The Berkshire Hathaway Annual General Meeting (AGM) is the Super Bowl of annual general meetings. Shareholders make the pilgrimage to Omaha each spring to see Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger (Chairman/CEO and Vice Chairman, respectively) in action.
For years, representatives from Burgundy have been attending the meeting as shareholders on behalf of our clients. An important part of our research process is to assess management, whether it be through one-on-one meetings or through larger forums like AGMs. While the Berkshire AGM may differ on scale from other company AGMs, the purpose of attending the meeting is the same – check in on management to ensure their story is consistent (year-over-year), understand their mindset around growth and opportunities, and confirm that their decision-making is squarely focused on generating shareholder value over the long term.
This year, the public had the opportunity to watch a live stream of the event via Yahoo Finance (in English or Mandarin). I was fortunate to be one of a handful of Burgundy colleagues to attend the meeting in person; here is a taste of the weekend’s excitement beyond the live stream.
Friday, April 29
We arrive in Omaha just in time to grab a quick bite and head over to the CenturyLink Center to visit the Exhibit Hall. The Hall features numerous Berkshire Hathaway companies selling their products, many of which are branded with Warren and Charlie’s faces. I purchase a few Warren and Charlie Mugs, and loads of See’s Candy to bring back to the office – a must!
Saturday, April 30
My alarm sounds and I jump out of bed, ready for the exciting day ahead.
My colleagues and I arrive at the CenturyLink Center to join the line. The meeting is general admission, so first come, first served on seating. The rain will not stop these Berkshire fanatics!
The doors open and we rush in, along with 40,000 others. We secure great seats, just to the left of the stage, 13 rows up. I take the obligatory shareholder photo.
The marathon meeting begins with a video featuring skits and celebrity guest appearances (Jimmy Fallon, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Amy Poehler, to name a few), as well as advertisements for Berkshire holdings. My favourite is the advertisement for Berkshire Energy, which shows the three-week process for wind turbine creation and mentions Berkshire’s commitment to install 1,000 new wind turbines (a US$3.6 billion investment). What is clearly evident is the range of companies owned by Berkshire Hathaway.
9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Warren cracks a cherry coke, Charlie opens a box of See’s peanut brittle, and the two settle in for a long day of questions. This comedic pair takes questions from three prominent journalists, three analysts and the crowd (which includes a violinist, individual investors, business students and investment analysts, all from different corners of the globe). Topics range from renewable energy and Hogwarts, to more controversial issues such as Trump and Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Warren and Charlie, at 87 and 92, respectively, astonish me with their energy, wit, memory recall and sense of humour. The packed stadium clings to every word.
The meeting content is incredibly diverse, but three key Burgundy themes stand out:
- Invest in great companies at reasonable prices, regardless of short-term influences. Charlie distills what Berkshire – and we at Burgundy – do by stating, “Microeconomics is what we do, macroeconomics is what we put up with.”
- Outstanding managers are invaluable. Throughout the meeting, Warren and Charlie continually emphasize the quality management teams running their businesses. Assessing management is also a priority at Burgundy; we meet one-on-one with more than 850 management teams annually. It is our willingness to do this qualitative research that allows us to find capable management teams that will make sensible business decisions in both good times and bad, in order to maximize shareholder wealth over the long term.
- Charlie says, “You need a few simple tricks that work well and a temperament that has a combination of patience and opportunism. That might be inherited, though perhaps it can be learned.” It reminds me of the importance of having an investment philosophy – a decision-making framework that provides a foundation for acting opportunistically and standing apart from the crowd.
Warren and Charlie not only consider themselves investors and businessmen, but also educators. I encourage you to take the time to watch the live stream recording, available until May 29th. I also challenge you to join us at Burgundy’s Client Day on June 6th – to dig in, ask the hard questions and confirm that our decision-making is aligned with yours.