20 Minutes With Warren Buffett

Some call him the "Oracle of Omaha." Some just call him Mr. Buffett. Whatever you call him, one thing's for sure: getting an audience with the world's richest man (according to Forbes) is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Here's a recap of the meeting the students at San Diego State University's Montezuma Money Management (MMM) had with super-investor Warren Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway's ( BRK.A) annual meeting this Saturday, May 3.

'A Cultural Experience'

"The trip was amazing... We really had a great time," says Dave Seaton, MMM's CEO.

Berkshire Hathaway's annual shareholder meeting is part high-level debriefing, part spectacle. Forbes' Robert Lenzner referred to it as, "Mecca for investors." Indeed, the call for this pilgrimage is a strong one. Omaha's Qwest Center saw 31,000 shareholders gather last weekend to hear what Buffett and his team had to say.

"It was a cultural experience," explains Seaton. "One of the things that was really neat for me was going to a place like Omaha, and immediately, every taxicab you get into, every restaurant owner you run into, all of them are normal people that are multi-millionaires because they've been investing in Berkshire Hathaway for the last 10 or 20 years. Pretty much the whole community is built around Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway."

The meeting's glitzy side wasn't lost on Seaton and his fellow students, though. "Some people call it the Woodstock of capitalism, but it's true," says Seaton, "it's really a whole rock star event."

"On Sunday night," recalls Seaton, "we went out to dinner, and Bill Gates Microsoft's ( MSFT) chairman of the board , Charlie Munger vice chairman of Berkshire's board and Warren Buffett Berkshire's board chairman and CEO were sitting at the table next to us. It's impressive to see the amount of influence these three guys have -- just sitting there eating their dinner."

Quality Time

While the students from San Diego State had hoped to ask Buffett for career advice, their plans changed a little when they found out that they weren't going to have as much time with Buffett and Munger as they had expected.

"All together, we only ended up having about 20 minutes with him," recalls Seaton. "Even so, it was still really special because out of something like 31,000 people, we were the only group that got to meet with him and take a picture."

So what did MMM end up talking about with Buffet?

"We didn't want to get into questions about economics or finance, since so much of that was covered during the almost nine hours of the event, so we kept it personal," says Seaton.

Buffett struck a chord with the MMM group when he opined that business schools these days should focus more on hands-on learning than theoretical financial models that students will never use.

"He started getting into academia and how so much of business education is theory," recalls Seton. " Buffet thinks it's a complete waste of time to teach students things like that when they're never going to use any of it."

It was a particularly relevant note for MMM. At the beginning of setting up their fund, they received a letter from one of their teachers discouraging them from investing real money in favor of the models Buffett derided. It's hard to get better vindication than from Buffett himself.

Integrity Rules

One of the biggest takeaways MMM members got from the trip was the importance of integrity. "You start realizing that with all the scandals in the last four or five years," says Seaton, "that having Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger at the helm of Berkshire Hathaway for so long -- and shareholders loving everything about them -- is really a testament to not only their business acumen, but also their ethical decision-making."

According to Seaton, something that Buffet said over and over again throughout the weekend: "We have all the money we could ever have and a good reputation. One thing we'll never do is trade even an ounce of that good reputation for more money."

This year's meeting proved to be an especially difficult test for Buffett and his team. Berkshire's PacifiCorp subsidiary is taking heat from Native American groups and commercial fisherman because of their dams on the Klamath River. Those protests spilled over to Omaha last weekend.

"There were protesters there," recalls Seaton. "When people were asking Buffet questions, they'd run by and interrupt, and a couple of them made accusations to Buffett. The level of respect Buffett showed for them, despite that, was pretty amazing. You could see some of these people who came to the meeting to cause a disturbance almost have nothing to say after Warren Buffet answered them because he was so dignified in the way he talked to them."

Next year, the group hopes to get the chance to meet with Buffett again -- especially if they can get the chance for more face-time. Until then, they hope to use the insights they've gained from Buffet and his Berkshire team to keep raking in the gains in their own investments.
Jonas Elmerraji is the founder and publisher of Growfolio.com, an online business magazine for young investors.

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