With Steve Jordon, Reporter for the Omaha World-Herald
Steve Jordon is a reporter for the Omaha-World Herald. He’s been covering the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting for over a decade. He’s also a contributor to The Warren Buffett Shareholder: Stories from Inside the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting and joins Steve as part of the 5-part insider series of Buffet and Berkshire.
Jordon draws parallels between the humble Buffett and the quaint town of Omaha. He explains what it’s like there when the meeting isn’t going on and providing helpful tips into what to expect when it is.
Where To Find Buffett During The Berkshire Hathaway Meeting
Buffett has lived in his Nebraska hometown almost all his life. The Berkshire Hathaway Meeting has drawn a lot of attention to Omaha for years, celebrating Buffet, Munger, Berkshire, and shareholders. However, once the meeting is over, things return to their quiet and peaceful nature.
The meeting alone is an experience, as Steve can verify having attended several times. Munger and Buffett take the stage for 5 hours, patiently answering a myriad of shareholders’ questions. Berkshire companies celebrate success with costumes ranging from bricks to Fruit of the Loom characters dancing in the aisle. Shareholders can mingle in the convention hall and purchase shirts, World of Encyclopedia books, and more. There’s even a fan club called the “Yellow Berkers”, easily spotted by their crazy yellow hats.
Insight into the daily life of Buffett can be found outside of the convention hall. Attendees might be lucky enough to play bridge with Buffett himself by heading over to the local Omaha Bridge Studio, where he spends some of his free time. You won’t find any red carpets around, just a small room filled with card tables, located in a modest strip mall next door to Big Fred’s Pizza. Warren is also often spotted driving through McDonald’s or making a stop at The Pancake House.
What Is Omaha Like When The Berkshire Hathaway Meeting Isn’t Going On?
Buffett’s humble “keep to himself” attitude is evident all over Omaha. You won’t see Berkshire Hathaway or Warren Buffett billboards and plaques plastered around the town. Warren doesn’t want buildings or monuments named after him, which allows other philanthropists space to make a name for themselves.
However, that doesn’t mean you won’t see the Buffett name around town. The Alice Buffett Middle School was named after Warren’s aunt and the Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center was founded by a cousin who married the babysitter of Warren’s children. Warren also contributes to the Sherwood Foundation, run by his daughter. The Sherwood Foundation focuses on local social anti-poverty causes, from working with at-risk children to early childhood education.
The Warren Buffett Work Method
Buffett began his career in New York after graduating from Columbia University, under the tutelage of the great Ben Graham. Finding the persistent investment noise of Wall Street too distracting, Warren soon returned to the familiar sanctuary of Omaha where he has lived ever since. Instead of a gated mansion like Bill Gates, Warren has lived in the same home since the ‘50s.
We might all want to take a note from the legendary Warren Buffett who prefers to quietly read over reports without the unwelcome invasions of other opinions. Even today, his refusal to use a computer allows him to draw conclusions without the constant updates, sensational news stories, and the interruption of flashy headlines.
Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily United Capital. Interviewee is not a representative of United Capital. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions. Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances. The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by United Capital.
Steve Pomeranz: Continuing my series this week on the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting which is taking place this upcoming Saturday in Omaha, Nebraska. I’ve asked reporter for the Omaha World-Herald, Steve Jordon, to have a conversation about the meeting, about Warren, and about other things. Steve Jordon, welcome to the show.
Steve Jordon: Hey! Thanks for having me on.
Steve Pomeranz: So if I were to go to this upcoming meeting, what could I expect? What would be my experience as an attendee? Let’s say I’ve never gone before, what could I expect to experience there?
Steve Jordon: Yeah, well, there’s two things that happen.
One is the meeting itself, and there’s a line that shows up about 5 o’clock in the morning, the doors open at 7. You go into a huge basketball arena that seats about 30,000 people and there’s a convention hall attached to it. You spend the meeting itself, Warren Buffet is vice chairman, Charlie Munger spends about five hours answering questions, just talking about whatever shareholders want to hear about.
And then the other thing that happens at the meeting is the convention hall filled with Berkshire companies selling all sorts of stuff and shirts and world book encyclopedias and underwear from Fruit of the Loom and all that kind of stuff. It’s just a big huge crowd at the convention hall with lots of, I guess you’d call them, like-minded people interested in Berkshire.
Steve Pomeranz: Guys dressed up with fruit costumes.
