This past weekend marked the 50th anniversary of Warren Buffett taking control of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A) (NYSE:BRK.B). It also marked the 25th anniversary for Markel (NYSE:MKL), and the Fools were there for all the action.
The old gang reunites for a special episode of Industry Focus. Join Matt Koppenheffer and David Hanson as they take us through a recap of the top takeaways, and favorite quotes from the weekend.
A full transcript follows the video.
Matt Koppenheffer: The Berkshire weekend has come and gone, and the gang is back together. You're in the right place folks, because this is where the money is!
All right, loyal Where the Money Is listeners. If you're still listening today; we're back! I'm Matt Koppenheffer. Right here next to me in the radio studio -- this is a real radio studio.
David Hanson: We're for real now.
Koppenheffer: David Hanson. David, how you feeling?
Hanson: I'm good.
Koppenheffer: Is anybody out there? Is anybody left? Are there crickets listening? Speaking of, I just want to thank all the loyal Where the Money Is listeners for saying hi at the Berkshire weekend, at the Markel brunch. It is so awesome to meet all the people who enjoy this show. As those listeners know I had to move off to Berlin, Germany. David is doing things that are so much more important than anything else that I'm doing. So, unfortunately...
Hanson: Marginally more, potentially.
Koppenheffer: But we -- the entire force of Fool.com and all of the great bureaus behind the new Industry Focus now. We have a great show today, David.
Koppenheffer: Do we?
Hanson: We do. We are in Omaha. So, we are ready to debrief on everything. We were there along with -- was it ten other Fools?
Koppenheffer: There were 11 of us in total.
Hanson: Three from Australia, one from Singapore, one from California, one from Berlin, Germany...
Koppenheffer: One from Berlin, Germany.
Hanson: And then the rest from HQ here. So, we've got a lot to go over. What do you want to start with?
Koppenheffer: Let's start with overall impressions of the Berkshire weekend. It's such a huge thing. Every year it's such a huge thing. 10s of thousands of investors coming to Omaha, Nebraska for this event. But this year it was even more so because this year it was the 50th anniversary. May 10th, 1965; that was the date -- that's the date attributed to the day that Warren Buffett took control of Berkshire Hathaway.
Hanson: Did they have the meeting this weekend because of that date? I just made that connection. Is it just random? Do they always do it in May because that's his anniversary of taking over? Do you have any idea? Or is it just nice weather in Omaha? It's the one weekend in Omaha where there's nice weather?
Koppenheffer: This is sort of annual meeting season for a lot of companies. I don't know if they planned it that way, but it's this time every year. Around this time every year.
Hanson: Exactly. So, biggest takeaway? Biggest takeaway so far -- it was my second time there. So, it was less intimidating even though there were 40,000 people there. Once you're there once you can kind of -- you get the lay of the land your first time there. It's insane. You've never seen anything like it, really. My biggest takeaway was just that Buffett's now, what, 84? A lifetime of investing. 50 years at Berkshire. He does not seem jaded at all. He seems more energetic and...
Koppenheffer: He's a spry 84.
Hanson: It's crazy.
Koppenheffer: It is incredible. And given his diet?
Hanson: Not good.
Koppenheffer: His diet's not good, and yet he is sharp, he moves around, he looks fluid. I think the guy -- during the Berkshire movie they had a little segment about a fight -- a prize fight between him and Floyd Mayweather. I think he could get in there.
Hanson: It's impressive.
Koppenheffer: Maybe not for 12 rounds.
Hanson: I think what's keeping him so young is his whole life is dedicated to building this company now and sometimes it will come up like "Well, does Warren Buffett care about his legacy as a person?" They did an episode on Industry Focus a couple weeks ago where John Maxfield basically argued "In 100 years, I don't know if we're going to really remember Buffett as this generational guru, genius that we view him as now." And he said he won't be in the light that we view a Rockefeller now. But I think it's this company that's going to be viewed as this enduring generational achievement.
That's what Buffett cares about more than his name being plastered on -- is the greatest business man of all time, or anything like that. I think someone asked him the question "What do you care most about?" And it wasn't -- maybe it's not the right answer -- it wasn't his family. He didn't' say his family. He said he cares most about building Berkshire into a great company. We talk about "Oh, they've moved away from stock investing, into regulated businesses and that's the way they're going to move forward." But I think a lot of it is just him setting up this company to do very well without him there. It's really incredible to step back and think about it.
Koppenheffer: So, are you digressing, or is that your biggest takeaway?
Hanson: That's my biggest takeaway. He has really built this thing to -- everyone says it, but it's going to thrive after he's gone.
