Only 12 people attended the annual meeting of Warren Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A -0.42%) (BRK.B -0.56%), back in 1965. But the number has grown a bit: According to Reuters, it hit 1,000 in 1986, 13,000 in 2000, 21,000 in 2005, and a whopping 42,000 in 2015 -- the 50th anniversary of Buffett being at the helm of the company.
Buffett is turning 92 in August, and his longtime business partner Charlie Munger is 98, and they're still presiding over the annual meetings, which are sometimes referred to as "Woodstock for capitalists." If you're wondering what the attraction is for so many attendees, here are some answers.
The annual movie
While many companies' annual meetings last an hour or two, at most, Berkshire meetings last all day. The doors typically open at 7 a.m. -- which is when many thousands of people who have been waiting in line outside (some since the early hours of the morning) get to rush in and grab seats in the CHI Health Center, which has an arena seating more than 18,000. (There are designated overflow areas, as well.)
The first formal event of the meeting is the annual movie, which is always an entertaining 45-minute (or so) montage of commercials for various Berkshire companies and investments (such as GEICO and Coca-Cola), with segments featuring Buffett, Munger, and often some celebrities interspersed within it. There's also always a tribute to the managers of all the companies Berkshire owns, with each of them named and their photo shown, and each year's movie also includes a clip from 1991 of Buffett testifying before Congress regarding the Salomon scandal. Buffett had been brought in to lead the company temporarily following a scandal, and he stressed that the company would comply with regulators and investigators and that he expected integrity from employees, because the company's reputation could take no hit.
A warm welcome
Warren Buffett likes to point out that the company's shareholders are co-owners of it -- as are any shareholders of publicly traded companies -- and he treats them accordingly. Those who send in an order form for (free) "credentials" to admit them to the meeting receive a printed guide that offers details on the meeting. It also offers a lot of information on Omaha hotels, restaurants, and attractions, along with details on other Berkshire events such as an evening reception at the massive Borsheim's jewelry store and the annual Brooks-sponsored 5K race.
Another big attraction for many attendees is simply shopping. The CHI Health Center, along with previous venues for the meeting, features a massive space for exhibitors and most of Berkshire's subsidiaries are there, selling wares and/or sharing displays and information. You can buy Dairy Queen ice cream, Fruit of the Loom t-shirts and underwear, Brooks shoes, GEICO insurance, Pampered Chef cookware, chocolates from See's, boots from Justin's, and much more. Many shareholders shop on the Friday before the meeting, and many shop during the meeting.
There's also shopping to be had at the huge Nebraska Furniture Mart and Borsheim's jewelry store, each of which offer special discounts to shareholders.
Buffett and Munger answer questions for hours
The main event, of course, is this: Buffett and Munger answer questions for more than five hours -- often tackling around 60 or so, in total. The questions include those from shareholders stationed at microphones around the arena and those emailed in to one or more journalists asking them of Buffett.
Some questioners ask for advice on leading a good and successful life (after all, these are successful and happy nonagenarians), while many ask for investing guidance or for insight into Berkshire's business. The fact that Buffett and Munger spend so much time answering questions reflects the respect they have for their shareholders.
Should you attend?
So -- should you attend, or at least tune in to the live webcast? Consider doing so. The meetings with both Buffett and Munger may not go on for too many years, as they're both no longer spring chickens.
Going in person, to Omaha, can be best. (Book your hotel room early, and perhaps airfare, too!) The 2023 meeting will be held on Saturday, May 6. Note that many well-known value investors attend each year, and many of them host gatherings over the weekend, too. If you follow or invest with any, perhaps look into what events you might attend.
Whether you attend or watch a Berkshire meeting or not, it's valuable to learn from the world's best investors, one way or another. There are books and interviews and letters to shareholders galore that you can tap.