Berkshire Weekend 2014

Hello blogosphere! I’ve been gone a while. My real life took over and my virtual life had to be put on hold. But now I’m back with lots of updates! 

Dave and I arrived in Omaha last Friday night. I think it’s a testament to any newlywed couple who can drive 10 hours from central Indiana to Nebraska without wanting to kill each other at the end. We met up with my dad at the hotel, and I had a chance to grab a quick shower before heading out to Gorat’s. But I’m getting ahead of myself…let me back up a second.

Last April my father and I were on a road trip and he was talking to me about the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. He had been once before, several years ago. He mentioned that it would be a good experience for me to go, especially while Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger are still alive. I think he may have forgotten about that conversation when I brought the idea up again earlier this year. I’m not working, so it really was the perfect year for me to go. My dad ordered up passes for the three of us (Dave wanted in too, of course) and booked up hotel rooms.

I’m going to assume that some of my readers are scratching their heads and wondering “What on earth in Berkshire Hathaway?” I’m hoping that at least some people have heard of Warren Buffett (although I was asked if he was a singer….and no, that’s Jimmy Buffett), although I suspect only a few people have heard of Charlie Munger. I’m assuming this because I don’t think my readers also tend to be devout readers of the Wall Street Journal. Maybe I’m wrong, so if you already know what on earth I’m talking about, humor me for a few moments while I get the rest of the readers up to speed. 

GEICOWarren Buffett is currently the second wealthiest person in the United States, only behind Bill Gates. Currently he’s worth somewhere around $58 billion. Yes, billion. He’s already given about $20 billion (yes, billion again) to philanthropic causes. At the age of 83, he continues to work as the chairman and CEO of the holding company Berkshire Hathaway. If you haven’t heard of Berkshire Hathaway, you have to have heard of some of the companies it owns. Ever heard of Dairy Queen, GEICO, Oriental Trading Company or Fruit of the Loom? Hopefully you don’t live under a rock and you’ve heard of all four. These are just a few of the companies that are completely owned by Berkshire Hathaway. Recently Berkshire Hathaway purchased 50% of Heinz…you know, the guys who make that thing called ketchup. The company also owns shares of many publicly traded companies, including 14.2% of American Express, 9.2% of Wells-Fargo, 9.1% of Coca-Cola, 6.3% of IBM and 4.2% of DIRECTV. Trust me, I’m just scratching the surface here. It’s kind of a big deal. Dairy QueenCharlie Munger is the vice president of Berkshire Hathaway, and is the much less talkative of the two men, which is probably why he isn’t as well-known outside the “Berkie” community. Another big name on the board of Berkshire Hathaway is Bill Gates, a good friend of Warren Buffett. As I said, this is a big deal. 

Every year Berkshire Hathaway holds an annual meeting. This in itself is not unusual. Every publicly held company has an annual meeting. But Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting has turned into “Woodstock for Capitalists” (aka “Buffettpalooza”). The required business portion of the meeting was held on Saturday afternoon, and is still pretty small, but the events associated with the annual meeting have become HUGE. It grows in size every year and this year (2014) it hosted approximately 40,000 shareholders (or guests of the shareholders, like Dave and me!). Every shareholder has the option of ordering up to 4 credentials for the meeting, which is how non-shareholders like me get to attend. I still got a spiffy badge that said “shareholder” so it’s not like the guests are walking around with scarlet letters. Anyone with a credential also has access to the shareholder discounts (which is awwwwesome….more on the shopping later). 

So last weekend about 40,000 people descended on Omaha, Nebraska. Why Omaha? That’s where Warren Buffett is from, and he still lives there. It’s a huge event for the city, and as we were arriving I was reading tweets about how all the limos in the city were completely busy. The shareholders fill pretty much every hotel room in the city. We managed to get a couple rooms at a Hampton Inn about 20 minutes away from the meeting. As I mentioned previously, we met up with my Dad at the hotel, freshened up, and headed out to our reservations at Gorat’s. Gorat’s is one of Warren Buffett’s favorite steakhouses. He’s known for his frugality, and it shows in his tastes. This isn’t a steakhouse that will completely break your bank. Despite the fact that it’s not the world’s fanciest cuisine, and it doesn’t have a world-famous chef, Berkshire shareholders descend en mass every year just because it’s one of Buffett’s favorite haunts. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. The place has character, and the food is pretty good. I had the house salad, with the house balsamic vinaigrette dressing, which was delicious. For my main course I had a 6oz filet mignon, medium rare, with a side of mashed potatoes. It’s hard to go wrong with steak and potatoes. 

