Berkshire meeting attracts smorgasbord of shareholders

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Posted: Saturday, May 4, 2013 12:00 am

Click here for complete coverage of the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders meeting.

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It's not your typical gathering of shareholders.

There were the groups who traveled from places as far away as China and India.

There were the two Omaha retired teachers who didn't know each other until the wait for their wife and niece to finish shopping.

There was 10-year-old Chris Harris, a South Dakota kid who came to his first Berkshire Hathaway meeting three years ago and liked it so much he talked his folks into buying him stock.

They and thousands of others were drawn to Omaha on Saturday for the highly anticipated annual meeting led by investment guru Warren Buffett. But backgrounds and expectations of those who came were as diverse as the merchandise featured in the exhibit hall.

A sampling of characters found at Saturday's meeting:

10 hours by train

The first in line waiting in the rain for the doors to open at CenturyLink Center Omaha were seven University of Chicago students who traveled 10 hours from the Windy City via train.

They arrived in Omaha at midnight, slept three hours and then lined up at 4:30 a.m.

"It's one of those things on my bucket list," said Daniel Liang, 25.

Liang's friend Qingyi Yu, 22, was the shareholder of the group who brought her friends along for the ride. David Wang, also 22, said they would be in town until Monday, noting that they planned to eat steak at Piccolo Pete's restaurant. Wang said he would like to ask Buffett how confident he felt investing in equities with insurance premiums.

"I should probably just Google it first," he joked.

Cold weather?

Minnesota brothers Bryan and Jeff Hawkes, 30 and 33, didn't know what all the umbrellas and fuss about weather were about.

"This is warm to us," said Jeff Hawkes, who arrived at the CenturyLink Center about 5 a.m.

John and Sue Schlembach of Austin, Texas, did not agree. They were bundled in winter coats with hoods buttoned under their chins.

Both groups said they were more interested in the meeting than shopping opportunities and had been coming for about five years.

"It's like a one-day MBA program intersprinkled with how to live a better life," John Schlembach said of the meeting.

He added, joking: "We already bought our See's candy and we don't need a jet this year."

Follow along this weekend with the latest from the shareholders meeting and see all of our Berkshire Hathaway coverage. Omaha.com/Berkshire
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Investment fervor

Jim and Carolyn Baker have been making the annual pilgrimage to the Berkshire Hathaway meeting since 1989, and their investment fervor has rubbed off on at least six grandsons who are making careers in finance.

While the Red Oak, Iowa, couple sometimes bring children or grandchildren, they came alone this year.

He shopped for fine rugs. She shopped for diamonds.

But their focus remained on Berkshire business updates. Jim was excited about the record performance of Berkshire stock. Carolyn said she fully supports Berkshire's recent acquisition of several newspapers.

"I do not want to read the newspaper on an iPad," she said. "I want to open it up with my morning coffee."

Berkshire star in the making?

Ten-year-old Chris Harris of Sioux Falls, S.D., came to his first shareholders meeting three years ago.

Jason Harris, his father, is a college business law teacher and likes to use Berkshire to show his students how to apply studies in the real world.

The younger Harris said he likes to hear Buffett and Munger. "Charlie is funny. Warren talks a lot."

Chris liked the early morning video and the question-and-answer segment but was ready to move on to other things, namely the basketball exhibition by Handles Franklin of the Harlem Globetrotters.

An investment career in the future?

Said Chris: "Probably a basketball player in the NBA."

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They come from all over

A group of about 15 investors and fund managers arrived Friday from Beijing. And they had questions.

Eileen Yang noted that many in the group focused on technology companies when it came to investment. She said she was curious to learn why Berkshire Hathaway is so successful, despite the fact that it largely ignores technology-focused ventures.

She also noted that Microsoft is one of the largest shareholders, yet Buffett has yet to invest in the company. Yang said she’d like to ask him why that is.

Rajiv Hingorani traveled from India for his first shareholder meeting this year. He said he was planning to do some shopping but was also interested to hear what Charlie Munger had to say.

Hingorani said he was eager to hear from Buffett about the future of investing and "what lies ahead for America and the rest of the world."

'Such an event'

Others at Saturday’s meeting did not have to travel far. Norm Choat of Omaha, a retired Westside High School teacher, has been a shareholder for about 10 years but has been coming to the meetings for twice as long because of his in-laws’ shares.

"It’s such an event, I just like to participate," he said.

But there’s only so much he can handle. He planned to listen to questions for a few hours, then wait in the lounge area while his wife shopped.

Jim Eisenhardt, a retired teacher at Omaha South High and a shareholder for 15 years, waited for his niece, Stefanie Stedman, to finish shopping. He said that despite the number of people and circus-like nature of the event, it was an orderly spectacle.

"It’s not Walmart at midnight on Thanksgiving," Choat said.

Omaha residents Joe and Dee Bertich have been shareholders for about 10 years, but they don’t attend the meeting, instead keeping track of it in the news the next day, Joe said.

The couple come each year strictly for the exhibits. This year they were on the hunt for a rug from the Nebraska Furniture Mart, Joe said, as he enjoyed an orange vanilla Dilly Bar. "Brings back memories."

World-Herald staff writers Paige Yowell, Cindy Gonzalez, Emily Nohr and Patrick Smith contributed to this report.

The Omaha World-Herald Co. is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

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