Live from Omaha - It's Buffett Mania!
On Omaha’s arterial Dodge Street there’s an electronic sign, the kind that normally flashes the temperature outside or company announcements. Today, the clock flashes the last closing price of Berkshire Hathaway’s A-Class shares.
At dinner tonight (at the Twisted Cork Bistro. As a little plug, it's best burger in town if you’re in Omaha), my waiter talked about going to the Berkshire shareholders meeting “just because.” That’s not atypical for this town; Berkshire’s meeting is the hot event.
Before dinner I rolled into a furniture store snapping pictures, no one batted an eye or thought it unusual. I was just one person among a sea of Buffett disciples, soaking in his investment of a regional furniture chain.
A view of Nebraksa Furniture Mart, the business that Buffett bought from the self-made workaholic "Mrs. B,” who despite her rough edges, immediately impressed Warren. The scale of the store is extremely impressive. There's even a Burger King inside, in case you work up a hunger while shopping for wall art and office furniture.
I’ve been in Omaha for the past week ahead of their shareholders meeting and the only buzz around town has been one thing: Warren Buffett.
All this, for a shareholders meeting?
Buffett worship takes on many forms, in this picture I actually drive to his house and snap pictures. I know, I know, I'm not proud. While it's not a small house, it's extremely modest for a man of his means.
I’ve previously witnessed Omaha catching manias first hand, but always for sports. I normally hit the town for the College World Series or around Nebraska football season. The passion there is fairly universal, go to any Southern state in front of a fall Saturday and the same enthusiasm is probably in the air.
But Berkshire is something completely different, it’s an Omaha original. You’ve probably heard it described as the “Woodstock for capitalists;” the phrasing is absolutely perfect.
There’s a certain rhythm to the town around Berkshire. I ate at Gorat’s – Buffett’s favorite steakhouse -- - this week, not because it’s the best steak in town (Although, as the image above shows, they unashamedly call themselves “the best steak in the world.” You know, I guess “world famous” just didn’t cut it...), but because of Buffett’s association with it.
Truth be told, the place couldn’t be any more perfect for what you’d picture Buffett enjoying, it’s as unpretentious and Midwest folksy as can be. Along with my steak I had Dorothy Lynch dressing on my salad and my sides were pasta and hash browns.
If the default salad dressing at a restaurant is orange, you’re probably in the Midwest. God bless you Dorothy Lynch, come out to the East Coast real soon, ya here?
In front of Berkshire, like thousands of others, I do my best to live life in Warren’s shoes. It’s an odd kind of hero worship, emulating a man known for his relative austerity and humbleness.
However, in the calm before the storm, it’s refreshing to think about everything that’s right with the Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meetings. It’s a celebration of not just capitalism, but responsible capitalism. Thousands of owners taking such interest in a company that they venture to the middle of the country with few expectations aside from hearing straight talk and common sense. To the outsider, it seems like a goofy one-off event. To a stock market enthusiast, it’s beautiful. If every company had such accountability, shareholders wouldn’t have to live in fear of self-dealing, excessive compensation, and outright fraud.
We’ll have plenty of coverage discussing the wisdom of Buffett and Munger’s comments on Fool.com, our Twitter feeds, and our new website devoted entirely to the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting throughout the weekend and next week. The Fool has long been a company that admired Buffett, not just for his phenomenal track investing track record, but also his generally spot-on opinions of broader market issues.
So, as the torch passes from living in Buffett’s shoes in the week ahead of the shareholders meeting to digesting and learning from what he has to say, I hope you’ll continue following the Fool’s coverage. With financial reform on the agenda and Buffett having wrapped up his mega-acquisition of BNSF, I’m sure there will be plenty of information for us to consider and discuss.
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Eric Bleeker (TMFRhino)