Category: Warren Buffett

0

Buffett Shareholders at the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting 2018

Whew!  What a wonderful time at Berkshire Hathaway’s 2018 Annual Meeting, an annual ritual I’ve enjoyed since 1997, and with my wife Stephanie for the past decade.  This year was special for many reasons, including the release of our new book The Warren Buffett Shareholder: Stories from Inside the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting.  Our amazing group of 43 contributors did a great job illuminating why tens of thousands go every year.  Most of us appear in the group photo (below left) outside this year’s Meeting place.

Half the contributors to The Warren Buffett Shareholder at the 2018 BRK Meeting

Another unique milestone occurred, as Berkshire released complete videos and transcripts of the meetings dating to 1994.  This is an apparent response to the recent proliferation of books and blogs providing notes of the Meeting.  Warren always prefers the real thing!  For me, these archives are a trip down memory lane, including a fond reminder of how many times Warren and Charlie have endorsed my book, The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America: four times (see here, in 1998, 2000, 2008 and 2010). Thanks to them both for the kind words and for the honor and opportunity!

LAC lecture at UNO’s “Berkshire System Summit”

Bookworm display.

Our whirlwind visit this year began Thursday morning at the University of Nebraska where I gave a talk about the Berkshire Hathaway system, especially the role of shareholders in it (photo far right).  Sales afterwards were brisk.  Great to see host Bob Miles as well as Nicole Friedman, Robert Hagstrom, Jeff Matthews, Ron Olson and many other friends!

On Thursday evening, Yale University Radio’s Jim Campbell and I spoke about what to expect at this year’s meeting and to discuss the new book.  Later Thursday, we swung by the Bookworm in West Omaha, which always has a dazzling display of great reads, especially those concerning Berkshire and Buffett (photo near right).

Friday morning I always speak to several different corporate groups, such as boards of directors and senior managers of companies trying to learn from the Berkshire model. This year I spoke to a large group of folks from AGR Partners, headed by Ejnar Knudsen.

On Friday afternoon, it was off to Creighton University, where for the fourth year I participated in a lively panel discussion featuring such luminaries as Vitaliy Katsenelsen and a full house of engaged devotees.  Afterwards, the hosts offered a wine and cheese reception and book signing boasting dozens of luminous authors on Berkshire and related subjects, including many contributors to our new book.  An action shot of Stephanie signing appears below left, with Keith Ashworth-Lord in the background. Thanks to Jim Ross of Hudson Books for rounding up the books and authors and to Bob Johnson, John Wingender and their colleagues at Creighton for the panel.

Friday evening we were off to the annual reception of the Yellow BRKers Club, folks I first met 25 years ago. While they don’t usually invite speakers or offer book signings, a one-time exception was made for this book given its unique perspective and provenance.  We are grateful to Alex Bossert for the opportunity and to both catch up with old friends and make new ones!  (One new friend is Maya Peterson, the young author of Early Bird, a great book about starting to invest at a young age!)

Saturday morning started early for many, and most cracked open the Omaha World Herald, which always has a special section on Berkshire for the Annual Meeting. For the fourth year in a row, thanks to Steve Jordon and Brad Davis, I contributed a columun offering insight into Berkshire culture, this year focusing on the shareholders; Stephanie wrote a great column this year too, highlighting insights gleaned from our book.

The big event was Saturday at the Century Link Center, where we spent some of the time in the meeting but most of the time at the Buffett-sponsored Bookworm exhibit where our book was featured along with a limited number of others that Warren hand picks.  Thanks to Warren for having a six foot plywood mock up of our latest book’s cover constructed to form part of the entrance to this year’s Bookworm exhibit (where Stephanie is seated in the picture at right).

Thanks to Bookworm owners, Phil and Beth Black, for loading stacks of three of my books on the table (pictured at left below).  With much gratitude to them and many others throughout the weekend, we sold thousands of copies of our new book along with hundreds more of Berkshire Beyond Buffett and The Essays of Warren Buffett.  Our fellow authors and book signers also enjoyed brisk sales and it was great to see them, including Peter Bevelin, Jeff Gramm, Andy Kilpatrick, and Laura Rittenhouse.

Saturday evening we headed over to the Holland Performing Arts Center for a panel discussion before the Young President’s Organization. I joined an amazing panel–Vitality again plus Tom Gayner and Tom Russo–who’ve been doing this together for more than a decade. Thanks to them and to host Todd Simon, President of Omaha Steaks, for letting me participate.

We rose early Sunday morning so I could join 3000 others running the Brooks 5K.  A fun race, it was great to see “team members” Tom Gayner, Ingrid Hendershot and John Pecaut out for the fresh air and good exercise.  It was also great to say hello to Berkshire’s Greg Abel (who wore Number 1) and Brooks’ Jim Weber.  Best news: I finished in about the same time this year as last year.  (Every finisher received the medal I’m wearing post-race in the photo at right).

