Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sitting 100m away from Warren Buffett - Berkshire Hathaway's AGM 2011

We visited a few places this time but I will start blogging about Berkshire Hathaway.....the main reason we took this trip to US.
I planned this trip 9 months prior and it was not easy. Avion Tours and American Express Business Travel did a great job in assisting me.

I will not be too long-winded, and will go straight to the point. I will talk about the rocking plane from HKG to SFO in another post. I will talk about our flight delay and how we got stranded in Dallas in another post.

Met hubby's friend Giap Seng in SFO airport. So we got into Omaha bright and sunny on the 29 April 2011. Below was a billboard in the Omaha airport. Below is how Warren Buffett looks like in 1951, taken from his yearbook I suppose.

Hubby posing with the billboard at Omaha airport

Let me set things straight. Hubby is Warren Buffett's #1 fan. Although I am not as fanatic as him, I am equally impressed with Mr. Buffett. I'm in awe of him because of his humble self and frugality despite his immense wealth. And with hubby around, I'm quite well-equipped with Mr. Buffett's principles and his way of life.
So I was also very excited to attend Berkshire Hathaway's AGM and be part of it.

Got our rented car and off we drove to Omaha Executive Inn & Suites. Omaha is not a busy city and is relatively a small place. It was easy to drive around, with clear signage and big wide roads and polite drivers.

We decided to go to all the functions during The Weekend. There was a series of events that shareholders could attend besides the one complete day of the AGM day itself (Saturday).
The events started with a shareholders cocktail reception on Friday evening at Borsheims, a famous jewelry store owned by Berkshire.

The crowd there was huge. There were so many people there, queuing for food and drinks, and mingling around.

Standing with the crowd at Borsheims

We joined the snake-like queue which was at least a kilometer long and was not disappointed when we reached the mini buffet spread.
Biscuits with 3 kinds of cheese, salad, chicken, buns and cured turkey.
The cheese was good, though Peter said yucks. Salad was yucky. I like broccoli but raw broccoli? Yucks. The meatballs were delicious and so was the turkey.
Peter told the person he wanted the well done part of the turkey because the sight of reddish meat puts him off. But the well done turkey turned out to be pretty hard to chew. Haha. My medium-well turkey was just right, juicy and nice.

l: the crowd at Borsheims
r: the buffett spread

I liked that we took a seat outside the lawn and the cold breeze was nice.

eating picnic-style

Hubby had his first try of Cherry Coke (Heard that it used to be Warren Buffett's favourite but he has now changed to Diet Coke on Doc's orders!)
Not hubby's choice as he said it tasted like cough medicine in coke. I like it though. It was my favourite when I was studying in Melbourne.

And the glass cabinet displayed the souvenirs of Berkshire Hathaway, ranging from umbrella to pens and mugs and Christmas deco.
Noticed the Berkshire Hathaway Monopoly Set? It's the same one I bought for hubby for 2010 V-Day. We got that hot/cold tumbler on the middle right of the rack for $15. Pricey but branded. Berkshire Hathaway brand with Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger cartoon pic on it. Haha.

l: Hubby with his Cherry Coke
r: Berkshire souvenirs

During the day of the event, there were make-shift toilets 'tandas bergerak'. Well, these temporary toilets have no sewage piping or water piping. You practically pee and poop into a bin with sand and water. And you wash your hands using the no-water sanitizer. In Malaysia, you can smell them toilets like 100m away.
But boy, they were super clean there. I was so, so, so impressed that I needed to take a photo of them clean toilets!

tandas bergerak

We got home quite early and after a short trip to Walmart at night, we all plopped into bed and slept because we knew we had to wake up early the next morning.

Yes, we kiasu Malaysians wanted to make sure we secure a good seat in the hall with 40,000 of other Warren Buffett fans. That was the reason we flew 36 hrs to Omaha. The reason we spent tens of thousands. Of course we needed to be kiasu a bit, right?

We reached Qwest Centre at 5.45am and there were already a few hundred people queuing up the 3 entrances. But I am glad to say we were still considered the early few.
The weather was freaking cold, with a light drizzle. According to the weather forecast, it was like 0-5 degree Celcius at that time. That was why we were wrapped in scarves! Too bad no gloves.

I forgot our umbrella, we left it in the hotel. I was wondering at that time what happens if it started to rain, as in really rain. I asked the lady next to me from Iowa who has been here many times. She said "then you have to queue here in the rain" because the door only opens at 7am. Gulp. Thank God it did not rain. Just a slight drizzle for a while.

queuing in front of Qwest Centre at 5.45am at 0-5 degree Celcius

See the amount of people in queue some minutes before 7am. And those clever people queing up the walkway above, escaping the cold, which connects Hilton Hotel to Qwest Center (How in the world did they got up there?)

The queue

At 7am sharp, the doors opened and everyone made a dash into the building. Mind you, it was an orderly beeline. There is actually some officials standing there telling people to 'walk. no running.' and people actually walked, albeit brisk walking. I am really surprised that with such crowd, they are still able to maintain order.