After dinner we headed straight back to the hotel because Saturday was an early morning. The company movie started at 8:30am, and my dad figured we should leave the hotel by 7:30am to get to the CenturyLink Center in time to get seated before the start of the movie. Turns out we were cutting it close. People who wanted floor seats were lining up hours before the doors opened (which was at something like 6:30am), but we weren’t that die-hard. According to my Twitter feed, the opening of the doors resembled something like the running of the Pamplona bulls. Crazy shareholders. We just wanted to see the screen, but we ended up having to split up (because there was no way we could find three seats together) in the nosebleed seats behind the stage. Sigh. It really wasn’t a big deal in the end because there was a huge screen in front of us. The company video is legendary. I’ve heard of previous videos that have included appearances from the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004 to Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul in a “Breaking Bad” skit involving the meth-cooking duo taking on the production of peanut brittle (a popular product of B.H. subsidiary See’s Candies). This year’s movie did not disappoint, with appearances from Jimmy Fallon, the cast of SNL, Paul Anka (singing a duet with Warren), and of course the GEICO gecko and (my favorite) the GEICO camel. Each skit was separated with a Superbowl-worthy ad for a B.H. subsidiary….Coca-Cola, GEICO, Fruit of the Loom….you get the point. 

After the company movie, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger come out and sit on the stage to answer questions. The questions are asked by some reporters, who have had people e-mail them questions in advance, as well as a few questions from some people selected in the audience. We stayed to listen to the questions for a while, but then we decided to head downstairs to check out the exhibits. We started with Fruit of the Loom, which was packed. It made the crowds at Disney World look tame. We made our way to the back to the store to grab some Berkie boxers for Dave and my dad, then fought the crowds to check out. We continued to browse a bit, and I found an uh-maz-ing mattress at the Nebraska Furniture Mart exhibit. This mattress (king sized with the box spring) was $999 with the shareholder discount. Unfortunately we don’t have that kind of money laying around for an unplanned major purchase. Sigh…next year. I did snag a deal on a pair of Wells Lamont all-purpose garden gloves….they were $2 and I think they’re super cute. Obviously I don’t need gardening gloves when we’re in the apartment, but I’m ready for us to work on the landscaping in the new house!

Wells Lamont Gardening Gloves

 

We also checked out the See’s Candies display, some water heaters and water filtration systems made by EcoWater Systems, and the model train set up by BNSF Railway before grabbing some lunch and heading back in to the Q & A session. We listened to some more of Buffett and Munger before heading out to catch a shuttle to Borsheims. My dad went to throw our purchases in the car before we got the shuttle and I realized that I hadn’t yet picked up the one souvenier I was planning on getting for myself…the Berkshire Hathaway limited edition of Qwirkle! So I went and grabbed it, and then we headed off to browse jewelry. And no, we weren’t at Borsheims on Sunday when this guy managed to involve Warren Buffett in on his proposal plan (as I said last week, who doesn’t love a good proposal story?):

We had a relaxing Saturday evening and said goodbye to my dad because he hit the road early on Sunday morning. Instead of hitting the road early, we decided to check out Nebraska Furniture Mart. We were shocked at it’s size. It’s HUGE! And apparently the new store near Dallas is going to make the original location look tiny. I can’t even imagine it. Let me tell you, they have some great prices….and that was before we got to add the shareholder discount that was available for the weekend. We are pretty sure we need to go back next year just to pick up some stuff for the house! I did pick up one last thing while we were there….I’ve been eyeing this Le Creuset multipurpose bowl for a while. Usually it retails for $45, but NFM had it for $38 and when the shareholder discount was added on I walked out of there with it for about $28! I was a happy camper.

After checking out NFM we hit the road to Iowa. Dave has some friends that live south of Iowa City, and we were both really excited to to visit them. Unfortunately their daughter got sick so they weren’t able to attend our wedding, which meant that I’d never met them until this weekend (although I’d heard a lot of stories!). Erin and Trevor were wonderful hosts. After being on the road for a couple days, we really appreciated a homemade steak and potatoes dinner. Overall, we had a great time with them! 

We rolled back into Indiana on Monday evening, at which point we headed straight to the appointment we had to sign our house contract. So it’s all official now – we’ll be getting blueprints by the end of the month! It was a great way to top of a super-duper fun weekend!

I’ll try to keep the blog updated a little better throughout the rest of this crazy-busy month!

Until later, Ashlen

  • Wow busy weekend! I went to Iowa so I got excited thinking you were in Iowa City 🙂 What town? My dad’s family all lives south of IC.

    • Our friends live in Washington, IA. I loved getting off the interstate and driving down there – I think my husband got a little tired of me saying “ohh, cows! ohhh, horses! ohhh, pigs! ohhh sheep!” during the drive.