For many, the biggest day of the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders weekend began outside, in the dark, several hours before the doors to the downtown venue even opened.
Bijan Dastmalchian, a 24-year-old from Scottsdale, Arizona, was perhaps the earliest to arrive Saturday at the CHI Health Center in downtown Omaha.
He flew into town Friday at 11:30 p.m., grabbed food and shortly after midnight was snuggled in a front-of-the-line spot to get into the annual shareholders meeting.
“I want to get a front row seat on the floor, to be able to get the best view of Bill Gates, the directors, Charlie and Warren,” he said. “It turns into a mad rush for the floor seats.”
He was soon joined by thousands of others sipping coffee, chatting and meeting like-minded investor types. Once the doors opened at 7 a.m., Dastmalchian was among the mass that fled toward the arena where the business meeting was to be held.
Others -- more than 42,000 were expected to turn out for this year's Berkshire activities -- shopped at the exhibit hall where Berkshire companies displayed their wares.
Here's a sampling of how Berkies spent the day:
Gaining a grounded philosophy and boots
For Mike Miltenberger, this was No. 19. For his wife, Isabella, this was her 13th year of attending annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meetings.
What keeps them coming back?
“It helps to ground your philosophy, keeps you from getting carried away with crazy ideas,” said Miltenberger of Wichita.
He said he has heard a lot of advice and wisdom from Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger over the decades. This year, he said he liked a witty remark Buffett slipped in about appreciating a good idea, but not at any price.
Isabella said she likes the business meeting almost as much as the shopping.
Quipped her husband: “It’s the Boot-shire Hathway meeting. She likes the boots.”
Buffett fandom leads to a side gig
Sure, Nan Dong and Wenjing Cao adore Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. Standing in line to see the Berkshire Hathaway leaders — outside, for five hours, starting at 2 am — is a testament to how much.
But the two China natives also have made an intriguing side business out of their annual adventure.
“When you wait in line, you make friends,” said Dong. “The next year they contact you: ‘Can you help us schedule at this hotel, this restaurant...’ “
So was born the little side gig that began as a freebie for new friends but now reaps a little pocket change for Dong and Cao, who both studied at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and now call Buffett’s hometown their home. Cao, 24, has been here for five years and Dong, 28, for eight.
The women said they enjoy setting up itineraries for incoming Chinese shareholders. They schedule dinners at Buffett’s favorite restaurants, arrange for interpreters, essentially act as local guides and ambassadors for people in their shoes years ago.
Must-see places, they said, include: Buffett’s house, the Berkshire home office, UNO campus, shopping at Village Pointe. And Costco. (The Chinese tourists love to witness that business model, the women said.)
Speaking of shopping, said Cao, she’ll do lots of that herself at Berkshire company booths Saturday after listening to Buffett and Munger. Their early arrival ensured a decent seat in the arena.
“We want to get a good look at those millionaires from the United States,” said Cao.
Not wanting to miss a word
When you see three young investor types scarfing down sandwiches in the back of the CHI exhibition hall, it’s probably lunch break at the Berkshire Hathaway question and answer session.
Austin Wagner, 24, Pat Baird, 26, and Jeff Vandendriessche, 31, had arrived at the venue at 5:10 a.m. They were hungry, but didn’t want to miss any stage time hearing from financial whizzes Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger.
It was a first annual meeting for Vandendriessche, of Minnesota. “Buffett and Munger are so poised,” he said. “They don’t mess up on answers.”
Said Baird, of South Dakota: “I love Charlie’s bluntness and humor. They haven’t missed a beat.”
The young men (Wagner’s also from South Dakota) were amused by the Berkshire leaders’ exchanges on Bitcoin. And they wanted to hear more detail about Berkshire’s succession plan.
“Given their age,” said Baird, “everyone wants to see some form of succession plan.”
Berkshire visitors range from rookies to decades-long attendees
Among those lining up for Day Two activities were investment-minded folks such as Irv Black of Philadelphia, who arrived alone around 3:50 a.m. but quickly made friends with Chris Tesari of Los Angeles.
Both men came to Omaha with their wives, who chose not to make the early morning trek to the CHI Health Center.
Black, who called himself a rookie to the game, said his wife and son were joining him later in the arena where Buffett and Munger take questions for more than five hours.
For Tesari, a longtime shareholder, it was his 23rd year to the annual meeting.
“It used to be a lot easier,” he said, chuckling, about navigating a Berkshire shareholder meeting. “Every year it seems to get bigger and bigger.”
End of the line worries
Just before the gates opened at 7 a.m., the questions kept coming.
Would everyone be allowed in for the big Berkshire show?
“It’s hard to say with this many people that you’re going to get into the arena,” one event staffer warned those at the tail end of a huge line that looped behind the downtown arena.