We decided not to sit in the middle section of the stadium-like meeting hall. There was no gradual height seating in that section. We chose a seat on the side with gradual height seats, because we are short in comparison to most of the people there. We gathered we would have better view from there, and we were right. We could see everything so clearly, but of course we needed to squint to see the moles on Mr. Buffett's face! :P

Look at the people! The seats were filling up fast as soon as we reached.

Hubby & I in the meeting hall

We got free food. The orange juice tasted like orange juice but the Mrs Freshiey's bun and donuts tasted overly sweet and inedible! Yucky. Americans has a really sweet tooth!

Free food

Below was the stage and the position of the big screens and you could see it clearly from wherever you were seating. The two people sitting at the higher stage were Mr. Warren Buffett and Mr. Charlie Munger. And the three people on the lower stage were the reporters, who would be reading questions submitted by the public.

The stage with the huge screens

At 8.30am sharp, most seats were taken. There were at least 35,000-40,000 people in that meeting hall!

The 35,000-40,000 crowd watching and listening to 2 old men speaking

Nearly all the seats were taken, including those behind the stage, who could not see Mr. Warren Buffett and Mr. Charlie Munger in person, only through the big screen.

Full seats even behind the stage

The meeting kicked off with the 1-hour video presentation. The video is funny and full of Warren Buffett's wits to entertain shareholders.

At 9.30am, the Q&A session started. It lasted to 12 noon with a 1 hour lunch break and resumed at 1pm till 3.30pm. After that was the formal proceedings which was the shortest part of the meeting.

Exhibits in the exhibition hall opened at 7am until 4.30pm.
The exhibition hall was huge with many of Berkshire’s companies selling their products at special discounts for shareholders.
Among them are Netjets, Geico, Borsheims, Fruit of the Loom, the newly acquired BNSF, See's Candies, Dairy Queen, Acme Bricks, etc.

Hubby standing in front of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF)

Me standing in front of See's Candies

Hubby even got to take photo together with some authors - Of Permanent Value's Andrew Kilpatrick.

And with Buffett's Bites' L.J. Rittenhouse.

Needless to say, hubby brought 3 books from the exhibition hall.

Enjoying Dairy Queen's Dilly Bar and Blizzard while walking around the exhibition hall.

Spotted many specially packaged Berkshire's stuff such as candies, gums, t-shirts and chocolates.

Saw this t-shirt but did not buy for Shern. Figured that he would soon grow out of it, so no point buying. But is indeed true that Shern will be 'Future Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder' =)

Took a photo in front of Qwest Centre after the meeting. It was such a beautiful day (look at the unedited beautiful blue sky) that we decided to walk to the Old Market 5 blocks away.
(Ok, won't be talking 'bout Omaha's Old Market here. That would be another post. Back to Berkshire!)

Hubby & I in front of Qwest Centre

In the evening, there was another event, Picnic in Nebraska Furniture Mart. This big sign greeted us when we reached the parkway.

NFM Picnic

Nebraska Furniture Mart is huge. As in really huge. See this 4 storey building? That's just the Electronic section if I am not wrong. There are other sections 'Furniture' 'Home Decor' 'Applicances' 'Flooring' 'Mattresses' which many has their own buildings. Really amazing. I read on Wikipedia that the Omaha store is over 420,000 square feet (39,000 m2) of retail space and is on 77 acres (310,000 m2) of land. Fuyohhh...that is like how many times bigger than Ikea in Malaysia.

Nebraska Furniture Mart

We needed to pay $5 each to get in there. Although people told us it is expensive, we still went because we figured 'what is $5 when we have paid RM20k to get here'. Haha. We just wanted to feel the atmosphere.

There was a mascot with 2 guys there quizzing shareholders questions regarding Berkshire. Hubby of course aced the quiz. We got candies for that :)

Love the classic soda bottles. Wanted to bring them home but did not in the end, because my luggage space was reserved for Coach bags and chocolates.:P

And yes, the burgers and chips sucks! :P

After the event, we went home and slept early. We woke up so early that we were tired by end of the day. And anyway, we were still jet-lagging at that time.

The next morning, we decided to search for Warren Buffett's house (somebody told us the whereabout in the airport earlier) before we go for the brunch at Borsheim's.

We found it almost easily. Although Warren Buffett's house is considered typical upper-middle class house in Omaha, it is still big to me. It looks like some fancy place in Jesselton area in Penang and would costs me a fortune to own.

And fyi, his house is at crossroad bend and according to Giap Seng, should be inauspicious according to feng shui.
I then make up my mind never to believe in fengshui! I mean, Warren Buffett did not believe in it and I think he has an awesome good life!

Hubby & Giap Seng standing across the road in front of Warren Buffett's house

Standing at the side of Warren Buffett's house

After house sightseeing, we went to Borsheim for the brunch. Crowd there was not as huge as on Friday. But there were some interesting event going on that day. First of all, for the first time ever, Warren Buffett would be standing in Borsheim trying to sell jewelries to shareholders.