Koppenheffer: Okay, folks. David and I do not prepare our notes together. Mostly because I'm afraid that he's going to take my good points and pretend that they're his. But my overall takeaway here that I wrote down is that Berkshire's built to last. That was my major takeaway of the weekend. I think you mentioned a big part of that is the shift toward those regulated businesses. The buying of these big, full companies that can take a lot of investment over time. Part of that, too, is the hiring. The Ted and Todd -- adding Ted and Todd in there -- creating the partnerships. This partnership with 3G Capital is pretty major and based on his comments, we're only going to see more, if anything between Berkshire and 3G. So, I think Buffett really is setting this up to be a company that is a leading company; that is one of the major companies of the world. The largest companies of the world for decades to come, and well beyond his time.
Hanson: I agree.
Koppenheffer: It's the Berkshire weekend, and it was the Berkshire 50th anniversary weekend, but it was actually also an anniversary for another company this weekend. That was Markel. Markel holds a -- Markel is a small, specialty insurer that's modeled -- it's got a bit of the Berkshire model and that's why they hold their brunch this weekend.
Hanson: Let's call it a semi-small specialty insurer. Small compared to Berkshire. I think it's now a $10 million company? So, it's not the...
Koppenheffer: Compared to other -- yeah. Compared to other specialty insurers it's a pretty good size. So, Markel holds this brunch every year. Tom Gayner, of course, the investor there from a company of investors here at The Fool. He's a guy that I think we look really highly on. He's got a very good process, very good results, very good track record, and I think he's got a really Foolish view on he approaches investing. So, unfortunately -- who was your airline, by the way?
Hanson: Delta (NYSE:DAL).
Koppenheffer: Delta. So, here's what I was thinking -- Fools, in case you don't know, Sunday morning of the Berkshire weekend there is a race. Berkshire owns Brooks, the running shoe company. So, they hold a 5K race Sunday morning. Last year David Hanson ran in that race.
Hanson: I did.
Koppenheffer: This year Delta changed -- I'm putting up air quotes, you can't see it because we're just audio here -- I'm putting up air quotes. Delta changed his flight.
Hanson: I think you changed it because you were afraid I was going to beat you in the race.
Koppenheffer: Which prevented him from running in the 5K race. I think you just were looking for an excuse to not run in the 5K race. You have no answer.
Hanson: I did well last year. There's no reason to...
Hanson: Yeah. Well, not as well as you, but -- so. So, I missed the race and also Markel's in the morning.
Koppenheffer: Even worse, you missed Markel.
Hanson: Thanks to Delta.
Koppenheffer: Thanks, Delta. So, I've got a couple takeaways here from the Markel brunch. I love the Markel brunch. I think those guys have a lot of great things to say. Both if you're interested in Markel in particular, and I think Foolish investors should be because I think it's a great, well-run company. But also, if you're interested in investing more generally. So, I'll run through these real quick. Off the top, Tom Gayner talked a little bit about his diversification strategy within the equity portfolio at Markel.
One of the audience members -- one of the shareholders -- said "Hey, you've got 100 stocks, you've got a lot of stocks in the portfolio here, and we hear Charlie Munger and Buffett talk about the important of focusing on your best ideas; running a more concentrated portfolio." What Gayner responded was, he said "There are about 20 positions that make up roughly 70% of the value for Markel -- within that equity portfolio." Then he's got all of these other positions and he thinks about the entirety of the portfolio sort of like major league baseball. So, you've got the major leagues, and then you've got the farm teams. AA, AAA, and A. I almost forgot that.
Hanson: And rookie league.
Koppenheffer: And of course, rookie league. Are you making that up?
Hanson: No, that's a thing. I think.
Koppenheffer: Is it really?
Koppenheffer: Shows how much I know. I've been in Germany too long.
Hanson: Then the independent league is like his watch list. Not to hurt any independent league fans.
Koppenheffer: We're going to get some -- email David Hanson at -- what's your email these days?
Hanson: email@example.com -- @fool.de.
Koppenheffer: So, he's got all these other positions that are essentially his minor league positions and as he gets to know them, as he gets more interested in them, thinks that they are worthy of being in his major league portfolio, he will promote those up into there. So, that was my first takeaway on there. I'm going to just quote Tom Gayner directly here on this one, who in turn was quoting Alan Kirshner -- who is the CEO -- is he the chairman?
Hanson: The CEO.
Koppenheffer: The CEO of Markel. He quoted Kirshner saying "It's OK to make mistakes. Just don't make the same dumbass mistake again." What he was responding to was somebody asked the question of "What are you most concerned about at Markel? What are you most afraid of happening?" One of the answers -- there were a few different answers given for the Markel team -- but one of the answers from Tom Gayner was that Markel has been around so long, and had such a history, that they've made a lot of mistakes already.