Michigan residents Harry, 71, Cheryl, 70, and Lauren Rosinski, 39, marveled at the crowd.
“This is just totally amazing, that all these people come out here to see him (Buffett),” Harry Rosinski said. “It’s almost like a cult.”
The family was counting on a hail-Mary: a friend had arrived at 5 a.m. and they hoped with his better line position, he’d be able to reserve a few seats for them inside for the Q&A.
“This is really an experience,” Cheryl Rosinski said. “It’s not just coming to a meeting. It’s an event.”
From London to the good seats
Dan Carter, 24, and Ben John, 26, didn’t come all the way from London to get bad seats on the biggest Berkshire day.
“I just want to see the two of them (Buffett and Munger) in the flesh,” Carter said.
So the two headed out at 2 a.m. Saturday and prepared to wait in line for several hours.
“We’re on UK time anyway, so it’s quite easy to wake up,” Carter said.
Carter wrapped himself in a sleeping bag and John sat in a chair, his newly purchased Berkshire Hathaway hat on his head.
It’s the first meeting for both.
They shopped Friday, loading up on See’s Candies.
And they made the pilgrimage to Warren Buffett’s house — where Carter saw a security guard staring at him through the trees.
Not alone in line
By 5 a.m. Saturday, lines at four different entrances were starting to stretch across the front of the CHI Health Center arena.
The Berkshire early birds clutched cups of coffee. They brought blankets and sleeping bags and stared at laptops with bleary eyes.
Some brought chairs and snacks, others wore comfy shoes and stood with their shareholders badge hanging from their necks.
Shareholders who arrived after 6 a.m. Saturday found themselves wrapping around the back of the downtown arena.
The growing line in the grassy area prompted wide eyes, worry and at least a little good-natured grumbling.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” one man told his companion. “I think this is getting out of hand, to tell you the truth.”
University of Chicago graduate student Liz Furman, 28, called the event “Coachella for nerds.” She was with a group of 30 from the university’s business school.
“The line's really long,” she said. “I hope to get in.”
'My family thinks I'm crazy'
Zheng Li, a 32-year-old lawyer from China, was feeling like he was on Cloud Nine on Saturday.
He arrived at the CHI Center at 3 a.m. to get in line to see and hear financial guru Warren Buffett. Li came alone but made other friends while standing in line. He’s been to Omaha twice now for shareholder meetings, and said Omaha is the only U.S. city he had ever visited outside of airports. He was more that thrilled.
Indeed, he’s been too excited to sleep much.
“I have never seen heaven, but I can imagine heaven just like Omaha,” he said. “Warren Buffett, he’s just like a God. I’m very happy to be in the same time and place as God.”
After the business meeting, he plans to follow the footsteps of Warren Buffett, going to the same shopping places he shops and the same steakhouse where he eats.
“My family thinks I’m crazy,” he said. “I could not be in a better place .”
Back for Day 2
Berkshire devotees come from Europe, Asia, Africa.
But Jan Toussaint had a quicker trip — the 70-year-old retiree who used to work in a Kellogg warehouse just hopped over from Bellevue and arrived around 6 a.m.
Toussaint has been coming to the annual meeting since 2004 or so.
“I’ll be enjoying Warren and Charlie, and of course my friends and I came down and loaded up on shopping yesterday,” she said.
She bought Berkshire memorabilia and had See’s Candies workers help her find her beloved toffee nuggets.
“I know what I want,” she said. “We’ll see what’s left today.”
The Friday scene
The first day of the shareholders meeting saw vendors marveling at the sheer volume of people who got a head-start on the shopping extravaganza.
They snapped up peanut brittle at See's Candies, running shoes from Brooks, gardening gloves and ties, T-shirts and rubber duckies prominently featuring the faces of the event's headliners, Buffett and Munger.
As the shopping day kicked off at noon at the CHI Health Center, the two briefly sat in a golf cart in the lobby, attracting a horde of fans and reporters armed with cameras and microphones.
Before the crowd flowed in, the pair toured the booths of vendors representing companies owned by the conglomerate.
After the cart disappeared into an elevator, hours of shopping ensued.
You can see some of the sights and scenes at the exhibit hall, plus live Twitter updates from World-Herald staff, below:
Apple CEO Tim Cook visits Village Pointe Apple Store
Apparently in town for the shareholders meeting, Apple CEO Tim Cook made a surprise visit Friday to the Apple Store at Village Pointe.
Cook stopped by the store for about 20 minutes and spent time meeting staff, taking photos and shaking hands with customers, according to a store manager, who asked not to be identified.
"It certainly was (cool)," the manager said. "We were all kind of taken aback."
