Friday, October 28, 2011

Business with Buffett: No Big Deal

On Friday, October 21, twenty lucky MBA students from the Carroll School of Management's full-time and part-time programs were once again treated to a day with Warren Buffett. I was fortunate enough to be amongst this bunch. Our itinerary included a question and answer session with Mr. Buffett that ran for well over two hours and a leisurely lunch at Omaha’s family-run Piccolo Pete’s Restaurant.

Prior to the trip, I already had a great respect for Mr. Buffett’s prudent investment strategies, strong sense of business ethics, and commendable commitment to philanthropy – but in all honesty, I had no idea as to what kind of personal impression the man behind the headlines would make on me throughout the day. That said, I am delighted to report that Mr. Buffett exceeded all conceivable expectations. Humble, gracious, approachable, and surprisingly bawdy are just a few of the adjectives to describe this celebrated business man. While many of the questions addressed to Mr. Buffett related to his views on investing and the current economic state of the country and the world as a whole, he made a conscious effort not to turn our short time together into a master class in finance, but rather used the opportunity to share with us his high-level, yet personal insights on life, love, professional and personal success, and patriotism. Think Wall Street meets Tuesdays with Morrie. Below are just a few of the insights he shared with us that Thursday. I warn you – these nuggets of wisdom are not the typical sound bites you get by scanning The Wall Street Journal or The Financial Times.

-          On Careers: “Work for whomever you admire the most.” Upon hearing this, a record number of Harvard Business School graduates decided to become self-employed.
-          On Business Practices: “You might not remember the exact price of the product from when you bought it, but you’ll probably remember how you were treated when you bought it.”
-          On Marriage: “They always tell you to marry someone for his or her intelligence. Warmth. Sense of humor. Here’s some advice - just look for someone with low expectations if you want a marriage that will last.”
-          On Human Rights: “I am a firm believer in equality of opportunity and inequality of results.”
-          On Words to Live By: “A bell's not a bell 'til you ring it / A song's not a song 'til you sing it / Love in your heart wasn't put there to stay / Love isn't Love till you give it away.” ~ lyricist, Oscar Hammerstein II

Following this candid and memorable question and answer session, we all joined Mr. Buffett for a luncheon at Piccolo Pete’s, an unassuming establishment that you would think you had a better chance of running into the Food Network’s Guy Fieri in than one of the world’s richest men. Simple fare; hospitable service – it should no longer be shocking that this is one of Mr. Buffett’s favorite local restaurants. It was possibly most endearing to witness Mr. Buffett’s warm interactions with the restaurants’ set of regulars and wait staff. Clearly, everyone in this town rightfully adores their most celebrated citizen. This was possibly most evident at the end of our meal when each of us received dessert – Mr. Buffett’s favorite, a root beer float that was once featured in Fortune - with the largest glass placed in front of the big cheese, himself.

Following lunch, Mr. Buffett joined us in the parking lot for a casual photo session, granting every student on the trip an opportunity to pose with him in anyway they’d like. Props welcomed! No wonder I loved this guy – he has a clear appreciation for theatrical flair. For my photo op, a friend of mine created a faux New York Times article where Mr. Buffett agrees to produce my latest musical…with one caveat…he gets the lead. Without missing a beat, Mr. Buffett agreed to take 15% of the box office. I’ll have to consult with my business law professor to confirm how binding verbal contracts are!

See below for photos from this once-in-a-lifetime weekend. Also check out a copy of the aforementioned New York Times article.

Piccolo's - "Where everybody knows your name" - at least they do if you're Warren Buffett.

Group photo in the parking lot across from Piccolo's
Dinner on the first night in Omaha


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