While I ran, Stephanie set up a book signing at the Markel Brunch in the Hilton, where we met even more wonderful readers and sold more boxes of books.  At that point, exhilarated as we were, we called it a day with two of our favorite Omaha traditions: a lovely private brunch and then a visit to Borsehims to buy Stephanie an elegant pair of earnings.

Then we flew home, with more fond memories, and more reasons to return next year, as we and 43 of our friends explain in The Warren Buffett Shareholder: Stories from Inside the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting.  We all thank Warren for making the event possible, and we especially thank him for his support and kind words for our new book, which he called “terrific.”

 

From the new CNBC documentary, Stephanie and I signing books at Hudson in 2017

We again thank the contributors to The Warren Buffett Shareholder: Stories from Inside the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting.

Charles T. Akre is the Managing Member, Chief Executive Officer, and Chief Investment Officer of Akre Capital Management, LLC in Middleburg, Virginia.

Keith Ashworth-Lord is Managing Director of Sanford DeLand, an asset management firm based in Manchester, England.  Keith is the author of Invest in the Best.

Phil & Beth Black are co-owners and operators of The Bookworm, Omaha, Nebraska, which they founded in 1986.

John C. Bogle is the Founder of Vanguard, based in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Jack is the author of many books, including The Little Book of Common Sense Investing.

Patrick T. Brennan, CFA, is the Founder and Portfolio Manager of Brennan Asset Management, LLC, a concentrated value investing firm based in Napa, California.

Randy Cepuch is the author of A Weekend with Warren Buffett and Other Shareholder Meeting Adventures.

Stephanie Cuba is a real estate consultant based in New York City, and serves on the board of Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School and the advisory council of the Montefiore Medical Center/Einstein College of Medicine.

Lawrence A. Cunningham is a Professor at George Washington University, Founding Faculty Director of GW in New York, and a Director of Constellation Software Inc. Larry is the author of many books, including Berkshire Beyond Buffett.

Robert E. Denham is a Partner in the Los Angeles office of Munger, Tolles & Olson, LLP, a law firm which frequently represents Berkshire Hathaway. Bob is also a member of the boards of directors of Chevron Corporation; The New York Times Company; FEMSA; and Oaktree Capital Group.

Thomas S. Gayner is a Director and Co-Chief Executive Officer of Markel Corporation in Richmond, Virginia. Tom is a Director of Cable One, Colfax, and Graham Holdings; and Chairman of Davis Funds.

Joel Greenblatt is the Founder, Managing Principal, and Co-Chief Investment Officer of Gotham Capital, New York City, and a Director of Pzena Investment Management, Inc. Joel is the author of several books, including The Little Book that Beats the Market.

Robert G. Hagstrom, CFA, is the Senior Portfolio Manager of the Global Leaders Portfolio at Equity Compass Strategies, an asset management affiliate of Stifel Financial Corporation. Robert is the author of The Warren Buffett Way.

Raymond Buck Hartzell is the Director of Investor Learning and Operations at The Motley Fool, based in Alexandria, Virginia.

Ingrid R. Hendershot, CFA, is the Founder, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Hendershot Investments, Inc., Bristow, Virginia. She is the Editor of Hendershot Investments, a quarterly newsletter for long-term investors.

Mark Hughes is the Director of Equity Research at Lafayette Investments in Ashton, Maryland.

Prem C. Jain is the Elsa Carlson McDonough Chair of Accounting and Finance at the McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University, Washington DC. Prem is the author of Buffett Beyond Value.

Thomas Johansen is a Professor in the Department of Economics, Finance, and Accounting, Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas.

Steve Jordon is a Business Reporter for the Omaha World Herald, where he has worked since 1967.

David Kass is a Clinical Professor in the Department of Finance at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland.

Vitaliy Katsenelson is the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Investment Officer of Investment Management Associates, Inc., a value investment firm based in Denver, Colorado. Vitaliy is the author of The Little Book of Sideways Markets.

Karen Linder is President and Chief Executive Officer of Tethon 3D, a 3D printing company, and Principal of Linseed Capital, a private investment firm. Karen is the author of The Women of Berkshire Hathaway.

Simon Lorne is Vice Chairman and Chief Legal Officer of Millennium Partners, New York City. A former partner of Munger, Tolles & Olson, Si also serves as chairman of the Alternative Investment Management Association.

Thomas J. Manenti retired in 2018 as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of MiTek Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway company based in St. Loui, where he had worked since 1977.

Jeff Matthews retired in 2017 as the General Partner of Ram Partners LP, where he had served since 1993. Jeff is the author of several books, including Pilgrimage to Warren Buffett’s Omaha.  

