By Jeff Beals
As is the case each year, I attended the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders’ meeting this past weekend in Omaha. It’s quite a spectacle as more than 44,000 shareholders and guests from around the world descend upon the CenturyLink Center arena and convention center to learn, network and celebrate capitalism.
Among all the excitement of the shareholders’ meeting, the star attraction is the legendary Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire and generally considered the world’s greatest investor.
This year’s shareholders’ meeting was extra energized, because it was the 84-year-old Buffet’s 50th year as CEO.
During the meeting, tens of thousands of shareholders and business journalists sit breathlessly listening to Buffet and his long-time vice chairman, 91-year-old Charlie Munger, answer questions and impart financial wisdom for more than six hours. Buffet and Munger are not the only billionaires in attendance (even Bill Gates comes each year), but they are the ones who patiently and thoughtfully lead the marathon discussion session despite their advanced ages.
I always find the financial Q&A somewhat interesting, and I do learn from it, but as a sales-and-marketing guy, my fascination is with everything that surrounds the formal meeting. The meeting is part of a three-day weekend extravaganza, the “Woodstock of Capitalism,” as Buffet calls it.
In the same building as the meeting, an entire tradeshow floor, bigger than couple football fields, is filled with elaborate display booths for many of the companies Berkshire owns – Coca-Cola, See’s Candies, Clayton Homes, Dairy Queen, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.
Shareholders flood the tradeshow floor, buying everything they can get their hands on. The same merchandise they can find in a regular, ordinary store becomes more special when they buy it at the meeting’s festive environment where Buffet himself is present.
I walked the aisles in amazement as people waited in lines 40-to-50-people deep just to buy a single Coke or a Dilly Bar. In a regular setting, not a single one of those people would likely wait so long to buy a soda. Even the Fruit of the Loom underwear display was packed shoulder-to-shoulder!
What does the frenetic environment on the tradeshow floor tell us? Perhaps many things, but one message is crystal clear: people are still moved by emotion. Consumer buying decisions are greatly enhanced in an atmosphere of excitement. The Berkshire shareholders are no ordinary group of people – they tend to be wealthy (a single share is worth $218,000), worldly and sophisticated. It’s quite a site witnessing so many accomplished people getting giddy over such everyday things.