What a time it was. It was an incredible and surreal weekend, and one I’ll never forget.
I’m going to do my best to share some of the highlights of the trip from start to finish. I took a lot of pictures, but I didn’t capture everything I wanted to. In addition, I completely forgot my camera. So I was forced to take pictures with my iPhone 3G from 2008 – 2.0 MP camera and all. But I think I did a pretty solid job capturing the essence of the trip.
We had to get up at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday morning in order to make our flight, which is part of the reason I forgot my camera (I’m not a morning person). We then drove about an hour north to the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. I normally try to fly out of Sarasota for the sake of ease and accessibility, as we can take the bus to the airport assuming the flight isn’t super early in the morning. But the two round-trip tickets for Claudia and me totaled out at $439. Not too shabby.
Touring Downtown And Old Market In Omaha
Once we landed in Omaha we quickly took the free shuttle over to our hotel. I booked us three days at a budget Comfort Inn about two miles outside of the downtown area where the meeting would be taking place on Saturday at the CenturyLink Center. The total for the three nights ran $463 after accounting for like 10 different taxes. Again, not too shabby.
But we arrived before check-in, so we left our luggage in the care of the hotel and took another shuttle ride out to the Old Market area. The Old Market area appears to be the spot to be in Omaha. It’s trendy, hip, urban, dense, and busy.
We spent some time here, which is really enjoyable. We walked around for about an hour or so taking in the sites and the weather – it was in the high 70s with low humidity and not a cloud in the sky. Beautiful.
The Old Market area is roughly three square blocks or so. It’s not particularly large in terms of total area, but it’s quite dense for the area it does take up with plenty of restaurants and shopping (we indulged in the former but not the latter).
After taking in the sights for a while, we figured we’d settle on a place to eat. We picked Stokes Grill & Bar, which is a Southwestern joint. Beautiful interior, though I found the food so-so. I ordered fish tacos – the menu description was awesome and they were reasonably priced. Unfortunately, they didn’t catch my request for no cilantro. Besides that, the tacos were quite bland.
I’m not used to eating heavily for lunch, and certainly not at restaurants. We only visit restaurants maybe twice a month on average, and we almost never choose lunch for restaurant visits. So we decided to walk off the extra calories by crisscrossing the entire city.
We first checked out the adjacent Gene Leahy Mall, which is a park that features a long waterway that wraps around a lagoon, and it’s right in the downtown area.
This is quintessential Omaha, based on a number of pictures I’ve seen of the city. It’s really a quaint area that was largely populated by families and joggers.
We then circled around to the riverfront area, which features Heartland of America Park that’s situated right on the Missouri River. The park has a huge fountain that overlooks the downtown skyline from certain angles. I got a picture of the fountain at the park, but the shot that would have shown the downtown scene was quite a walk away from where we were, and we were conserving energy for our trek across the rest of the downtown.
After taking in the serene scenery here at the edge of downtown, we then hiked back to where we were, eventually passing the Gene Leahy Mall and heading up to the central downtown area.
We both found the overall downtown area a bit underwhelming in some aspects. For instance, we noticed that a lot of the buildings were hotels. Now, this is true for a lot of cities, but the hotel scene in the immediate downtown area seemed inordinate, for better or worse. I imagine the city hosts a lot of conventions, which creates the demand for this. In addition, we ended up walking around for six hours on Thursday before making our way back to the hotel, and seeing most of the downtown area by foot seemed to prove out a lack of overall density. You can see one of the better/more dense looks at downtown at the beginning of the article.
Nonetheless, there were a couple of really nice areas. We eventually found ourselves just in front of the Union Pacific headquarters. And since their stock is on my watch list right now, I had to take a shot.
We then cooled off by grabbing a couple of iced drinks at a Starbucks located right across the street from Union Pacific’s headquarters. I can tell you that this Starbucks was large by Starbucks standards, and it was still elbow-to-elbow. It was literally packed. It reminded me of a nightclub or something. I thought lights and music were going to start up at any moment. I think I’m missing out on an investment here…
After resting, we then headed our way up across downtown, eventually coming across the Joslyn Art Museum.