Tim Medley is a Partner at Medley & Brown, a financial advisory firm in Jackson, Mississippi, and a Director of the Sequoia Fund, Inc.

Robert P. Miles is an Executive in Residence at the College of Business Administration, University of Nebraska Omaha. Bob is the author of several books, including The Warren Buffett CEO.

Olza M. (Tony) Nicely is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of GEICO, a Berkshire Hathaway company, where he has worked since 1961.

Shane Parrish operates the farnamstreetblog.com.

Daniel Pecaut  is the Chief Executive Officer of Pecaut & Company, an investment firm based in Sioux City, Iowa. Daniel is the co-author, with Corey Wrenn, of The University of Berkshire Hathaway.

John Petry is the Founder and Managing Member of Sessa Capital LLP. He serves on the board of the Success Academy Charter Network.

Laura J. Rittenhouse is the Chief Executive Officer of Rittenhouse Rankings, Inc., an investor communications and coaching firm, and author of several books, including Investing Between the Lines.

Francois Rochon is the Founder, President and Portfolio Manager of Giverny Capital based in Montreal, Canada.

Jim Ross is the Manager of the Hudson Booksellers store at Eppley Field in Omaha.

Thomas A. Russo is the Managing Member of Gardner Russo & Gardner LLC, serving also as General Partner of Semper Vic partnerships.

Andrew Steginsky, CFA, is the ‎Founder and Managing Director of ‎Steginsky Capital LLC in New York.

Macrae “Mac” Sykes is Senior Research Analyst, Gabelli & Company in Rye, New York.

Phil Terry is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Collaborative Gain, Inc., which runs leadership programs, and of Reading Odyssey, a lifelong learning nonprofit organization.

Charlie Tian is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of GuruFocus.com.  He is the author of Invest Like a Guru.

Whitney Tilson is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Kase Learning, through which he teaches seminars on value investing, entrepreneurship and worldly wisdom. He was a contributor to Poor Charlie’s Almanack.

Bruce N. Whitman is the Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of FlightSafety International, a Berkshire Hathaway company, where he has worked since 1961.

John R. Wingender is a Professor and Chairman of the Department of Economics and Finance at the Heider College of Business, Creighton University.

Jason Zweig writes The Intelligent Investor column for The Wall Street Journal. He is the editor of the contemporary edition of Benjamin Graham’s classic book, The Intelligent Investor.

 

0

Cunningham “Buffett Shareholder” Omaha Events 2018

Following are the public events during this year’s Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting surrounding the launch of our new book, The Warren Buffett Shareholder.  Hope to see some of you there, and regrets that our New York book launch event is already sold out.

Thursday Friday — Daytime Friday — Evening Saturday Sunday
U. Nebraska Mammel Hall

Berkshire System Summit

11:40 to 12

(talk 11 to 11:40)

CenturyLink Center

Shareholder Shopping Day

Bookworm

11 to 6

 

Embassy Suites

Yellow BRKers

4 to 7

(greetings at around 5)

 

CenturyLink Center

BRK Annual Meeting

Bookworm

7 to 4 pm

Hilton Hotel

Markel Brunch

8:30 to 10:30 a.m.

U. Nebraska Mammel Hall

Value Investor Conference

3 to 4 & 6 to 6:30

 

Creighton University

Value Investing Panel

2 to 3 & 5 to 6

(panel 3 to 5)

 

Hilton Hotel

Tilson/Kase Reception

8 to 12 midnight

 

Hilton Hotel

Tilson/Kase Reception

4 to 6

 

 ALSO: Visit the Bookworm in town and the Hudson bookstore in the airport for special displays and offerings around the book.
0

New Book: Jack Bogle Appreciates Warren Buffett’s Surprise Shout Out

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.

Unbeknownst to me, Steve had checked with Emily Snyder, my assistant at Vanguard, and with my wife, Eve, and told them of his plan to fly me out to Omaha and attend the annual meeting, something I had never done before.

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:

Buffett:

“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)

0

Contract Interpretation 2.0: Not Winner-Take-All But Best-Tool-For-The-Job

In a centuries-old debate among contracts scholars, one group supports a presumption favoring a text-centered approach to the interpretation of a written agreement — the plain meaning taken from the four corners — while opponents urge a broader understanding of context — what the parties intended and the circumstances of their negotiation. The contending positions have so hardened that, in a jarring juxtaposition my new Essay will reveal, recent academic classifications of the same state laws are exactly opposite to each other: contextualists classify certain states as contextualist that textualists say are textualist!

Yet despite the persistence of acute polarization, the author also documents — and applauds — promising trends in the literature toward hybridization and compromise, a search for factors to guide the selection of interpretive tools rather than putting some off limits or setting up default rule presumptions. While scholars have thus long obscured a common-sense reality, a new wave of research is making it clearer to all sides that text and context are both useful, depending on the details of different jobs.

