Brent Rosenthal of Livingston, New Jersey, couldn’t say no when his 11-year-old son, Harris, asked for a trip to Omaha.
Harris, who began investing when he was 8, has “a couple” of shares of Berkshire Hathaway Class B stock in his portfolio, along with several other stocks.
Like other investors around the globe, Harris counts the Berkshire CEO among his role models. So when he asked to see the Oracle of Omaha, dad booked a flight.
“He doesn’t ask for much,” said Rosenthal, an investor who doesn’t hold Berkshire shares, “but he asked to come to a Berkshire Hathaway meeting.”
Berkshire Hathaway shareholders — young, old, dressed up, dressed for vacation — began arriving Friday — by foot, by car, by plane — for the 52nd annual shareholders meeting, at the CenturyLink Center in north downtown Omaha. Friday was shopping day for shareholders at CenturyLink.
Michael Monahan, 46, and his son, Michael Monahan Jr., 19, of New York were among the first in line outside the exhibit hall — both sporting Berkshire shirts from meetings past. They planned to shop and, yes, drink Coke and eat Dilly Bars on Friday, but the main event is the meeting today, they said.
“You get access to the world’s greatest investor, and it’s all for free,” the elder Monahan said.
Steve Randall arrived at Eppley Airfield about midmorning Friday from Northfield, New Hampshire, for his sixth Berkshire meeting.
He was wearing a T-shirt from a past meeting featuring Berkshire Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett in Andy Warhol-style renderings. On the back he’d added “Shareholder Since 2008.”
The stockholder, who is retired, said he was saving the best T-shirt for today’s meeting. It reads: “Retired at age 59½. Thank you, Warren and Charlie,” a tribute to what his investments have allowed him to do.
He planned to meet with a group of 16 or more friends — and friends of friends — Friday and today who are coming in from across the country. Randall and his buddies planned to be in line at 4:30 this morning for the opening of the doors for the annual meeting at 7 a.m.
Eppley Airfield began seeing a surge in passengers ahead of the meeting, and airlines were making adjustments accordingly, said Steve McCoy, manager of airline affairs at Eppley.
Airlines flying into and out of Omaha this weekend are flying bigger planes with more seats and adding new flights altogether, McCoy said.
Hotels in downtown were bustling Friday with Berkshire Hathaway guests.
This was the first year the Even Hotel at 24th and Farnam Streets was open for the occupancy-shattering event, and co-developer Kirti Trivedi of Anant Enterprises was feeling relieved.
“We filled up extremely quick for our first Berkshire,” Trivedi said. “It’s exciting.”
All was going smooth as of Friday afternoon, except for that moment the staff couldn’t locate the Buffett photo cutout. (It turned out it was making an appearance at a sister hotel that wanted to duplicate it.)
Ross Little of Richmond, Virginia, arrived at Eppley on Friday for what will be his first-ever Berkshire Hathaway meeting.
Little, who works in corporate real estate, got a pass from a friend. “It feels like a slice of American business history to get to go,” he said, noting that the meeting isn’t a typical shareholders gathering in that attendees can sit and listen to answers to real questions.
Jeff Butler also holds no shares of Berkshire Hathaway and has never attended the Omaha company’s annual meeting.
This year will be no exception — but he made the trip to Omaha this week anyway.
He’s one of a number people here this week simply to rub shoulders with sympathetic business owners, money managers and other enterprise-minded individuals.
Living about an hour’s drive south of Chicago, the Butlers have made it their business to breed and propagate increasingly productive dairy and show cattle.
“You always want to broaden your contacts,” said Butler, who represents a portion of the fourth generation of his family’s Butlerview Farms. “There are some like-minded people here with the goal of feeding the world.”
Butler wined and dined with a local private equity fund manager and a small group of out-of-town hedge fund managers at V. Mertz in the Old Market on Thursday night. Part of the group including Butler spent a couple of hours beforehand tucked away inside the Wicked Rabbit, a speakeasy-themed bar hidden behind a secret doorway inside the Looking Glass Cigars & Spirits shop near 15th and Harney Streets.
He planned to continue socializing with various money-minded folks before heading back home either late Friday or early today.
