At some risk, I started my first question off with a double entendre: "As it is said, Warren, size matters!"
My approach worked and didn't misfire. I think it even set up the tone well for the rest of my questions, putting everyone in a relaxed mode. My other attempts of humor worked too -- phew!
Remember, I viewed my assignment as an opportunity to ask hard-hitting questions that were original, would elicit newsworthy responses and allow investors and the crowd to get a different view -- a skeptical one -- about Berkshire Hathaway's prospects. At the same time, while asking pointed questions, I wanted to conduct myself with respect, and to be courteous to the greatest investor of all time.
My six questions were diverse in context. They ranged from the issue of inevitable declining returns, which have been an outgrowth of Berkshire's remarkable success, to business strategy, investment process, a "defense" of short selling, succession and so on.I even issued a "challenge" to Warren in a question. After he answered my first question, he lobbed me a "zinger" and a challenge: "Doug, you haven't convinced me to sell the stock, but keep trying!" Warren answered most of my inquiries, though my last question -- regarding his son Howard's eventual role as non-executive chairman of the board -- was the one I felt he didn't answer fully. He may even have felt somewhat uncomfortable about it. I also ad-libbed before that hard (and even uncomfortable) question when I framed it by saying, "Warren, you and I both have two sons that we love. You and I both have a son in the audience. This question is not meant to be disrespectful, but I thought it was a question that must be asked." That aside, there were a couple of spontaneous and amusing exchanges between Warren and myself, including the "Warren," "Doug," "Warren," "Doug" routine. Another memorable moment: When I prefaced my questions in the afternoon by saying, "When you are gone, and we hope that's not for a long time," Warren quickly and cleverly quipped, "No one more than I."
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