The key is learning from those mistakes and not making the same mistakes over and over again. I think, as investors, that's an important lesson for us. It's OK to make mistakes, and I think that we should accept that we're going to make them. The key for us is recognizing those mistakes, not trying to say "Oh, it's bad. I made a mistake" and brush it under the rug. Keep it out there in the light. Learn from it, and don't make the same mistake again.
Hanson: Sounds like a Munger quote.
Koppenheffer: What did he say?
Hanson: There was a Munger quote during the meeting that basically said "It's obnoxious to stay stupider, longer than you have to." Or something like that. Basically just saying 'learn from your mistakes and don't be an idiot'.
Koppenheffer: 'Don't be an idiot' kind of captures the entirety of what Charlie Munger has to say during the meeting.
Hanson: It's true. Yeah. It's a lot better to read the Munger quotes because while he's saying it he's kind of this crotchety old man. It's better to actually find a transcript of the event if you can. Which, we're going to have one for our...
Koppenheffer: For our Fools.
Hanson: For our premium members. So, if you're a member of Stock Advisor, or Rule Breakers, or any of the other services be on the lookout for a transcript coming soon.
Koppenheffer: Full transcript. I think that's so cool that we're able to do that because it's great to be out there, but to have a transcript of the full event.
Hanson: Let me ask you one final question on Markel just to finish up. So, 25th anniversary of Markel being there -- I think that's what you said, right?
Koppenheffer: It's 25th anniversary for Markel.
Hanson: Okay. I think Gayner always says the first couple of years they did it there were two tables of people.
Koppenheffer: It was packed.
Hanson: With 10 -- yeah. This year, packed. What, 500 people probably in there?
Koppenheffer: I'm not good at doing that game. Like those jellybean things. I never...
Hanson: So, it was packed. I saw a picture of the event and it's crazy packed. So, is it safe to say that Markel's not this 'unknown' little stock that only value investors pay attention to and watch? Three years ago if you said "Markel" to somebody -- even in investing -- they may have said "What are you talking about? I've never heard of Markel." The valuation's moved up in the past couple years. It's a $10 billion company now. Is Markel not the homerun of investment that you loved a couple years ago now? Because everyone knows about it. It's not that unloved, unknown stock.
Koppenheffer: I don't think so. Particularly if the Markel team has its way, this is not a $10 billion company -- or whatever it is. I didn't' check the market cap. This is not a company that's where it is today that is comfortable being where it is today. They're happy with the success that they have, but the goal is to make Markel as one of the premier companies -- one of the most respected companies in America -- and possibly the world. Before we move on, I have to just put out there that I did ask a question at the Markel meeting about Germany, of course.
I'll say briefly that the response was that they like the German market. Markel is already in the German market -- writing primary insurance there. They did some small acquisitions. Basically they said they really like being in that market and the question is just having the right knowledge of the -- the cultural knowledge, and the knowledge of the country to be able to expand smartly. And they're also looking for ways to do that with Markel Ventures, too. I'd also asked about public company investments there and Tom did not say anything about that. So, I don't know if he just...
Hanson: Playing coy.
Koppenheffer: Was ignoring it, or he's sort of like "Yeah, I've got all this on my radar." So, moving on. Let's close out here. Favorite quotes from the Berkshire meeting, there's always a laundry list of them. What was one of your two favorite quotes from the Berkshire meeting?
Hanson: I'm not going to have the exact quote, OK? Can I paraphrase?
Koppenheffer: The transcript's bringing it in.
Hanson: The transcript's very long.
Koppenheffer: Now, how long has it been since we've done this show? And now you're just mailing it in?
Hanson: Okay. Well, we were talking a little bit before and one of the things that's always exciting is that Buffett doesn't look at stock quotes every day. He says 'it's a terrible idea'. Something we recommend as well. It's stupid to log in to your brokerage account every day.
Koppenheffer: Stock prices, you mean. Not...
Hanson: Stock quotes.
Hanson: You know what I meant. So, I think Buffett paints himself as this guy who just only thinks about the uber long term and never looks at anything short term, but something that came up is that he looks at business numbers very frequently. Whether it be daily, weekly, every month; from the businesses at Berkshire. So, the railroad, the energy business, Geico -- he's looking at the business performance. But he said -- his caveat was that he does not let the short term numbers guide his long term decision making in the moment.
Koppenheffer: Keeps it in perspective.
Hanson: Right. So, he's taking into account all the information, but just not acting on it in that moment. Which I think is really interesting.
Koppenheffer: He's a big fan of choo-choo trains. Like, historically. I don't know -- I'm sure that has something to do with it. He probably just -- and he talks about loving what he does. It's not crazy to say that maybe part of the reason that he bought a train company...
Hanson: To read numbers every day.