Great art museum. We spent well over an hour inside the museum, checking out the permanent exhibit. First, the price is right – it’s free admission, but donations are appreciated. Second, the museum is large. We were moving quickly and it still took well over an hour. Third, the museum itself is a work of art. Highly recommended.
We left the museum and finished our tour of the entire downtown area. Although it was underwhelming in some aspects, I will say that it’s a very clean area. We also never felt unsafe at all. Overall, a really nice town.
After grabbing the shuttle to the hotel to finally check in early in the evening, we cleaned up, grabbed a bite for dinner, and settled in for the night pretty early. Getting up before six, flying for three hours, and then walking in the sun for about six hours takes it out of you.
Reader And Blogger Meetups
Friday started off in an amazing manner. I set aside some time to meet up with any readers that happened to also be in town for the meeting, or any that just so happened to live in Omaha. Around 10 readers showed up, and I spent almost two hours talking to everyone, with some people staying only as long as time permitted. All in all, it was a great time. I always look forward to meeting readers and/or like-minded savers/investors, and this opportunity was no different.
We ended up discussing the upcoming Berkshire Hathaway meeting, the high cost of living in some states, comparing yourself to a benchmark, why I avoid tax-advantaged accounts, why my previous move back to Michigan didn’t work out, and renting versus home ownership. It was a lot of fun.
I’ll also quickly note that I thought I got a pretty good deal on our hotel room. It was the cheapest hotel I could find when I booked back in December, especially for anything close to downtown. Free shuttle, free breakfast, and only two miles away from the main event also added a lot of value. However, one of my readers said he snagged a room for rent off of Airbnb for only $50 per night. Now that’s a score.
Later that evening, Claudia and I took another stroll around downtown. We ended up right on the outskirt of the Old Market area to meet up with fellow bloggers Mr. and Mrs. 1500, Mr. and Mrs. PoP, and Mr. and Mrs. Kapitalust for dinner.
They were all also in town for the meeting, so it was great to put some faces with secret internet identities. Plus, I have to give a big thanks to Mr. 1500 for graciously setting aside two credentials to the meeting so that Claudia and I could attend.
It was awesome chatting with – once more – like-minded folk about subjects we all have a passion for. It was also a great opportunity to get to know these people better and what drives them to do what they do. All in all, a really fantastic time.
This little impromptu blogger meetup was held at at Wilson & Washburn. I was once again somewhat disappointed by the food, but perhaps I was ordering the wrong food or maybe just eating at the wrong places.
We turned in early once more on Friday night because we knew we were going to have to get up extremely early on Saturday for the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. The doors open at 7 a.m., but you want to get there well before then to secure a decent place in line, and hence a seat.
The Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting
We grabbed the first shuttle we could after grabbing a quick free breakfast down in the lobby of our hotel. That means we ended up landing at CenturyLink Center at about 6:30 a.m on Saturday morning. You’d think that was early, right? Think again.
The center of that picture is our place in line. And this is the side of the building. Needless to say, the line was incredibly long.
Though, I didn’t feel as bad after standing in line for about 10 minutes and noticing there were hundreds and hundreds of people behind us, wrapping across the street and down the block.
That’s across the street from where I’m standing. And that line stretches out to the main intersection and around the corner. They don’t call this “Woodstock for Capitalists” for nothing!
It was a bit chilly and it started to rain toward the end of our wait. But neither bothered me. I was way too hyped up about getting in that building and being in the same room (albeit a very large room) as Warren Buffett.
I understand there are some activities going on before the main meeting where you can potentially get close to Warren, but we chose instead to secure a seat right away. The rumor was well over 40,000 people were attending the event. And there were only enough seats for approximately 18,000 people in the main arena. So we bolted straight for the arena to grab the best seat we could.
We made ourselves comfortable for about 40 minutes or so before Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger made their way out toward the center stage, eventually seating themselves just in front of the stage so that they could see the screens up front. The invited media personnel also made there way out to their assigned areas as well.
