Every year, thousands of investors flock to Omaha to hear the wisdom of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger.
For as long as six hours, with only one break for lunch, the two business legends take questions from investors, the press, and analysts. Appropriately for a shareholder meeting, the focus is the business of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) (NYSE:BRK-B) but it's not the only topic they discuss. This year, Buffett and Munger discussed Geico's future in response to a question from financial analyst Jay Gelb.
I attended the meeting back in May and the following are my notes on Gelb's question, along with responses from Buffett and Munger.
Jay Gelb: Geico continues to gain share while having attractive margins, spending more on advertising, and having lowest cost structure. Will Geico overtake State Farm in market share?
Warren: No one knows for sure. We passed Allstate(NYSE: ALL) this year. It has one of the great company histories in America. Started by a farmer with no insurance experience. He built this incredible business based on a better business model, this was 1920, and then Geico came up with an even better model. State Farm was huge by that time, Allstate was very large. It's taken us since 1936 to become No. 2. If I live to 100, we should be No. 1... I'm going to do my part! (laughs).
We will gain share, in my view. Month after month, year after year, as long as we never forget our job is to take care of the customer, and keep rating risk well. Tony Nicely has done a job that belongs in the hall of fame in terms of achieving that objective. In the 15 years prior to Tony taking over, market share had hovered around 2%. Since then, it's gone to 10%-plus and it'll keep going. State Farm has a net worth of probably $60 billion to $70 billion, and a strong presence in homeowners, a strong agency force, and a lot of satisfied customers. It won't come fast, but I do think it'll come.
Charlie: Geico to me is very much like Costco(NASDAQ:COST), one of the reasons that they succeed is because they're really committed to offering a really great product. A lot of people talk that game, but few live it. Geico does and that will help it over time.
Warren: One thing you'll find. People [employees] don't come and go from there. We have no one who leaves us. They have their own idea about what should be done, and how it should be done right.
Charlie: Costco is unbelievable and it reminds me of [inaudible]. Talking the game is one thing, but living the game is something else. It's against human nature to offer prices like that. It's like wearing the ultimate hair shirt, yet it works.