Mart, the “largest” furniture mall in North America, founded by Ms. Rose Blumkin in 1937. Blumkin is known as the “Retail Queen” who established the empire on the principle of “Sell Cheap, Tell the Truth, Don’t Cheat Nobody”
”Put her up against the top graduates of the top business schools or chief executives of the Fortune 500 and, assuming an even start with the same resources, she’d run rings around them,” Buffett said of Ms. Blumkin in 1984 when Berkshire Hathaway Inc. acquired an 80% stake in the Furniture Mart. He made the acquisition through just a handshake without auditing her books or inventory.
Awestruck by the vastness of the Mart, we made our way to the big meet at Anthony’s Steakhouse. Eight business schools with 20 students each were seated, all vying for a glimpse of Buffett. He walked in as the clock struck 10.
No bandwagons, no security, no bodyguards, just Buffett. He humbly he greeted us with a “Hello,” a smile and a cherry coke by his side. Buffett then enthusiastically started answering our questions.
While answering questions, Buffett mentioned how glad he was that UC Davis was the first school to do a volunteer work for Girls Inc. in Omaha and said that UC Davis students could come and visit him as frequently as they want.
He told us about his morning schedule which starts with reading five daily newspapers and the 10k reports of companies. He stressed that “everyone should invest time in reading as it is the key to building up the database in the mind so that one can take up an opportunity as it comes along.”
He cheerfully told us about his business partner, Charlie Munger: “Charlie is the smartest guy I have ever met and he has read more biographies than anyone in the world. He is smart and has a lot of wisdom.”
While sharing about investing he said, “Investing is all about giving money to get back money. Think of the companies as birds in a bush, how far away I am from other birds and the bush (how far away I am from the competition), and go from there. “
Buffett made it a mandatory that at least one third of the students visiting should be women. He talked about his sisters, the 19th Amendment and iterated that, “Women will do great in the area of investing”
Buffett joked about his teenage years as “three ways a smart guy can go wrong liquor, ladies and leverage”
And a Buffett fun fact: He still uses his landline phone and has used email just once.
He urged us to have the right “heroes,” and to associate ourselves with people better than ourselves. He said his father was his hero.
On marriage, the Oracle offered sage advice: “Marry someone with low expectations and you will enjoy a blissful married life. Marriage can make one better or worse”.
When asked about what advice he would like to give MBA students, he said: “Take care of the car of your mind and your body because you never get a second chance to change it. Find a job which you want to hold even if you didn’t need a job. Force yourself to do the things you are not good at, never lose a good night’s sleep and don’t take stress”
One thing that resonated the most with me was when he said, “the most powerful force in the world is unconditional love and you can never buy love. A bell’s not a bell ’til you ring it – A song’s not a song ’til you sing it – Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay – Love isn’t love ’til you give it away!”