Warren Buffett, who controls the largest stake in Coca-Cola Co., knows how to steal a show.
The billionaire investor showed up at the pop maker's annual meeting this week to help sell the company's message to shareholders in an on-stage interview with Chief Executive Officer Muhtar Kent. The surprise appearance drew a standing ovation as Buffett advised Kent to stay ahead of competitors by reviewing what made other businesses falter.
“I like to study failure,” Buffett, 82, said at the meeting held in the Cobb Galleria Center in Atlanta. “We want to see what has caused businesses to go bad, and the biggest thing that kills them is complacency. You want a restlessness, a feeling that somebody's always after you but you're going to stay ahead.”
Buffett's Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway owns 400 million Coca-Cola shares after a share split last year, with a value of almost $17 billion. Berkshire, which owns See's Candies and an equity stake in American Express Co., favors companies that have loyal customers and can withstand competition, Buffett said.
“I'm the kind of guy that likes to bet on sure things,” Buffett told Kent. “If you take care of a great brand, it's forever. Those are the kind of businesses I like.”
Buffett reminisced about how as a 7-year-old boy in Omaha he would buy and sell bottles of Coke. He joked that the only mistake he made was not putting the nickel he made on each six-pack into Coca-Cola's stock. He would later make up for lost time.
Kent asked Buffett about operating a multinational business amid wealth transfers in the global economy and the “volatile environment” that “leaves a lot of uncertainty.”
“You basically have to be accepted in countries around the world and bring them something that makes their lives better,” Buffett said. “If you can do it at a popular price, you can go to the masses of the world and say you're going to live better because I'm going to be here — and then behave that way — you've got a winning formula.”
The Omaha World-Herald Co. is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.