From this morning’s Omaha World Herald. Editor’s note: In a new book, “The Warren Buffett Shareholder,” Buffett-watchers Lawrence Cunningham and Stephanie Cuba have compiled essays by 43 people about Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholder meetings, which now draw more than 40,000 people to Omaha each year. We will excerpt some of those essays each Sunday in print before this year’s May 5 annual meeting. Today’s comes from Vanguard Group founder Jack Bogle.
Late in December 2016, I received a note from my good friend Steve Galbraith asking me to put a “save-the-date” marker on my calendar for the weekend of May 6, 2017. He and his wife, Lucy, had a plan, undisclosed, to celebrate my 88th birthday on May 8.
At a dinner in Omaha with Warren and his new team of money managers (as Steve later told me), he had mentioned our friendship. Steve offered to bring me to the upcoming annual meeting of Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. Warren thought that was a great idea, and so the plot was hatched.
So when the morning of May 5, 2017, arrived, Eve and I, with daughter Barbara and son-in-law Scott Renninger in tow, drove to Atlantic Aviation, Philadelphia’s terminal for private planes.
No sooner had we arrived than a Citation jet with Steve and Lucy aboard swooped down and scooped up our quartet. We were on our way! (Son Andrew and his friend Kathryn would meet us in Omaha on Saturday morning.)
After a short hop (that jet is fast!), we landed in Omaha. As Vanguard’s founder, I’d attained a modest celebrity status in the world of investing, but that hardly prepared me for the reception I received when we entered the Omaha Hilton.
At least 10 guests, armed with camera-ready iPhones, immediately snapped away at the new arrival.
Later, when our sextet dined at the hotel, scores of celebrity hunters continued to take photos, asking politely and working smartly. (I quickly learned that saying “yes” was infinitely more efficient then saying “no” and then arguing about it.)
When I awakened on Saturday morning and looked out of my hotel room window, I could hardly believe what I saw. A line, maybe four people wide, stretched from the CenturyLink Center, site of the annual meeting, to as far as I could see.
All told, 40,000 people would attend the 2017 annual meeting, almost half of whom were in the arena, with the rest of the throng watching on video from a remote site. Our now octet was ushered to premier seating in the arena, right behind the space reserved for Berkshire Hathaway longtime shareholders, and next to the company’s directors.
Warren and Charlie Munger were seated on the stage immediately before us.
As Warren gave his opening remarks — a summary of Berkshire’s 2016 results — I couldn’t help wondering why Steve had brought us to Omaha. My question was soon answered, as these excerpts from the meeting transcript reflect:
“Jack Bogle has done probably more for the American investor than any man in the country. Jack, could you stand up? There he is.
“Jack Bogle many years ago, he wasn’t the only one talking about an index fund, but it wouldn’t have happened without him. …
“I estimate that Jack, at a minimum, has saved, left in the pockets of investors without hurting them overall in terms of performance, gross performance, he’s put tens, and tens, and tens, of billions into their pockets.
“And those numbers are going to be hundreds and hundreds of billions over time. It’s Jack’s 88th birthday on Monday. So I just say, Happy Birthday, Jack. And thank you on behalf of American investors.”
Despite my surprise and delight, I was able to stand up and wave to Warren, Charlie and the cheering crowd. I confess to being deeply and emotionally touched by Warren Buffett’s generous words — a “red-letter” day in my now 67-year career.
After Warren’s shoutout, the number of photo seekers soared, to the point where I found it useful to leave each session 5 or 10 minutes before the intermission.
Even then, I began to understand why rock stars among our entertainers are so eager to avoid the paparazzi who follow their every move.
But I confess that, on this one grand occasion, I found huge satisfaction in being recognized for my contribution to the world of investing, and to the wealth of the human beings who have entrusted their assets to Vanguard’s index funds. (I’m only human!) …
This was hardly the first indication that Warren and I operated on investment principles that, while a long way from identical, have a certain commonality. …
Accolades are nice, and endorsements are, too, but human connections are what life is largely about. I celebrate the friendship and mutual admiration that I’ve shared with Warren Buffett and Steve Galbraith, men of integrity, wisdom and class.
Excerpted exclusively for The World-Herald from “The Warren Buffett Shareholder: Stories From Inside the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting,” edited by Lawrence Cunningham and Stephanie Cuba. (Cunningham Cuba LLC & Harriman House Ltd., 242 pages, $25)