The One Question Buffett Needs to Answer

Picture it: You're in Omaha, Nebraska. On Sunday, May 1. Surrounded by a hotel conference room full of reporters. All desperate to ask Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A  ) (NYSE: BRK-B  ) , and Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire and chairman of soon-to-be 100%-Berkshire-owned Wesco Financial (AMEX: WSC  ) , the perfect question.

Your turn finally comes. You stand, and suddenly all eyes in the room are on you -- none more intimidating than Buffett and Munger's. Gathering up your nerve, you open your mouth and…

Hopefully, you've come up with something thoughtful, distinctive, and interesting. Something they haven't already answered 100 times. Something bold, something memorable.

Fools, this is the very situation I'm faced with this coming Sunday in Omaha at the Berkshire Hathaway press conference. I only get one shot, so I'd better make it good. To that end, I'm asking for your help. What should I ask? What would you ask?

Sure, I could broach the topic of Sokol-gate. In fact, that's what I told Fox Business would be the big issue for this year's annual meeting, and I still think it will dominate. Or, given that I just wrote a book on the subject, I could ask Buffett how he feels about the fact that he invests like a girl.

There are other possibilities, naturally. For instance, I'd like to know what he thinks the future holds for printed news. After all, Berkshire is the biggest shareholder of The Washington Post Company (NYSE: WPO  ) , yet Buffett has said he wouldn't invest in another newspaper company.

We also know that Berkshire has stakes in several international companies, including the Chinese company BYD, the South Korean steel company Posco (NYSE: PKX  ) , and the French pharmaceutical company sanofi-aventis (NYSE: SNY  ) , and that Buffett recently returned from a trip to India. Given his notoriously dour outlook on the dollar, I think it's certainly worth asking if he'll be looking to add to that international roster. And what, if anything, did he discover in India that excited him?

Those are just a few of my thoughts on what to potentially ask Buffett, but I want to hear yours. So, please help me out by leaving a suggested question in the comments section below between now and Sunday morning, but whatever you do, make it good! I leave for Omaha tomorrow morning, but I'll be monitoring the comments here all weekend. So start sending 'em.

You can follow me on Twitter (@LouAnnLofton) or check out our Facebook page to see which question I end up asking. Will it be yours? If it's good enough, it just might be.

(If you're going out to the annual meeting, stop by Robert Miles' author reception Friday night at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (Mammel Hall) from 6-8 p.m. I'll be attending it alongside other authors like Roger Lowenstein, Andrew Kilpatrick, and Lauren Templeton. Come say hello and enjoy a free Dilly Bar with me!)

LouAnn Lofton owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway "B" shares. Berkshire Hathaway is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation and a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. The Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (22) | Recommend This Article (24)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2011, at 4:07 PM, Time2dobetter wrote:

    MR. BUFFET,

    WHAT IS YOUR OPINION REGARDING THE TIMELINE THAT THE LARGE TRUCKING BUSINESSES AND USPS WILL START TO SIGNIFICANTLY START ORDERING THEIR TRUCKS TO RUN ON NATURAL GAS?

    THANK YOU

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2011, at 4:20 PM, gene2u wrote:

    I think he'll do a mea culpa on the Sokol issue, saying it was his job to make sure his employees followed the code of ethics.

    I'd ask his opinion on whether today's stock price reflects the company's prospects. He would most likely dodge that question, but it's an important one. I have found in recent years the questions are less Berkshire-focused. Such broad questions as "How would you solve the education crisis in America?" are no use to me as an investor.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2011, at 4:28 PM, catoismymotor wrote:

    LuAnn,

    Congratulations on the interview!

    If I had one question to ask it would be:

    Of all the holding companies currently in operation, excluding your own, which do you believe is the most promising for the long haul?

    Or I would ask:

    It is well known that you have been searching for the heir to your position with Berkshire Hathaway. Of the available talent pool who would you have liked to interview but never did?

    You'll do a good job. I look forward to reading your piece on the interview.

    Cato

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2011, at 4:56 PM, grigory99 wrote:

    "You're in Omaha, Nebraska. On Sunday, May 1"

    The Q&A is held on Saturday, dummy. That's the way it's always been done. Please do some rudimentary research to avoid such glaring errors at the very beginning of your articles.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2011, at 4:56 PM, Merton123 wrote:

    I would ask Warren Buffet what he thinks about the near term future of small nuclear reactors that are the same size or smaller then the nuclear reactors that power our Nuclear Submarine Fleet? The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has several small nuclear reactors designs from several companies (both private and public) that per their website are supposed to be approved sometime next year. This is a very technical question and may not be appropriate to ask the Oracle of Omaha. However, this is a good topic for Motley Fools to address as an investment idea in my opinion :).