At 8:30, the company movie started. The entire production was top-notch and incredibly humorous. There were a number of bits that were all somewhat intertwined with one another, making jokes about how Warren was going to go heavy on internet stocks and Charlie was going to let him do whatever he wanted, in favor of the Hollywood life. A number of actors and actresses made appearances, including a notable bit involving Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and Warren, with Warren apparently the new Heisenberg from Breaking Bad.
The highlight of the movie, in my opinion, was a rather lengthy bit where Buffett “challenged” Floyd Mayweather, Jr for the title. Of course, hilarious antics ensue, with Buffett sure that Floyd wouldn’t hit “an old man with glasses”.
One other scene is of Warren singing the Coke song, with a joke at the end. This video was apparently also part of The Coca-Cola Co. (KO) annual meeting. You can view that video online now.
After the movie, Warren and Charlie made there way to the center stage to huge applause. Unfortunately, pictures are strictly prohibited during the meeting, so I couldn’t take any shots. But I did take plenty of notes during the meeting, trying to capture some of the best moments.
This is my first time ever attending, but I’ve heard that Charlie is usually quite quiet. However, he was quite vocal with most questions on Saturday, discussing his views and opinions on a number of topics. I thought this was great. He was less restrained and more blunt than Buffett, living up to his reputation. As such, many of his answers elicited laughter. For instance, Charlie would blurt out that questions were dumb when they were.
Buffett elicited plenty of hearty laughs as well, as both men are quite funny, even when discussing serious subjects relating to business, finance, and investing.
I’m going to include some highlights below, taken from my notes:
- Buffett responded to a charge about subsidiary Clayton Homes engaging in predatory lending by discussing how important it is – to both the borrower and Berkshire – that people stay in their homes. It’s a lose-lose when someone can’t stay in their home, so he only wants to see those that can pay in homes they can afford under a reasonable payment plan. He also noted that Clayton is heavily regulated with an otherwise spotless record. It was also noted that they build high-quality homes at very affordable prices. I can say firsthand that I toured a Clayton model in the vendor area that was priced under $70,000 and it was absolutely beautiful.
- One question related to Berkshire’s views on partnering with 3G Capital, considering 3G’s track record of taking over a business and promptly letting people go. Is 3G at odds with Berkshire’s reputation? Buffett answered back that 3G is not at odds and that he’s never once said to anyone that any company should have more people employed than that which is required to run the business. He added that capitalism works best when it’s most efficient.
- Buffett talked extensively about the power and value of brands.
- Buffett repeatedly discussed the power of luck. He views it as important to being open to ideas as they come along. A lot of accidents happen in life, which is why one should be open. He discussed this luck as it relates to him starting up the first partnership, noting the importance of being in the right place at the right time. He also stated that it was pure luck that he received such a great lesson on insurance/Geico when visiting Washington D.C. back in the 50s.
- Berkshire’s future came up a few times. At one point, Charlie quipped that there are worse tragedies in life than seeing Berkshire’s growth rate slow some. Buffett immediately charged back, “Name one.”
- Buffett and Munger were asked about the trends away from processed and sugary food, linking sugar to health problems. Coca-Cola was asked about specifically, as it relates to Berkshire’s common stock portfolio and whether or not Berkshire was concerned about the stock. Buffett said he wasn’t concerned at all, noting the annual increases in unit case volume, the power of brands, and the ability to adapt. But he then went on to say that Coke probably accounted for 25% of the calories he’s consumed over the past several years, noting he was “1/4 Coke.” Although, he “wasn’t sure which quarter.” He then went on to discuss his disdain for vegetables, saying that eating broccoli is “like going to jail.” More seriously, he noted that he thinks he’s lived as long as he has because he’s happy and eats/drinks what makes him happy. Charlie joked that Coca-Cola “prevents premature softening of the arteries.”
- Asked about the stock market’s valuation and whether or not stocks in general seemed expensive right now, Buffett stated that corporate profits are worth more now because of low interest rates. He stated that it’s important to look at stock values within the context of low rates. He also stated that he can’t predict rates, noting that he would have never thought we’d see rates this low for this long. Within the context of interest rates where they are, Buffett thinks that rates rising would make stocks look pretty expensive. If rates persist, stocks look cheap. He also noted there’s a long-term opportunity cost of owning bonds, especially right now.
