I Took my Son to Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway AGM (Again)

Despite the Playstation's appeal, Lefkovitz Junior returns to Omaha for his second look at one of the most celebrated events in the investing calendar

Dan Lefkovitz 9 May, 2024 | 9:53AM
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A couple of years back I brought my son Isaac to the Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.ABRK.B) annual general meeting (AGM) and wrote about it for Morningstar.com.

I got some nice feedback, mostly along the lines of "awww." I also got trolled on social media, on the grounds of: "what kind of obsessive dad takes a kid to a shareholder meeting instead of Disneyland?" Fair question.

Honestly, it wasn't my idea to drag 14-year-old Isaac back to Omaha, Nebraska, last weekend. Our 2022 trip was partly revengeful travel to compensate for a pandemic-derailed spring break. This year's meeting came at a busy time, so I wasn't exactly jumping to do an eight-hour drive through Chicago rush-hour traffic, endless Iowan cornfields, and prairie lightning storms. It was Isaac who insisted. He had emerged from the 2022 meeting a bit of a Berkshirehead and wanted to see how Charlie Munger's passing would change things.

He also thinks Warren Buffett is hilarious.

For me, the Berkshire meeting is as much about values as value investing. I promise Isaac was not the only young person among the more than 30,000 "Woodstock for Capitalists" attendees at the CHI Health Center. Since Isaac predictably replied to his mother's questions of "how was it?" and "what did you learn?" with "good" and "stuff," I'm listing some virtues I hope he absorbed from this year's meeting.

Virtue #1: Kindness

When a representative of an environmental justice group in Nevada asked a challenging question on utility rates and renewable energy investment, the response was thoughtful and courteous. No matter what or how he's asked, Buffett treats the question with respect.

"Kindness is free," he said, noting that "the world isn't better if you're richer." Buffett has signed the The Giving Pledge, committing 99% of his wealth to philanthropy. Kindness is also essential to the Berkshire business model. Owners want to sell to Berkshire because they know they'll be treated well. I got a classic 14-year-old response when I stressed this point to Isaac: "yeah, I know it's important to be kind, Dad." OK then.

Virtue #2: Friendship

Asking investing successor Greg Abel to weigh in on a question, Buffett accidentally said:


Warm laughter and applause filled the arena (including from Abel). The traditional opening movie was dedicated to Munger's life and legacy, including some of his most memorable quotes (such as, "I'd rather throw a viper down my shirt than hire a compensation consultant") and Buffett crediting him as Berkshire's "architect." It's clear how friendship with Munger enriched Buffett's life and how their partnership enriched Berkshire. For his part, Isaac was disappointed that Berkshire subsidiary Jazwares sold out of their Warren and Charlie Squishmallows position (for his younger siblings, of course).

Virtue #3: Humility

Buffett took personal responsibility for a failed investment in Paramount (PARA). He answered several questions on artificial intelligence (AI) by admitting he knows nothing about it, except that it's potentially transformative and prone to deepfake scams. Though he is one of Apple's (AAPL) largest shareholders, Buffett quipped there might be a little man inside the iPhone for all he understands about the technology (that elicited a guffaw from a digital native 14-year-old). But he also described himself as someone who wants to know if something works – while Munger needed to know how it worked. Understand and acknowledge limitations. But no, Isaac, you can't skip homework because Algebra falls outside your "circle of competence."

Virtue #4: Gratitude

Buffett repeatedly stresses his luck at winning the "birth lottery", and to have found something he loves to do and people he loves working with. He thanked others throughout the meeting. Though Buffett attributed his and Munger's longevity to luck ("Charlie never did a day of physical exercise and did not watch what he ate," while Buffett seems to subsist on See's Candies and Coca-Cola), it's likely that disposition has contributed. When asked if he worried about the national debt, Buffett replied "I'm not a worrier." That said, he does "think about it" and expressed concern. I told Isaac a positive attitude was not necessarily a substitute for vegetables and swim practice.

Virtue #5: Reading

When asked if he was starting out now with a small sum to invest, Buffett said he'd wade through 20,000 pages of stock information to identify opportunities. He has read The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham at least five times. Munger once said "in my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn't read all the time – none. Zero. You'd be amazed at how much Warren reads – and how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I'm a book with a couple of legs sticking out." I'm keeping this quote in my back pocket for the next time Isaac spends too long on his PlayStation.

Virtue #6: Security

One attendee asked why Berkshire isn't spending its cash pile, which grew to a record $189 billion (£152 billion) in the first quarter. As Buffett wrote in the 2008 Berkshire shareholder letter: "we never want to count on the kindness of strangers in order to meet tomorrow's obligations. When forced to choose, I will not trade even a night's sleep for the chance of extra profits." Buffett explained the current cash as a function of a few compelling investment opportunities. Maintaining liquidity gives Berkshire the ability to "be greedy when others are fearful" and to take advantage of those "occasional times when we're the only ones willing to act." I decided to spare Isaac yet another lecture on the benefits of deferred consumption and the miracle of compound interest.

Virtue #7: Succession Planning

Apple chief executive Tim Cook attended the meeting and was held out as an example of successful corporate baton passing. Ensuring continuity is critical to legacy building. What future Berkshire leaders Greg Abel and Ajit Jain lack in humour and folksy wisdom, they make up for in intelligence and integrity.

Their comments on Berkshire businesses BNSF, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, and Geico were insightful. Abel ably (sorry, had to do it) summed up Berkshire's culture: "we treat our shareholders as partners and our managers as owners." Isaac told me he might not want to drive eight hours to hear Abel and Jain speak, but he does not plan to sell the Berkshire investment that he will inherit. My succession planning at work.

From The Archive: Why Berkshire Hathaway's Success Will Continue After Charlie Munger...and Warren Buffett

Virtue #8: Global Citizenship

The meeting's first questioner had travelled from Hong Kong and asked if Berkshire would be investing more in China. Several hailed from Germany. One young man had made the trip from New Zealand – another from Malaysia. A passionate Canadian asked if Buffett would allocate more capital north of the border, and an Indian extolled the merits of his home market. Buffett said Berkshire would remain mostly domestic in its investments. But he also keeps tabs on most global markets, repeatedly mentioned Berkshire's Japanese holdings, and explained the company would continue to participate in the global economy through its US-based businesses. Even in the middle of America, Isaac and I felt the importance of global connection.

Virtue #9: Patriotism

Buffett repeatedly stresses his luck at having been born in America, and he did so here.

As he reminded us in the 2020 pandemic-era shareholder letter: "in its brief 232 years of existence […] there has been no incubator for unleashing human potential like America […] Never bet against America." In this year's meeting, Buffett wore Berkshire's $5 billion-plus tax bill as a badge of pride and chided other companies for pursuing tax shelters. "It is beyond arrogance for American business or individuals to boast they have 'done it alone,'" he once wrote, crediting much of Berkshire's success to the "American tailwind." Patriotism is also good business for Berkshire. "We want the US government to think we're an asset and not a liability or a supplicant," said Buffett, alluding to times Berkshire is able to provide liquidity on favourable terms. On the drive home, Isaac and I reflected on the opportunities enjoyed by generations of our family in this country. In a divisive election year when its problems will be highlighted, America's many strengths should be remembered, too.

"Thanks for coming. I hope you come back next year," Buffett said in closing, before quipping: "I hope I come back next year." Isaac and I hope you do too, Mr. Buffett.

This article originally appeared on our US homepage and has been edited and republished for UK audiences

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Dan Lefkovitz

Dan Lefkovitz  is strategist for Morningstar’s Indexes group

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