Eddie Cantor said, “It takes 20 years to make an overnight success” but Pablo Picasso drove home the point better. Late in life, when he had become “the” Picasso, a woman walked up to his café table and said, “Could you draw something and I will pay you whatever you think it is worth.” Picasso took out a pen, sketched something on a napkin, handed it to her and said, “That will be $10,000.” The woman said, “What do you mean $10,000? That only took you 30 seconds.” To which Picasso replied, “No, that took me a lifetime.” The tale may be apocryphal but no one seems to have internalised it more than Warren Edward Buffett and Charles Thomas Munger, better known as Warren and Charlie to their legion of admirers. The investments that Warren and Charlie made and reaped rich returns from are rooted in a lifetime of hard work. It is to honour and pay homage to them that about 40,000 admirers turn up every year for the annual shareholders’ meeting of the Omaha-based conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway.
We land in Omaha on the evening of May 1. One of the first things that greet you as you deplane at Eppley Airfield is a signboard of Warren endorsing the University of Nebraska saying, “Invest in yourself.” All through the airport, equidistantly placed monitors flash “Berkshire Hathaway welcomes its shareholders.” It’s drizzling and cold outside but next morning turns out to be even chillier — Omaha is experiencing snow in May, for the first time since 1967 and only for the fifth time in the past 129 years. There’s three inches of the pristine stuff and our first thought is, “If this continues through the weekend, how are we going to line up in the wee hours for the annual meeting?”
We have been advised to start queuing up at 4 am on May 4 to get a reasonable seat from where you can actually see the great men rather than look at them on super-sized screens.
Thankfully, on Saturday morning there is no snowfall, but we have something else to deal with — getting a taxi cab. The Berkshire shareholders’ annual meeting held on the first Saturday of May has the effect of an early Christmas on Omaha’s economy. For about 10 days, the multiplier effect is more than evident. If you haven’t booked well in advance, you won’t get a