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2011, at 5:01 PM, TMFHousel wrote:

    grigory99,

    Take it easy. The shareholder meeting is Saturday, but the press conference is Sunday.

    Morgan

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2011, at 5:24 PM, WBroadway wrote:

    Who will be your successor?

    I think that's the most important question now facing Berkshire-Hathaway.

    -Russell

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2011, at 5:34 PM, knighttof3 wrote:

    Several Fools on the BRK board have asked the following: the standard for judging Buffett's performance used to be, does $1 in retained earnings provide $1 of market value over a rolling 5-year period? The question to ask would be, why did you make the seemingly capricious change to this standard so that now it is "did $1 in retained earnings produce at least $1 of book value over a 5-year rolling period and is the market value still greater than book value"? Isn't that moving the goal posts in the middle of the game?

    BTW I realize that you can only ask Buffett a question like this because of the impossibly high standard of integrity and transparency he has set for himself. Most Wall Street thugs could not comprehend the moral slippery slope or care about their clients enough to address it.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2011, at 5:41 PM, JHCB wrote:

    Do you still see the reinsurance business as the primary tool to generate cash?

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2011, at 6:01 PM, DavesHere wrote:

    If buying whole businesses is still tax-cheaper than stocks, why stocks, particularly now when the market is so volatile? If the answer is that there are not enough large opportunities, then why not smaller opportunities, but more of them, given that you do not usually participate in day-to-day management anyway?

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2011, at 6:52 PM, midnightmoney wrote:

    I'd like to say that if you don't have a burning question to ask already, you probably shouldn't be asking one at all, but I'll play along instead.

    "How would YOU define appropriate in the following question: Whom is it more important to compensate appropriately--employees or shareholders?"

    Good luck!

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2011, at 7:22 PM, TMFHousel wrote:

    ^ That's a very good question. Well done.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2011, at 8:12 PM, Mapletoast wrote:

    Or how about using Warren's well-known intellect against him. Ask him:

    When you thought about all the questions that might be asked of you today, which one did you think would be the toughest to answer? And can you please answer it?

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2011, at 8:48 PM, TempoAllegro wrote:

    Dear Mr. Buffett and Mr. Munger,

    If you had your way to reshape both American education and corporate America over the next three decades so that the United States could better compete and positively contribute to the world economy over the century following that, what would you do?

    Thank you.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2011, at 8:52 PM, showme wrote:

    Mr. Buffet, what criteria do you use when you sell Berkshire's long term equities?

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2011, at 8:59 PM, kms2135 wrote:

    I would be very interested to hear his opinions of the future of India and investment opportunities there.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2011, at 9:17 PM, HarryCarysGhost wrote:

    Mr Buffett, you've stated that Berkshire would not pay a dividend, as long as you thought you could make better use of the capital. Do you still see this as being the case. And will this change with any succession plans?

    Thank you.

  • Report this Comment On April 28, 2011, at 10:55 PM, greedwhenfearful wrote:

    What's your favorite method for calculating intrinsic value?

  • Report this Comment On April 29, 2011, at 5:02 AM, extremist wrote:

    Which 20 stocks should a small guy buy today to make out like a bandit in the next 20 years?

    I know he can answer it, too -- after all, he's personally guaranteed that he can get 50% returns on small portfolios (i.e., those of a couple million dollars or less).

  • Report this Comment On April 29, 2011, at 11:26 AM, DaveGruska wrote:

    If you hadn't bought controlling interest in Bershire Hathaway to fire the CEO because he stiffed you, what do you think you would be doing now? :-)

  • Report this Comment On April 29, 2011, at 2:13 PM, TMFHelical wrote:

    Bling,

    Here would be mine. I'd start with

    Warren, can I call you Warren? (pause)

    [OK, kidding aside]

    It has been nearly a decade since FAS142 which changed the way companies account for goodwill and intangibles on their balance sheets. Could this change be part of the reason that companies are in aggregate reporting record profits? Does the fair value approximation of goodwill add a black-box component to all companies with substantial goodwill and intangibles? And has this change altered the way that you as a value investor evaluate companies, and how so?

  • Report this Comment On April 29, 2011, at 2:26 PM, TMFHelical wrote:

    In all honesty, if I was you I'd be very very tempted to ask a gender oriented question and see if I could get an acknowledgment / endorsement of your book from him : )

    That would be the aggressive male approach anyway.

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