Joe Mixan was at the store picking up a refurbished keyboard. He happened to be chatting with a woman near him about Cook's appearance on an ABC News special about how much time people spend on their screens.
"The next thing I know, I look over my shoulder and I say, 'There's Tim Cook!'" Mixan, 53, said.
Mixan, a retired firefighter who worked at the Village Pointe Apple Store until about 2010, had his Sony A6000 camera with him, so he started taking pictures of Cook's meet-and-greet. He even got a shot of the store's employees with the CEO.
"It was a cool moment for sure," Mixan said.
Buffett crashes a women investors conference
Warren Buffett unexpectedly showed up at the Variant Perspectives Conference scheduled Friday in Omaha to coincide with the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting.
The focus was on improving a gender imbalance among investors. Only 3 percent of U.S. investment firms are owned by women, and those firms control only 1 percent of assets under management.
Buffett said a conference supporting women investors was long overdue since he doesn't believe women invest differently than men.
"Track records should open doors," he said.
See Buffett at the conference here: https://youtu.be/kRxOXsCIIDo
Fruit of the Loom favorites include T-shirts, ties
At the Fruit of the Loom mini-store, shoppers weren't just buying up underwear and socks — lounge pants, a "Woodstock for Capitalists" T-shirt and $65 Berkshire Hathaway-branded silk ties were big sellers for the brand.
Spreadsheets tacked to a bulletin board in the storage area tracked what items had already sold out by the end of the day Friday. The retailer hauled in six tractor trailer-loads of stock just for the shareholders meeting. And once it's gone, it's gone — the brand won't be replenishing inventory that sold out Friday.
"The volume today has just been tremendous," said John Shivel, Fruit of the Loom's vice president of corporate events and communications.
He didn't have final sales numbers, but Shivel estimated it could be one of the busiest Berkshire days ever for the brand. Anecdotally, it seemed like more people were arriving in Omaha on Thursday or earlier in the week to take advantage of early shopping on Friday, he said.
Fifty employees rang up and steered shoppers around the store. Even as shopping wound down near the 5 p.m. closing time, there was still a steady line of shoppers filing in to grab bull-and-bear ties and Spalding basketballs.
Exhibitors include water system brand and more
EcoWater Systems might not have the brand-name recognition of Coca-Cola or Dairy Queen.
But a representative for the company, which makes water filtration and water softener systems, said they still had a steady stream of shoppers throughout the day at their booth.
That included new customers as well as existing ones who already had EcoWater systems and wanted to learn more about the company's latest offerings, said e-commerce manager Kiley Bastian.
"We're fully staffed and ready to take on everyone and answer all their water questions," she said.
There are other exhibition booths featured at the meeting that aren't necessarily selling items, including Benjamin Moore paint, FlightSafety International, an aviation training company that featured mixed reality simulations for attendees to try out, BNSF Railway and the Lubrizol Corporation, a chemical company.
Shareholders travel from around the world
At fist blush, Marnix Troudes of the Netherlands appeared to be chilling with a book as thousands of Berkshire Hathaway fans swirled around him Friday at the CHI exhibition hall.
Turns out he was reading more on Buffett and Munger in a book he’d just purchased at Berkyville.
Soon, international friends from an investment group joined him, gushing about shoes and other novelties they just bought or saw at their first Berkshire annual meeting ever.
Troudes, 27, said he just recently became a shareholder but had been learning from Buffett and Munger for years by Internet and by book. This year, he organized a trip to Omaha and met up with dozens of investors he came to know through a podcast.
“Honestly, because Charlie is 95, I want to see him before he passes, and Warren, too,” Troudes said.
Friend Remo Uherek of Switzerland said, “The timing was right. I want to see them both alive, together.”
And it had to be in person, in Omaha.
“The full experience,” said Uherek. “It’s like a community. It feels like a family, all wisdom-seekers.”
Cipta Purnama of Indonesia said his motivation was a simple one. He’s read "The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life,"an Alice Schroeder book, and can relate to stages of Buffett’s life.
“I want to see the God I’ve never seen.”
Vendors say lines are longer this year
A few Berkshire Hathaway companies, including See’s Candies and Oriental Trading, said that Friday shopping at their booths seemed busier this year compared to last.
“It's always busy,” said Michelle Johnson of Oriental Trading. “But our lines have definitely been longer this year."
Among hot items sold Friday, she said, were $5 Warren and Charlie superhero rubber duckies, the $5 desk calendar of Buffett and Charlie wise quotes, and T-shirts emblazoned with Warren’s face.
At See’s, Jensen DeWees, marketing director, said sales were swift at the vendor that transported in refrigerated rigs 20,000 pounds of candy to the Omaha event.
