Visits with Mr. Warren Buffett

Lisa Majure, professor of finance, and Matt Haertzen, lecturer of finance, accompanied twenty students to Omaha, Nebraska to meet Mr. Warren Buffett on March 28, 2014 and to tour three of his retail companies, Nebraska Furniture Mart, Borsheims, and the recently-acquired Oriental Trading Company. This was the 7th time NAU-FCB students have received an invitation from Mr. Buffett to visit him in Omaha.

Haertzen reflects, “With this being my second trip, I had an expectation of how the students would react. However, I was still surprised by how engaged they were when Warren Buffett entered the room.  He is self-deprecating and has an outstanding sense of humor that immediately draws the students in.  Initially, they are just excited to be in the room with him, but as he starts to talk and interact with the audience, you see their engagement move from one of being impressed by who he is to being impressed by what he has to say. …they always comment to me afterward about how down-to-earth he was, and how much they learned in just a two hour question and answer session.”

Majure relates, “In speaking with students for two hours, Mr. Buffett displayed a wonderful self-deprecating sense of humor and offered students some sage advice. Mr. Buffett’s advice to students entering the work force was to do anything possible to improve their communication skills. He said that as a young adult, he was deathly afraid of speaking in public and had to work hard to become a good communicator. Mr. Buffett is now famous for his Letter to Shareholders, which he personally writes every year for their annual report.

“In response to another student question regarding what Mr. Buffett looks for in a company, he said ‘To find a manager who is passionate about his business.’”

As a seasoned professor of finance, Majure took note of Berkshire Hathaway business practices that are outside of standard methods in the corporate arena today.

“I also was impressed that Berkshire Hathaway and the companies they own are debt free, which is contrary to current finance theory which would advocate that taking on some debt would lower the firm’s cost of capital and hence increase firm value.

“Mr. Sam Taylor, CEO of the Oriental Trading Company, which was purchased by Berkshire Hathaway in 2012, said that they consummated the purchase of his company on a handshake – no contracts! Mr. Taylor also indicated that they are allowed to operate their company autonomously, with very little guidance from Berkshire Hathaway, and no micro-management of their operations. He said it was an absolute pleasure to be able to run his company autonomously without a debt load hanging over his shoulder; in stark contrast to previously being owned by a private equity firm with a huge debt load..,” she observed.

Student Kristen Boyd shared her takeaways after returning from the trip. “These companies that Mr. Warren Buffett has, you see his values and his ethics throughout the whole day,” she said. “To sit in a room with Warren Buffett and hear about his life experiences and his career is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my career.”

Here are post-trip interviews with the students:

Visiting Mr. Buffett in Spring 2013

Visiting Mr. Buffett in Fall 2011

Visiting Mr. Buffett in Fall 2010

Visiting Mr. Buffett in Fall 2009

Visiting Mr. Buffett in Spring 2009

Visiting Mr. Buffett in Fall 2006