Steve Jordon: Yeah, sometimes the Fruit of the Loom guys are there, sometimes they’re not. [LAUGH] There’s usually a guy dressed up like a brick because he’s got a brick company.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, that’s right.
Steve Jordon: There’s some Texans coming up because Justin Boots is one of the companies, and the other thing that goes on around the weekends is just a whole dozens of other events. A few of them are official, but a lot of them are just unofficial gatherings of people who have met over the years or else they’re clients of some financial company. They come and get together and meet, learn about stuff, and there’s a lot of selling that goes on, I think, too.
Steve Pomeranz: I’ve gone to some of the side meetings, the investment meetings, there’s value-investing meetings with the great speakers. So there’s an awful lot going on. As a matter of fact, actually last year, I had gone by myself and had nothing to do one night, so I went online, found a Berkshire Hathaway group, and I was directed to visit this meeting of what they call the Yellow Berkers. And they were all wearing crazy yellow hats or whatever, and they were an early supporter fan group of Warren Buffett. But how long have you covered the Warren Buffett piece?
Steve Jordon: I wrote about him in the 80s and different people covered him from years [INAUDIBLE]. Our first reporter that wrote about him was in the 60s. A guy by the name of Bob Dorr did really the first profile of Warren Buffett. So the World-Herald has been watching our local guy here for a lot of the 50 years he’s been running the company.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah. You know, Buffet is a full-time Omaha resident. As a matter of fact, you can just kind of drive up to his house and see where he lives and where he’s lived for, I don’t know how many years.
Steve Jordon: Yeah, it’s like 1958 he bought that house.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Steve Jordon: I mean it’s a nice neighborhood, but it’s not like Bill Gates’s house. You can’t get close to Gates’s house in Seattle.
Steve Pomeranz: No, it’s really, truly amazing. It’s just another house on another kind of tree-lined street. A few years ago before the meeting, I followed someone’s advice and went to the Omaha Bridge Studio, which is in this really worn down old strip mall kind of outside of town. And there, as I arrive, Becky Quick was there and the cameras were there, the gal from Fox Business was there and waiting for Warren to come, and he did. He showed up to play bridge in this dumpy strip mall. In this very, I wouldn’t say dumpy, I don’t want to say that, but a modest little store that had some bridge tables around it. What does this say about Warren Buffett and the fact that he would take time out in the kind of seminal event for the year to go play bridge?
Steve Jordon: Yeah, he has things that he likes to do, and he has a routine. I think he plays those a lot. Sometimes they’ll have bridge tournaments here and there, he’ll go play with them. I mean, that bridge center is right down the street from Big Fred’s Pizza, so it’s right in the neighborhood. And there are times people will see him around town. He’ll stop at the Pancake House or wherever, driving through McDonald’s. Of course, you’ve probably seen that.
Steve Pomeranz: I saw that, yeah.
Steve Jordon: He’s part of the town. I mean, he’s really a celebrity only when the media, when the out-of-town people come around. Rest of the time, he’s just your average billionaire, I guess you’d say.
Steve Pomeranz: [LAUGH] I don’t know how many, a decade is ten. So I don’t know how you get to 60. Sexta or whatever, octa, who knows. Octa-billionaire.
Steve Jordon: Yeah.
Steve Pomeranz: So why do you think that Warren Buffet didn’t stay in New York, where the center of everything was happening? I mean, he studied at Columbia University, and people like Mario Gabelli and others were there. And it was really quite a brain trust at the school at that time, and he went back to Omaha, why do you think he did that?
Steve Jordon: Yeah, I know. He’s very much a private sort of guy in a way. He makes a lot of public statements, but he’s very interested in family. He loves the family around Omaha, his wife is from here and her family goes way back. But the thing about New York, he did work there for a while for Ben Graham after he graduated from college. So he was active in the New York business community, finance and all that. But he started as… there’s so much going on that you hear so many things happening. There’s all kind of rumors and the latest fad going on, as far as finances goes. He said, it just drove him nuts to have all this stuff happening all the time.
Plus the worst thing was, he started believing all the rumors and trying to listen to all these people. He wants to look at the facts, read information, make up his own mind. The distractions are a lot less in Omaha. His first office was an alcove off his bedroom. So he just would read stuff and that was it. In Omaha, he’s comfortable here, he doesn’t have to worry about transportation, getting around, crowds of people trying to sell him stuff all the time. He just fits here, and Omaha fits him. He’s learned a lot from Omaha, and Omaha is better for having him around too.