By the time we spotted him, there were so many people towering in front of me, clicking their cameras. I was not able to get a decent photo of Warren Buffett. #1 Reason: Because we Asians are like midgets when compared to burly and tall Americans. #2 Reason: Their cameras are all those pro DSLR which could capture like 20 frame in a second, while mine needs to wait for like 5 minutes before I could click my next photo! Boo hoo!

Nevermind, consolation prize: We got to take photos with Bill Gates. Yes, THE Bill Gates, who happens to be Director of Berkshire Hathaway.
Well, we actually took photos with Bill Gates as the background. Kakaka. He was actually playing bridge with some audience.

Bill Gates is not that big and famous here. I mean, everybody there knows who is Bill Gates. It's just that he is not that sought-after there like Warren Buffett. So you see, there are not so many people gathering there taking photos of him. Only us crazy Penangites!
Hey, not many Penangites can say that they got a photo of Bill Gates as their background, right? *smirk*

On the same table as Bill Gates is Ajit Jain. Ok, normal people like you and me may not know him. But he happens to be one of the most important people for Berkshire Hathaway, and someone whom Warren Buffett mentioned and praised several times in his annual reports.

Hubby then managed to take a photo with Ajit Jain and hubby is so pleased. Lesson learnt: better take photos with people when they are not THAT famous yet!

Brunch at Borsheim's was the last official event for The Weekend.

After a rest, we then went to Gorat's, which is one of Warren Buffett's favourite Steakhouse. We already made reservation there earlier, so we got a seat pretty quickly and also it was 3pm off-peak hours.
There was a special menu on that day and naturally we ordered Warren Buffett's favourite order - A griddle-cooked T-bone steak.

The steak was huge - almost a pound in weigh. With salads and buns for everybody, it took 3 of us to finish that huge steak. Was it good? For me, juicy enough. Although so thick, it is not hard but is moist and juicy! We ended the whole Berkshire Weekend with this delicious steak.

And I forgot to mention we met many new friends, friends from all over the world. But that will be another post, ya!

And that was the main reason why we spent rm20k+ and 36-hour flight to Omaha, Nebraska, USA. Was it worth it? It was worth every penny to see hubby so happy and to achieve one of his dreams!

p/s - Click here for more of my USA trip.


Henry Tan said...

im a big fan of Buffett too! and i always wanted to go his agm too! =( sigh! no money!

tanshuyin said...

Hie Henry,

We've been saving up for this trip too. It is my hubby's dream to attend the agm.
So start saving and maybe we will go together one day! :)

Btw, how did u stumble upon my blog?

ZC said...

Hi Shu-Yin,

I stumbled upon your blog while searching for bloggers who attended the BKR AGM. I am hoping to attend for the next AGM, 5th May 2012. Was wondering which flight you and your hubby took and how much it costs just for the flight alone?


tanshuyin said...

Hie ZC,

Are you from Penang too?

We took Cathay Pacific with this flight route PEN-HKG-SFO-DFW-OMA. And after the meeting, we flew from OMA-LAS for a tour, and the back to HKG-PEN. It is a slightly longer route but one of the cheapest we could find. It costs us about RM10k for 2 of us for the flight tickets to and fro.

You can email me if u need any other explanation. ;)

ZC said...

Hi Shu-Yin,

I'm from Singapore! I checked the flight prices out from Cathay Pacific during the 2012 AGM period.

Converting to RM, its almost twice of what you guys spent on the airfare for 2011. So i'll have to give it a miss for Cathay Pacific. On a side note, i was searching on, etc and realised that one of the cheaper flights seem to be Delta Airlines. The prices are about what you guys paid!

But i guess it also very much depends on where one is departing from.

Thank you so much for your help! Will search around to see if there are any better deals out there! Thanks once again! Appreciate it lots!

tanshuyin said...

Hie ZC,

Dont look at the rates from the net. Find a travel agent to help u book flights. They usually have better rates.

And oh, I took Cathay Pacific from Penang-HongKong-SFO only. The domestic flights from SFO-DFW-OMA-LAS is via American Airlines.

But I heard that for domestic flights, Delta is better for the service n flight timing.

And oh, book your accommodation early. Rooms in OMA sells out fast for that weekend!

Lance from Sydney, Australia said...

Hi Shu-Yin. Great Blog, I too flew from Australia to go to Berkshire's Meeting in 2010 (I no longer hold Berkshire). I suggest leaving around 2pm on the day of the meeting to go to the airport and check out Netjets. Since i'm realistically never going to fly private jets, it's real cool to see how the other half live.

I met Ajit Jain and the head of one of the family owned furniture stores as well as the CEO of Borsheim's.

Very educational but pricey!

Cheers Lance

tanshuyin said...

Hie Lance,

Thanks for visiting my blog. It was unfortunate we did not get to go check out Netjets while we were there. We will the next time! ;P

So I guess you were more lucky than us as u met the family of Nebraska and CEO of Borsheim.

Yes, it waa a really eye-opener trip for us. Really glad we went. But as you said, very pricey trip! ;)