More modern, advanced, and sensible, this new view of contract interpretation replaces a stubborn “winner-take-all” approach to the debate with a flexible and practical “best-tool-for-the-job” approach. To illuminate its importance and value — call it contract interpretation 2.0 — my new Essay turns to Warren Buffett’s contracting philosophy and practices. The famous investor and businessman is also a polyglot teacher, and his approach to contracts, especially acquisition agreements and employment arrangements, illustrates the imperative of using the right tool for the job.

0

What’s Buffett’s Secret to Great Writing?

symposium-coverWe all write more than ever today, but do we communicate well?  As one group, corporate directors, pondered how to communicate effectively to shareholders, they  turned to the gold standard.  They wondered, what most distinguishes Warren Buffett’s annual missive to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, and asked me, as a student of these writings for two decades, for the answer.

Clarity, wit and rationality are hallmarks to emulate, I said, along with how Buffett personally pens lengthy sections to read more as literary essays than corporate communications.

But, far more important, these attractive qualities are products of a deeper distinction with greatest value. Every Buffett communiqué has a particular motivation: to attract shareholders and colleagues—including sellers of businesses—who endorse his unique philosophy. Tenets include fundamental business analysis, old-fashioned valuation methods, and a long time horizon.

A recurring motif of Buffett’s writing is the classic rhetorical practice of disagreement. Buffett recites conventional wisdom along with multiple reasons why it is inaccurate or incomplete. He then differentiates Berkshire with themes like autonomy, permanence, and trust.

In a new article I wrote at the request of the National Association of Corporate Directors (available free here), I parse recent examples to show that Buffett’s dispatches often work on several levels simultaneously. Think of circles on a dartboard, with the bull’s-eye as Berkshire’s distinctive practices, which Buffett relentlessly explains. Surrounding that core explication, in concentric circles, Buffett lauds specific Berkshire businesses or personnel, contrasts their industry or competitors, and opines on related public policy debates.

By arguing in this artful manner, Buffett hones Berkshire’s corporate culture while answering rivals and critics alike. Leaving an unmistakable effect on the conglomerate’s millions of owners, managers, and employees, Buffett’s essays are a model of tone-at-the-top governance.

Buffett’s essays are rich with history, putting current debates in broad context, and steeped in statistics, anchoring argument in data. Buffett contrasts and compares; jokes and quips; and prefers to praise by name but criticize by category. Even when confronting critics, Buffett’s essays avoid sounding defensive.

Above all, the work expresses who Warren is—a confident, astute and joyous capitalist. Yale University writing professor William Zinsser says that “Motivation is at the heart of writing.” Buffett loves Berkshire, his curated life’s work defined by unusual shareholders, adroit managers, and idiosyncratic principles. Munger has commented: “Warren’s whole ego is poured into Berkshire.”

More than the elements of style, such motivation is a gold standard worth aspiring to.

Download the full article free here.

* * * * *

In 1996, based on a law review symposium they led together, Warren Buffett chose Lawrence Cunningham to compile his famous shareholder letters into the book, The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America, now in its 4th edition and sold worldwide in a dozen languages.

0

Berkshire’s Blemishes: Lessons for Buffett’s Successors, Peers, and Policy

Columbia University has published my most recent research paper, available free on SSRN (registration required): “Berkshire’s Blemishes: Lessons for Buffett’s Successors, Peers, and Policy.” Here is the abstract.

* * * * * * * * * *

Berkshire Hathaway’s unique managerial model is lauded for its great value; this article highlights its costs. Most costs stem from the same features that yield such great value, which boil down, ironically, to Berkshire trying to be something it isn’t: it is a massive industrial conglomerate run as an old-fashioned investment partnership. An advisory board gives unchecked power to a single manager (Warren Buffett); Buffett makes huge capital allocations and pivotal executive hiring-and-firing decisions with modest investigation and scant oversight; Berkshire’s autonomous and decentralized structure grants operating managers enormous discretion with limited second-guessing; its trust-based culture relies on a cultivated vision of integrity more than internal controls; and its thrifty anti-bureaucracy means no central departments, such as public relations or general counsel.

Delineating the visible costs of Berkshire’s model confirms the desirability of tolerating many of them, given the value concurrently generated, but also reveals ways to improve the model—a few while Buffett is at the helm but mostly for successors. Current reform suggestions include hiring a full-time public relations professional at headquarters and more systematically developing senior executives; suggestions for future reform include enhanced subsidiary compliance resources and separating the identity and personal opinions of top executives from the corporation and its official policy.

Besides helping Berkshire, the review and suggestions will help managers of other companies inspired by Buffett’s unique managerial model and policymakers who should study it. Implications for peers and policymakers include highlighting flexibility in corporate governance, the efficacy of the conglomerate form, and especially the value of strategies that produce long-term thinking among shareholders and managers alike.