OMAHA ( TheStreet) -- Nick Antoine traveled to Berkshire Hathaway's (BRK.A) annual shareholder meeting with air miles and lodged in a "dirt cheap" hotel room with a ceiling that leaked water from an overflowing toilet a floor above.
The 24 year-old Princeton University graduate was forced to splurge on taxis due to unseasonably cold weather at the May 4 investor gathering in Omaha, Nebraska.
Antoine entered Princeton on track to become a musician and had been a semi-professional saxophone player in his high school years in New Jersey. Those plans changed, however, when he read Benjamin Graham's The Intelligent Investor and Berkshire CEO Warren Buffett's essay The Superinvestors of Graham-and-Doddsville over a few days in his freshman year of college.
"It was like a light switch had been turned on in my head. I'll never forget it," Antoine says.Antoine decided on a history major and now aspires to become a professional investor or an entrepreneur. Saturday was his first shareholder meeting after buying shares in Berkshire's Class B stock last year. "I didn't go to see Warren speak because he has a lot of money, I went because he thinks differently and I want that type of thinking to rub off on me," Antoine says. "I'm interested in developing a skill set that will set me apart from the rest of my generation." Berkshire's 82-year old CEO and Chairman has referred to the annual meeting as 'Woodstock for Capitalists,' but the event has also caught on with members of the Millenial generation such as Antoine. They seek out the 'Oracle of Omaha' and his 89-year old lieutenant Charlie Munger for guidance on how to position their careers amid a tepid post-crisis economic recovery. Twenty-somethings like Antoine describe the pilgrimage to Omaha as an affirmation of independent thinking in business and investment. Buffett's values and Munger's lucidity also carry an appeal beyond their stewardship of Berkshire and its more than 80 operating subsidiaries. Those youthful shareholders are building in number, according to longtime attendees of Berkshire's meeting. The company has dramatically expanded its investor base since splitting Class B shares, first issued in 1996, by 50-to-1 in 2010. Class A shares closed at $166,100.00 on Thursday, while Class B shares ended the trading session at $110.66 a share. Both classes of stock receive invitations to Berkshire's annual meeting, though no 20-something interviewed for this article owned A shares. Call them Berkshire's growing B share generation. Ryan J. Morris, 28, head of burgeoning investment firm Meson Capital may have cut an even thriftier itinerary in Omaha than Antoine. At Berkshire's meeting a year before, Morris booked a $48-a-night room in what he calls a "scummy motel" to share between himself and three friends from the hedge fund industry. They tried to subsist on free food and Berkshire-owned See's Candies and Dairy Queen, in a contest of sorts to see who could be the most frugal. Morris says his friends wouldn't let him book accommodations this year. For Saturday's meeting, he and four colleagues piled into a slightly more upscale hotel room, but maintained a premium on value. "It's the one time of year when my friends from all over the country are in the same place," Morris says of the 30 or so value investors he now regularly sees at the Berkshire meeting. He compares it to attending old friend's wedding. Morris, who lives in San Francisco, started reading Berkshire's annual letters at the age of 12. He bought one Berkshire B share before the stock was split as part of the firm's acquisition of BNSF Railways. "I just own a nominal amount to go to the meeting," Morris says. After graduating with a master's degree in engineering from Cornell University in 2008, Morris created VideoNote, a software company, though he now describes himself as a passive owner. Morris then founded Meson Capital at the market bottom in February 2009 and earned a 753% gross return in the fund's first year. Meson Capital has underperformed the S&P 500 in recent years, but remains up 172% net of fees in its history, outperforming the S&P, in what Morris calls a 'lumpy' performance. He was profiled by Bloomberg BusinessWeek in a December 2012 issue. "I'm not doing this to earn fee income. I'm doing this because I want to be the best investor I can," says Morris, who relishes the intellectual challenge of managing money and the practical skills he's learned in negotiating a portfolio of small cap stocks he compares to Warren Buffett's earliest investments. Morris currently serves as chairman of InfuSystem Holdings (INFU) and Lucas Energy (LEI) after winning activist campaigns in recent months.
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