Warren Watch: 2013 Berkshire meeting may draw more shareholders

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Posted: Sunday, April 21, 2013 12:00 am

A few more people may attend this year's meeting of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. shareholders than last year, based on the number of requests for meeting credentials.

Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett's office said requests were “up marginally” this year over last year, when about 35,000 people came to the meeting. Attendance has plateaued at about that level since 2009.

Shareholders receive coupons in their annual Berkshire reports allowing each of them to request four credentials — 3-by-5-inch plastic cards that attach to lanyards they will wear around their necks while at the CenturyLink Center in downtown Omaha on May 4.

They request more credentials than they use because some simply collect them and others intend to come to Omaha but end up skipping the meeting. Anytime you can get something free from Buffett, why not?

This year's shareholder credentials have a photo of the employee break room at National Indemnity Co., where Buffett held his first meetings of Berkshire shareholders.

Press passes show a vintage typewriter and a photo of The World-Herald's newsroom at 15th and Farnam Streets, which it occupied until 1948. The newspaper, now owned by Berkshire Hathaway, moved its offices to 14th and Dodge Streets and in 2006 to 14th and Douglas Streets.

Some year, if all 275,000 Berkshire shareholders decide to attend and all bring three of their friends, Omaha's supply of hotels and meeting rooms would be, shall we say, strained.

Weighing in on book

Buffett got a look at my new book, “The Oracle & Omaha,” and pronounced it “amazing.”

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OK, what he actually said, through his secretary, was that it is “amazing how good a job you did in such a short time.”

But we'll take that as a compliment.

We got one copy in the newsroom early last week and showed it around, and word leaked to Buffett that a printed copy was in hand. He borrowed it overnight, and it also appeared at a University of Nebraska-Lincoln journalism class and a meeting of the Quad Club, a group of Omaha-area journalists.

The first shipment of books is due in Omaha soon.

Most-qualified sibling

We disclosed last week that Buffett thinks any of his children could perform the primary duty of a non-executive chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, namely preserving Berkshire's “culture,” even though elder son Howard Buffett is, at this point, designated to succeed him if need be.

Daughter Susie and younger son Peter agreed, given their familiarity with Berkshire and their father's management philosophy. Howard's interesting life, which includes foreign travel and, at one time, a penchant for confronting wildlife, gave rise to the question about who else might be qualified to be chairman.

After further thought, however, Peter Buffett had other ideas about the possibility of his being chairman. He said in an email:

“You know ... the more I thought about it, the more I have to write and say that I actually disagree with my Dad's assessment that any of us would be able to do the job as well as my brother.

“Yes, there is a cultural part that is embedded in all three of us. But only my brother has lived inside the corporate world — and the Berkshire world — as deeply as I think is necessary to really carry out what's required to do the job well. Howie is really uniquely qualified among the three of us and should be recognized as such.”

Faith in buying newspapers

Buffett's recent collecting of small- and medium-sized newspapers prompted George Brennan to write for the Cape Cod Times, in Hyannis, Mass., that there are two types of buyers who could buy the Times and other newspapers owned by the Dow Jones Local Media Group.

One would be Buffett-like groups adding to “a stable of newspapers,” he wrote, and the other would be local wealthy business owners who, according to industry experts, would be “looking to keep the publication under local ownership.”

The Dow Jones group includes eight daily newspapers, 13 weeklies and related websites. The Wall Street Journal reported on April 2 that Dow Jones might want to sell the group.

Alan Mutter, a former newspaper executive who now writes the online blog “Reflections of a Newsosaur,” told Brennan that Buffett “would be the first in line. He has the money and he's shown he wants to buy newspapers. He still has faith in buying.”

Another potential buyer is the Halifax Group, which bought 16 regional dailies from the New York Times Co. in 2011, Brennan wrote.

$110 million Munger gift

Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger has donated $100 million toward a $185 million University of Michigan residence hall for graduate students, plus $10 million toward fellowships for some of the residents.

The Associated Press said university officials believe the eight-story, 600-resident building will be a selling point in the competition for top students.

Munger, 89, studied mathematics at Michigan. He said his interest of having graduate students working together stems from his Harvard Law School days, when he saw little interaction between students in different fields.

Munger told AP he was motivated by mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead's comments about “the fatal unconnectedness of academic disciplines.”

“Specialization causes a lot of bad thinking,” Munger said.

The hall will have private bathrooms and bedrooms with shared kitchen, dining and living areas, plus gathering spaces, a fitness center and a commissary.

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

Contact the writer: 402-444-1080, steve.jordon@owh.com, twitter.com/buffettOWH

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