Butler ran the local social circuit with Clarey Castner, a co-founder of Omaha-based private equity company Panorama Point Partners — another enterprise that holds no shares of Berkshire but seizes on the opportunity to network during the week’s festivities.
“We’re a private-equity firm, so we buy comparatively small businesses,” said Castner, whose company in recent years has snatched up Nebraska businesses like ambulance service Midwest Medical Transport and Eat Fit Go, a fresh-food-to-go business.
“But in private equity there are people that invest alongside us and are service providers that are interested in Berkshire, and some are investors, too,” he said. “They come to Omaha and tend to reconnect around this weekend of the shareholders meeting.”
By 1 p.m. Friday more than a thousand people had streamed into the vendor hall, greeted by a green and white banner that welcomed shareholders to “Berkyville.”
They wandered through the exhibition hall snapping pictures, munching on Dairy Queen Dilly Bars and other treats, or posing with the Geico Gecko at a special photo booth.
Judy Wollenberg of Gretna enjoyed a Dairy Queen Blizzard as she waited in a Pampered Chef line that was at least 200 people deep.
She and her friend Norma Hintz weren’t after anything in particular — just taking in the scene.
John and Carol Muell of Logan, Iowa, were intent on filling their shopping bags. It was the couple’s first year attending the meeting, and the plan was to shop, shop, shop.
An hour after the doors opened they already had bought two pairs of Justin boots and a microwave popcorn maker and cook set from Pampered Chef. Unlike some other shareholders, the Muells planned to head home Friday night and watch today’s livestream from the comfort of their couch.
It was the first year of attending the meeting for Jonathan Neuscheler, 21, and Kolja Barghoorn, 31, both of Germany.
The two lined up outside the exhibit hall Friday, ready to get their hands on all of the Buffett-themed merchandise they could find.
But “the best thing we could get is a selfie with Buffett,” Neuscheler said.
They planned to line up early today to get good seats for the meeting.
“We’ll sleep, like, four hours, drink some beers and energy drinks and come back at 2 or 3 a.m.,” Barghoorn said.
Hotel stocked with fine wine — and Coca-Cola
Fine wine was flowing in some quarters. See’s Candies and Coke products were waiting in others. And a photogenic Warren Buffett Fathead cutout was stealing the show at another.
At Hotel Deco XV there was a sort of calm before the storm expected to hit later Friday. Staff was at full alert, full force and preparing rooms with a sampling of See’s Candies.
Brian Wenninghoff, assistant general manager, said the hotel’s adjoining lounge and restaurant are under construction, so staff didn’t go all out this year with a reception of appetizers. The hotel still was full. Plus, Wenninghoff said, he finds that most guests are set on getting out to Berkshire events, not staying at the hotel.
His staff provides directions to all those featured sites.
Like other downtown hotels, Deco, at 15th and Harney Streets, fills mostly with shareholder groups who return year after year to see the duo of Buffett and Munger.
A check of other area hotels showed strong bookings overall, despite the fact the meeting again this year will be livestreamed. Buffett’s office told The World-Herald that requests for shareholder passes to the 2017 meeting are up about 10 percent.
Airbnb, meanwhile, reports that its hosts are welcoming more than 1,100 travelers this weekend to their homes and will earn a combined $210,000. That’s a 40 percent jump in guests over the last Berkshire meeting, Airbnb said.
(In addition to Berkshire’s gathering, the University of Nebraska at Omaha has graduation this weekend.)
Airbnb’s short-term rental service gained prominence in Omaha in 2014 when Buffett endorsed the platform and encouraged its use after learning of hotel price spiking during the Berkshire conference.
International businessmen excited to see Buffett, Omaha
They’d been talking about making the trek for a few years.
Finally the three young business associates from different countries took up a shareholder friend on his offer to join him, and they converged to see the legendary investment duo each had only read about.
For Chrystan Paul of Australia, 24, Schwin Chiaravanont of Thailand, 25, and Albert Wang of China, 26, it was their first time in Omaha. They were a bit surprised at the relatively limited number of flights to the city where one of the most widely known and richest men in the world lives and runs the Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate.
