Billionaire investor Warren Buffett commands attention wherever he goes, and wealthy patrons donate millions to charity just for the chance to have lunch with the Oracle of Omaha. But every year, shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A) (NYSE:BRK.B) get a chance to see Buffett in person and anyone can join them -- for the price of buying a single share of Class B Berkshire stock.
Berkshire's official meeting gets underway in Omaha on Saturday, May 4. But the Berkshire-palooza experience goes beyond merely sitting in an arena and listening to Buffett and co-chairman Charlie Munger riff on the latest goings-on with the company, the stock market, the global economy, and even popular culture. It's a multiday event that gives anyone who attends a new perspective on just how large the Berkshire empire has become and what it means to the company's shareholders.
Getting an early start
The festivities begin on Friday, May 3, with the opportunity for participants to pick up their credentials at the CHI Health Center. In addition, shareholders will have the chance to do plenty of shopping Friday afternoon, with a wide range of Berkshire-owned businesses filling the center's exhibit hall and offering discounts. With items from See's candy and Borsheims jewelry to the furnishings of the Nebraska Furniture Mart, kitchen accessories from Pampered Chef, and private aviation services from NetJets, just about everyone will be able to find something to check off their shopping lists.
Those of a more athletic bent will get their chance to pick up race packets for the 5-kilometer race on Sunday, which is sponsored by Berkshire-owned, Seattle-based Brooks Running. Later the same evening, Borsheims will hold a cocktail reception at its Regency Court location west of downtown.
The main event
Saturday is the day that everyone looks forward to each year, with the doors opening on the main festivities at 7 a.m. CDT. Exhibit booths will again be available for shareholders, but you won't want to be late to take your seats for the showing of the company's annual meeting movie at 8:30 a.m. Past movies have portrayed Buffett and Munger with humor but faithfulness to the company's core values.
At 9:15 a.m., Buffett and Munger will start taking questions from shareholders. Journalists Carol Loomis, Becky Quick, and Andrew Ross Sorkin will choose the most important questions of those submitted to ask the Berkshire executives, while another group of analysts will ask questions from the stage. The most exciting opportunity for many shareholders is the drawing to ask questions directly from 11 microphones on the arena floor. Questions will proceed through noon, and then after a break for lunch, pick back up again from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
At 3:45 p.m., the formal business of the meeting will take place. Shareholders will have the opportunity to vote for Berkshire's board of directors and other shareholder proposals. Berkshire expects the formal meeting to adjourn around 4:30 p.m., giving shareholders about an hour to get to the nearby annual Nebraska Furniture Mart picnic.
Run, shop, and dine on Sunday
The final day of the weekend is dedicated to fitness and commerce. The Invest in Yourself 5K race goes from 8 to 11 a.m., with the route starting at the CHI Health Center and wending its way through and across downtown Omaha. There were more than 3,000 individual participants last year.
Another Borsheims shopping day runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at its Regency Parkway location. But the prime sendoff of Berkshire-palooza is the shareholder event at Gorat's Steakhouse. Dinner is served from noon to 10 p.m., but don't expect open seating: Reservations are required, and with them having opened up on April 1, you might well not be able to get anything this late at one of Buffett's favorite steakhouse locations.
The Buffett experience
If you can't attend the shareholder meeting, you're not out of luck. Yahoo! will webcast the annual meeting live starting at 8:45 a.m. CDT. Just click on this link to get a bird's-eye view of the festivities.
However, if you want to feel the full impact of a weekendlong celebration of Berkshire share ownership, there's no substitute for attending the meeting in person. If you don't make it this year, think about planning a trip for 2020.