Today’s the Big Day – the day that some 40,000 people who flocked to Omaha to hear the Great Man will get their great reward. Warren Buffett along with his indispensable sidekick Charlie Munger will regale the throngs with their words of wisdom about Berkshire Hathaway – and about whatever else comes to Warren’s still fervid and fertile mind.
It’s easy enough to poke fun at this ritual – Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting. The so-called “Oracle of Omaha” is sometimes now windy, and the event itself is not only jam packed, but expensive to attend and substantively mostly sparse. Some of the goings-on are, moreover, sort of dopey – like the newspaper toss context and the mini-parade led by two Texas Longhorn steers.
Still, there is this. There is Warren himself – as remarkable an individual as corporate America has ever produced. And there is the annual meeting itself: notable this year for its celebration of Buffet who has been 50 years at the helm but, more importantly, notable for decades for engaging shareholders to a degree and in a manner that is unrivaled.
One of the problems with corporate America is that those who own it – shareholders – are nearly never informed about or involved in the companies that they, we, own. Most of us sit on our stocks and hope they’ll go up. We do not take the time or the trouble to discover or uncover much of anything about that in which we’ve invested some of our presumably hard-earned money. Nor do most of those who lead and manage America’s businesses take the time or the trouble to bring us in any meaningful way into the process.
Warren Buffett though has long been different. For at least the last ten years he has made his annual event something of a cross between a seminar, a carnival, and a revival meeting. It’s intended as a learning process, and as fun, and as a way to engage and re-engage stockholders both in the company and in buffing the legend of Buffett himself. It’s been a win-win game in which everyone and everything involved – corporate leaders; corporate followers (mostly but not only Berkshire Hathaway shareholders), and the corporation itself – have come out ahead.
Buffett can get away with being an unmitigated ham because his performance has been brilliant. But his performance must be measured in ways other than the most obvious – Berkshire’s stock price. It must also be measured by Buffett’s singular ability to pull into his orbit those around him, including those legions of us who never have had, and will never will have, any association whatsoever with Berkshire Hathaway.