They marveled at the fact that they bought $1 oysters.
“To think the business is predominantly still run out of here is exceptional,” Paul said.
The three wanted to witness the shareholders meeting while both Charlie Munger, 93, and Warren Buffett, 86, were still running the show in Buffett’s hometown.
“There’s not going to be too many more events like this to see,” said Chiaravanont, whose family is one of Thailand’s most powerful.
Of course, the investment strategists associated with 2W Group said the trip also is about business.
They have eight meetings scheduled this weekend with various financial leaders.
Still, they looked forward to the straight-talking and entertaining Munger-Buffett investment chat, and Buffett’s advice.
“We need to give him credit for demystifying the world of investing,” Paul said.
Annual meeting busier than the CWS for cab drivers
When people start arriving in Omaha in droves for the annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting, Dan Meradith and other office staff at Happy Cab go into the field to make sure the cabs keep rolling.
On Friday morning, Meradith stood at the taxi call station outside Eppley Airfield, summoning cab after cab with the push of a button as the number of travelers seeking rides ticked up.
“When it gets busy, we have six cabs lined up,” he said.
He and others planned to move to the CenturyLink Center and Borsheims Fine Jewelry as traffic to those venues picked up over the weekend. The annual meeting generally is busier than the College World Series, another of Omaha’s big draws.
In town for Berkshire and looking for steakhouses or hot new restaurants? We have you covered
With Warren Buffett’s favorite remaining Omaha restaurant — Gorat’s Steakhouse — booked for the weekend and his other favorite, Piccolo Pete’s, closed, Berkshire Hathaway shareholders are going to have to head elsewhere for dinner this weekend.
I’ve got your back.
As The World-Herald’s food critic and an Omaha native, I’ve been to all the city’s old- and new-school steakhouses. I have my favorites, which I’ll share here.
And though Omaha is a steak town, it’s also a city that’s really into dining out. That means that new restaurants have become hot since last May. Read on for those, too. – Sarah Baker Hansen
Here for the shopping
Mary Jane Higgins of Owasso, Oklahoma, and Roberta May of Lake Whitney, Texas, didn’t come to the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting together, but they rested on the same bench next to a mountain of shopping bags Friday afternoon.
Higgins had several bags full of merchandise from Pampered Chef, filled with gifts for her grandchildren, she said.
May, whose husband has been attending the meeting for 15 to 20 years, bought several Jell-O molds of Warren Buffett’s and Charlie Munger’s faces, sold by Kraft Heinz. She planned to give many away as gifts.
The meeting is the main event for May’s husband. But the shopping is the real draw for her, she said, noting that she was not restricted by a budget.
“I buy what I want and cover it with my husband’s labor,” she said.
'It puts Omaha on the map'
John and Diane Mosher and Tod Martin, all of Omaha, have been attending the annual meeting for years. They bought into Berkshire when the company began issuing its Class B shares in the mid-1990s.
On Friday they waited on a patio in front of the Hilton Omaha until the doors opened at the CenturyLink Center, and the line began to go down, before they joined the shopping throng.
“That’s what’s fun, seeing the eclectic group of people,” said Diane Mosher, who used to work at Borsheims.
She said they love the shareholders movie shown each year.
“We certainly love to do the shopping,” she said.
With 14 grandchildren, the Moshers start Christmas shopping in January, and the annual meeting helps.
The three also appreciate what the meeting does for Omaha.
“It puts Omaha on the map,” Martin said.
From Hong Kong to Omaha
Three members of a value investing club traveled from Hong Kong for the meeting. This year’s meeting is the first for Graham Rhodes, 32, and Mike Chan, 26, and the fourth for Keith Foley, 45.
The club, in fact, was founded by a couple of people from Hong Kong who met at the meeting by chance. The group now has a page on Meetup.com. All three are involved in finance — Foley specifically for friends and family.
“The chance to see Warren and Charlie together is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Rhodes said. “They’re such great teachers.”
Foley enjoys learning about Berkshire companies and meeting their CEOs, who often staff the booths. He also buys running shoes, having converted to Berkshire-owned Brooks several years ago.
The Omaha World-Herald is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.