- Munger added that they’ve abdicated from making macroeconomic predictions. He said, “We swim and let the tide take care of itself.”
- Discussing volatility in the stock market, Buffett stated that Berkshire’s made a lot of money off of volatility. He added that a young investor that can stand back and value businesses and think of stocks as tiny sliver of businesses should do well over the long haul.
- Discussing value investing, Munger quipped that he doesn’t think the value investor will ever go out of style. He questioned what else could you want other than a good value on what you buy?
- Mistakes were brought up multiple times throughout the meeting. Asked about his biggest mistake, Buffett immediately mentioned Dexter Shoe. He said he’d rather be 100 times too cautious than 1% too incautious. He also noted that it’s been a mistake every single time they’ve issued shares as part of a deal. Munger answered back, “Of course.” Munger later added that it makes no sense to “sweat at night.” Buffett immediately charged back, “Over financial matters.” After some loud applause and laughter, Buffett stated he wouldn’t pursue that any further.
- Asked about the possibility of major disruption in the regulated utility industry, Munger stated that there was more opportunity than disruption in the industry and that Berkshire was well positioned with continued investment in renewable energy via MidAmerican Energy.
I left as soon as the Q&A ended to make time for voting, making my way toward the vendor area. This was a huge area where almost every single major subsidiary and investment by Berkshire was featured with some kind of display, mostly with products for sale. Buffett wants people to spend.
I was fortunate enough to get some pictures of myself by some of the larger displays. First up was a large Coca-Cola display, complete with a model of an old delivery truck.
I then grabbed a shot at the Heinz display.
I was actually spotted by a few readers in the main vendor area. I ended up chatting with a few people down here, which gave me an opportunity to spread inspiration. It’s almost surreal being picked out of a crowd by people in passing. It’s especially crazy when people actually want to have their picture taken with me. I take that as a sign that I’m doing a great job here at the blog, helping people become better versions of themselves. That’s really my main goal at this point.
After spending two hours in the vendor area, Claudia and I walked up the road to a little restaurant called Local. Apparently, this restaurant had just opened the day before. Local served one of the best cheeseburgers I’ve ever had in my life. It took a couple days, but I finally had an excellent meal. The cheeseburger sported bacon jam, a fried egg, and cheddar cheese. All on a brioche bun. Not healthy, but mighty tasty.
After enjoying our last meal in Omaha, we walked around Old Market one last time. The weather was absolutely beautiful. The rain from the morning had long given way to sunshine and a blue sky, settling in the mid-70s with a slight breeze. What a way to finish the trip!
I called the hotel to catch the free shuttle back and we ended up talking to the driver about the meeting. We were so fortunate in that he was open to driving by Buffett’s house. I talked him into letting me out of the van so I could take a picture of the house. It’s smaller in person, which really speaks to Buffett’s values and frugality.
We woke up early the next morning to catch our flight back to Sarasota. I decided to wear a t-shirt that Claudia surprised me with. Claudia knows that my minimalist tendencies don’t mix well with the idea of buying souvenirs, which is why I never buy them. But she thought I’d appreciate the t-shirt she found, especially since I don’t have a large wardrobe to begin with. Claudia snapped a shot of me wearing the shirt in the Omaha airport, just before heading off to our gate. It should serve as a lasting memory of a great weekend.
The shirt should probably read: The Next Warren Buffett’s Shadow… Maybe
I hope you enjoyed my take on Omaha and the meeting. I did my best to share the experience with any readers that couldn’t make it. It was truly an experience I’ll never forget. I never got up close with Buffett as it’s simply way too difficult with 40,000+ people all attempting to do the same, more or less. And I never had an opportunity to take a decent picture of him, which is disappointing. But just hearing him and Munger drop knowledge live is something that’s well worth the price of the trip.
Full Disclosure: Long KO.
What do you think of Omaha? Ever been to a meeting? What was your experience? Did you enjoy this report and find value in it?
Thanks for reading.