Lessons from the ‘oracle’ of investing

by Jennifer Johnson,

MBA students get rare opportunity to visit with icon Warren Buffett

  • Students from Atkinson Graduate School of Management pose for a photo with Warren Buffett.
    Photo by Block 59 Photography
  • Students from Atkinson Graduate School of Management greet Warren Buffett.
    Photo by Block 59 Photography

World-famous investor Warren Buffett once considered himself a bit of a slacker.

That was one of the discoveries Willamette students made at a Q&A session in Omaha, Nebraska, with the famed CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. Known as the “Oracle of Omaha,” Buffett said if he could go back and do one thing, he would have started investing earlier.

He bought his first shares at age 11.

“Everyone was in awe, but Warren had this disappointed look when he said that,” says Karthik Gangadhara MBA ’18. “That was the best part.”

Gangadhara and 16 other MBA students were selected for a new trip offered through Atkinson Graduate School of Management. Atkinson faculty chose students to attend the trip based on an essay and questions they would ask Buffett. Nine other business schools also attended the talk in February, and each school was allowed two questions.

Good values mean successful investments

Seated with a Cherry Coke — one of his favorites — and bottled water, Buffett answered questions from students for two hours with humor and humility, mostly speaking off the cuff.

In answer to one question about whether stock traders will be replaced with technology in the future, Buffett said long-term acquisitions will still require human assistance. Asked his secret to becoming such a successful investor, he advised students to surround themselves with people who bring out their best. In other words, if students are good people, good business and investments will follow.

Buffett asked students questions, too. If you could invest 10 percent stock in one of your classmates for the rest of your life, who would it be? And are you that person for someone else?

Collin Fuller MBA ’18 says he realized the investment choice “wouldn’t necessarily be the smartest person, but someone you’d want to interact with most and be around.” Sara Goetze MBA ’19 added, “There was also just a little bit of fear that we wouldn’t be that person.”

During the trip, students visited companies Buffett substantially invested in — Nebraska Furniture Mart (“It made IKEA look small,” Fuller says), jewelry company Borsheims and party supply store Oriental Trading — and found employees were highly dedicated to the business and enjoyed a close relationship with Buffett.

“Everyone would call him Warren, they wouldn’t call him Mr. Buffett,” Goetze says. “That speaks to a certain level of comfort.”

Buffett’s final parting advice? Enjoy life.

Time had run out when Willamette students were up to ask Buffett a question, and they were only allowed one: What are the most pressing challenges that face the next generation?

“Buffett said nuclear, biological or chemical warfare might be on the horizon, but we can’t do anything about that,” Goetze says. “So we should just concentrate on where we are and how lucky we are to be there.”

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