Steve Pomeranz: You mentioned, this idea that there was so much noise all the rumors and it drives you crazy, but in today’s world, you get that same kind of information overload just by watching TV or having-
Steve Jordon: I mean that’s why he doesn’t have computer in his office. [LAUGH]
Steve Pomeranz: Well okay, so-
Steve Jordon: He can control the flow, so to speak.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, so that’s a good lesson for all of us, really, when it comes to making important decisions is to get out of the stream of the noise and listen to your own advice in a sense.
Steve Jordon: Right, he finds that information, finds out what he wants to find out and then evaluates it the way he comes to the decision. I mean, his decisions are probably better than anybody else’s, but that’s another matter. [LAUGH]
Steve Pomeranz: So, Steve, I know that annually the Berkshire Hathaway conference brings in a lot of money to Omaha. Is there any other effect that Warren has to the city and outlying areas of Omaha?
Steve Jordon: Yeah, he’s a guy who has so much money that his fortune, as he gives it away, goes to really tackle some bigger problems. His daughter, Susan, has her own foundation that’s funded by donations from her dad. This is called the Sherwood Foundation, and that really focuses on Omaha as far as causes and social anti-poverty things, trying to work with at-risk kids, working with early childhood education. So her philanthropy really focuses on Omaha. Whereas Buffett’s, he supports the Gates foundation and trying to do things like end world hunger, eradicate diseases. Stuff that you can really tackle big issues and the Omaha community has other people who are also philanthropists. And so it’s not that we have to depend on the one guy. Susan does a lot of stuff with her philanthropy in Omaha. That’s important to Omaha, to have that kind of wealth supporting things that are going on here, tackling some of the big problems we have.
Steve Pomeranz: I noticed when I was there that I don’t see the Buffett name on any buildings.
Steve Jordon: Yeah, it’s interesting. There’s two. There’s a middle school named Alice Buffet Middle School, which is named after Warren’s aunt, who was a teacher. The other is the Fred and Pamela Buffet Cancer Center which just opened. Pamela Buffet used to babysit Warren’s children, and she married Warren’s cousin, a guy named Fred. And he was an early shareholder and so she supported that. So if you see it, it says Buffet Cancer Center, but in little type, it says Fred and Pamela. And in one of the points, Buffett has said, if somebody wants to put their name on a building, then that’s a good source of revenue for whoever’s putting up the building.
He doesn’t have to do that and maybe he would ace out somebody else who wants their name up there.
Steve Pomeranz: I see. So he doesn’t care about the name, so put someone else’s name up there, so they’ll give $50 million or whatever it happens to be.
Steve Jordon: Right, let the other philanthropists put their names out there. And he’s a supporter from the community in terms of promoting Omaha, always talks about how great it was and all that stuff.
Steve Pomeranz: We don’t really have much time, but the convention has really changed a lot. As a matter of fact, last time I was there, there were waves of just many different people from different part of the world.
So many Asians, I guess from China and other places. Just as a percentage of the attendee population, a larger and larger percentage every single year, are there any other places in the world that you see groups of people coming from?
Steve Jordon: Yeah, well he gets a lot of Germans show up, there’s a pretty good coterie from South America that’s coming now, particularly Brazil. He has people coming from Australia. One time, I did a story and found roughly that roughly 3,000 Chinese came to the meeting. So that’s not quite 10% of the group. A lot of international interest. And Buffett wants to invest in those places too, so it goes both ways.
Steve Pomeranz: That’s a far way to travel, so it says a lot about what they’re coming for. My guest, reporter for the Omaha World-Herald, Steve Jordon, joins me. He’s been following this beat for a long time. So you can go online to the Omaha World-Herald and follow Warren if you’re a Warren Buffet-ophile, or just want more information.
And talking about more information, if you have a question about what we just discussed, ask us! Go to stevepomeranz.com and ask us anything you’d like, stevepomeranz.com. And while you’re there, sign up for our weekly updates where we will send you the weekly commentaries and interviews straight to your inbox.
Steve Jordon, thank you so much for joining us.
Steve Jordon: Thank you very much, and you may check omaha.com too, as long as we are plugging the sites [LAUGH].
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, let’s do that, let’s do that. It’s good stuff. Thank you very much. Take care. Bye-bye.