It began with a casual call from my M2 friend, Larry King. “Have you ever been to Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting?” he asked. “No, I’m not a shareholder and I’ve never been invited,” I replied. “Well, I am. Let’s go,” said Larry.
It turns out there is a lot of planning involved in such a simple decision.
Every year, the meeting is held in the sprawling CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska. Around 25,000 of Warren Buffett’s closest friends make the annual pilgrimage to visit the “Oracle of Omaha” and partake in his investing wisdom. The convention center opens at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning and all 25,000 wait in line to grab an unreserved seat (except for Bill Gates who has his name on one).
Larry figured we should depart early enough to land, grab a rental car and get in line by 6:30 a.m., which meant wheels up by 4 a.m. I set my alarm for 1:45 and Patty made me sleep upstairs. “Have fun,” she said. “Just don’t wake me.”
Although I stay night current at FlightSafety, I fly very little in the dark. So, it was strange trying to find the airport in the forming dense fog. My 3 a.m. arrival at the hangar woke the security guard from his slumber. “You a friend of Larry’s?” he barked in the darkness. “Yeah, we’re going to Omaha,” I replied. “Who in their right mind wants to go to Omaha at 3 a.m.?” he yelled. “Ask Larry,” I answered.
By 3:45, our passengers arrived, the fog lifted and we were on the phone with regional departure to copy our clearance and void time. There is nothing quite like flying at night. “Cleared direct Omaha,” the controller responded. The skies were empty
(evidently nobody else wanted to go to Omaha at 4 a.m.) and it was crystal clear. We could see Oklahoma City to the left, Tulsa to the right and even Kansas City in the distance. It was only us and FedEx as dawn formed to the east.
As we descended from 15,000 feet, a layer of small cumulus buildups blocked our path. “I think we better get some ice protection on just in case,” I suggested. Sure enough, we needed engine, wing, windshield and tail boots to shed the frozen stuff.
On the ramp, TAC Air was covered inch-to-inch with heavy iron similar to a NASCAR event. Like clockwork, we jumped in the rental van and within minutes were standing in the largest line I have ever seen. At most public events, you see all sorts of folks. But as the sun rose over the convention center, it was obvious that these folks were not your average bunch. Lots of business suits. Everyone smelled clean. Success was in air.
The arena filled to capacity within minutes. Soon, rock music boomed and eighty-eight-year-old Warren Buffett, and partner Charlie Munger, in his nineties wandered in. They sipped on Coke and chewed on peanut brittle – just like in your living room. For six hours, they answered question after question about their investing strategy. One from a six-year-old girl who amazed the crowd with her business acumen. Another from a graduate student who asked Charlie to use an algorithm to explain his success. “If you want an algorithm, I suggest you go back to graduate school,” Charlie drawled. That brought the house down.
The audience hung on every word.
Later, we got back to the airport early enough to beat the departure rush of Gulfstreams, Falcons and Globals. It was quite a day at the Woodstock of capitalism.