DeWees said shoppers Friday seemed to surpass last year’s count on the first day.
Peanut brittle, which is what Warren and Charlie eat while taking questions from shareholders on Saturday, is always a big seller, she said.
Shoppers find favorites, from candy to gloves
Lines of shoppers stacked up at the checkout line for See’s Candies.
The confectionery display was one of the biggest draws Friday as shareholders grabbed boxes of walnut rolls and toffee.
The Pampered Chef was another hot spot, as shoppers checked out culinary wares — everything from a $5 paring knife set to a $140 stainless steel skillet.
“We need a garlic press,” one shopper reminded her partner.
At the Nebraska Furniture Mart area, shoppers tested Tempur-pedic mattresses — don’t let your Dilly bar drip on one of those — and a $1,700 Traeger grill. Others tried on Bose headphones.
Another hot commodity: Wells Lamont work and gardening gloves. People were grabbing armfuls.
New investors hope to soak up wisdom
Amy Chow, 28, and Sam Yong, 34, are just starting on their investment journey.
At their first shareholder meeting, the Alberta, Canada, residents posed on a white 1934 Harley Davidson motorcycle once used to deliver See’s Candies in Los Angeles.
The two are hoping to soak up a little investing advice from the Oracle of Omaha. Chow also wanted to attend financial talks put on elsewhere in the city.
“We want to build our strategy,” Chow said.
“For the record, I’m here for the vanilla-orange bar,” Yong joked as he munched on the Dairy Queen treat.
'It's really cool,' say first timers from China
Tony Liu of China picked up a friend’s son who is studying in the U.S. and arrived with their group in time to shop Friday at their first-ever Berkshire Hathaway shareholders event.
They emerged, eventually, from a packed Fruit of the Loom pop-up shop, arms filled with bags.
“Lots of underwear — with Warren Buffett on them,” said Liu, amused.
He and his group of 10 were eager to witness the display that before they'd only heard about from friends. With Buffett and Munger up there in age, Liu said, they didn’t want to wait any longer.
“It’s really cool,” said Liu, perusing the exhibition hall. Of what he has seen so far of Omaha, he said, “Amazing.”
Said Reese Gul, the student: “I’ve known about this event for many years. It’s a great opportunity to be here.”
Then they were off, toward the Brooks mannequins running in thin air high above the crowd.
'How many more years' of Warren and Charlie?
Shareholder Will Moore, 72, wasted no time Friday afternoon grabbing an Oreo Dairy Queen Blizzard.
Moore and his wife, Jan, flew in from Alberta, Canada, on Thursday. Moore previously attended a shareholders meeting in 2008.
“I came for one more chance to see Charlie and Warren,” Moore said. “How many more years are they going to be with us?”
He wasn’t expecting this meeting to differ much from his 2008 experience.
“I don’t expect anything new, just to hear it one more time,” he said.
Moore has been a Berkshire shareholder for more than 25 years.
“I thought, I could invest in the American markets or let Warren do it for me,” he said. “It was an easy decision.”
And the couple will be indulging in a little shopping, even with a not-so-great Canada-United States exchange rate.
Eleven years ago, Moore bought a Panasonic razor from Nebraska Furniture Mart, and the battery is finally fading.
Time for a new one.
First things first
While retired Omaha educator Karen Clark waited in line to get into the exhibit hall Friday, she plotted out her shopping spree.
Gardening gloves, The Bookworm. But first things first: a DQ Blizzard.
She and buddy Phyllis Sorensen always start off their Berkyville adventure with a treat, and 2019 was no different.
“We kept saying how cold we were and we came in and went right for the ice cream,” Sorensen said, chuckling.
Like many, the two Berkshire Hathaway shareholders say they’re interested in the Berkshire discounted keepsakes and likely would skip the business meeting Saturday, perhaps watching that online.
Clark, a past Buffett teacher award winner who retired from Omaha South High, said she is a Buffett fan to be sure. But she already lunched with Buffett in 2001 as part of the outstanding teacher event. She brought friend Phyllis, a former Union Pacific employee, with her then, too.
“I haven’t washed this hand since,” Sorensen said.
Pick up a pet
Berkshire Hathaway shareholders can snag books, cowboy boots ... and a new best friend?
Shareholders visiting the exhibits Friday were greeted by Paisley, Jack and Tonka, three dogs up for adoption at the Nebraska Humane Society.
The dogs and NHS volunteers hung out by the World Book display as shareholders filtered in for early shopping.
Volunteer Dan Martin said they’ve brought dogs the past few years, and a few shareholders have gone to the NHS shelter to adopt a new pet.
“No jumping,” Martin admonished Tonka, a Lab mix, as she leaped up for a pet from a woman in a black sheath dress.