Hanson: It's possible.
Koppenheffer: He loves the business, he understands the business from being a lifelong fan of the -- you know what I'm saying.
Hanson: What about you? What do you got?
Koppenheffer: All right. So, Buffett said -- I'm going back to Germany here -- I'll make a prediction -- this is not me talking, this is Buffett talking. "I'll make a prediction. I predict that we will buy another German company within the next five years." Buffett and Munger both had very, very complimentary things to say about Germany, about the German market. What they're talking about -- I think what they're most likely talking about in that quote -- what Buffett's talking about -- is that they will probably buy another private company -- mid-sized, private company.
It will probably be larger than Louis. So, for those that don't know, Berkshire just complete the acquisition of Detlev Louis Motorradvertriebs, which is a motorcycle gear company in Germany. Relatively small investment, but it led Buffett to say "I think we've cracked the code in Germany" and it sounds like they're ready to do some more buying. Second quote, David. Stop looking at your cell phone.
Hanson: I'm trying to find the exact quote since you're giving me a hard time. Another thing that stuck with me a little bit was, they got some questions about China. Some of them were very wonky and talked about infrastructure, whatever. They flat out said "We don't know anything about that."
Koppenheffer: You could answer those questions, but Warren Buffett...
Hanson: I could not. But then someone else just asked "What do you think about the structural changes going on at China, and what's your pulse of -- do you have a feel for the pulse of the economy over in China?" And they were both very bullish about the long term prospects in China and what they've been able to achieve over the last 40 years. They cited -- if you go back 300 years ago, China was multiples bigger than the United States and in that time the United States has just run past China in every single way.
Then in the last 40 years what China's been able to accomplish and the structural changes of trying to eliminate as much corruption and build the economy in a more structured way has set the Chinese economy up for very long term success. So, I just thought it was interesting. There's always a lot of thought "Oh, the China -- the ghost cities. When's it going to collapse? The real estate." And these guy, historically, have a very good way of putting things in perspective and thinking about the long term.
Koppenheffer: What was it that Charlie said? I think he said "The U.S. and China will be the leading economies for as far as the eye can see."
Hanson: Right. So, good day to get their perspective on something, even knowing there's a lot of doom and gloom over what the second biggest economy in the world...
Koppenheffer: My second one, this is a little bit of Buffett and a little bit of Charlie. Buffett said of investing, he said "It's an easy game if you can control your emotions." I'll come back to that in a moment. Charlie followed up with "Value investing won't go out of style. What the hell do you want if you don't want value?" So, I'll take a little bit from both of them. First of all, Buffett's quote "It's an easy game if you can control your emotions." That's sort of like saying "Basketball is an easy game if you're 7'3" and built like LeBron James."
Controlling your emotions is a big part of it. The math involved in investing isn't all that hard. You can learn the business analysis stuff. I think the emotional part of it is one of the most difficult things to get down. Although, I think it helps when you have somebody like Buffett saying something like that because unless you know that the emotions come into it, you don't know that's something you have to at least observe and watch. As far as Charlie's part of it, I think this gets to one of my favorite concepts in investing, as far as 'what do the different style boxes really mean?' And people think about value investing, and they think of something very specific.
They think of somebody with a calculator and a spreadsheet, and going through reams of numbers. At the end of the day I think value investing should mean 'getting value'. Getting more value than what you paid for. That may mean taking the calculator and spreadsheet approach that people traditionally attribute to value investing. But it can mean a lot of different things. It can look like a lot of different things, and I think a lot of things that people would refer to as "growth investing" is just as much value investing. Anything that you buy -- any stock that you buy -- you're going to want to buy it to where you're getting more value than what you're paying.
Hanson: It's probably a stupid term, right?
Koppenheffer: It's -- the whole style, for a lot of reasons, the style box thing is pretty stupid because at the end of the day you're trying to get value in some fashion.
Hanson: Good point. Good point to end.
Koppenheffer: That is a good point to end. I appreciate that you recognize that. Fools, thanks for listening in. Again, I'm Matt Koppenheffer. This is David Hanson right next to me. I encourage you to tune in on a daily basis to Industry Focus with our colleagues at Fool.com and of course, Motley Fool Money, and Market Foolery also options on the radio. David's pointing at me. What do you want to say?
Hanson: I want anyone who's out there who was a legacy listener to email us firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what's been going on. What have you missed? What are you glad that you're not hearing Matt drone on about anymore? So, you can send us an email email@example.com. I believe the inbox still works. I'll find out.
Koppenheffer: For the record, we're audio only, but I am wearing a bowtie.
Koppenheffer: And if you speak German, wenn du deutsche sprache -- be sure to check out Fool.de, which is where I'm spending most of my time these days. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you next time.