Buffett helps students buff business acumen

About 90 Yale College and graduate students traveled to Omaha, Neb., this past weekend to hear legendary investor Warren Buffett explain his political views, investment principles, management style and life goals.

Organized by the Yale Entrepreneurial Society, the trip brought students to Buffett’s hometown to tour two of his businesses, eat at his favorite steakhouse and spend three hours on Friday asking questions of “The Sage of Omaha.” Participants said they enjoyed both the wisdom and humor of Buffett, the world’s second richest person who recently pledged the bulk of his fortune to charity.

After a campuswide e-mail in August invited all students to apply for a spot on the trip, YES leaders selected students with range of extracurricular affiliations — from the Yale Republicans and Yale Democrats to campus publications. In addition, 30 School of Management and several School of Medicine students were selected. Students paid $420 to attend the trip.

Joe Walker ’09 said he appreciated the chance to meet one of the most famous figures in the business world.

“It was a once in the lifetime opportunity,” he said. “He gave us very specific information about the mechanics of the businesses he invests in.”

Buffett meets with around 35 university groups a year, according to his 2005 letter to company shareholders. But he rarely appears at schools and instead invites students to visit him in Omaha, Chris Borrero ’09, a Buffett enthusiast, said.

After arriving in Nebraska last Thursday, the Eli group spent Friday morning touring Borsheim’s Fine Jewelry and Nebraska Furniture Mart, which are owned by Buffett’s holding company Berkshire Hathaway. The group also met with top executives of the two businesses. Students then participated in a three-hour question-and-answer lunch session with Buffett at his country club. Students from the University of Toronto also attended the lunch.

Participants said Buffett touched on a variety of topics, ranging from his advocating a better public school system to the logic behind his unique management style. Buffett also spoke about his much-publicized plans to donate his personal fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, arguing that the organization’s philanthropic expertise made it a wiser investment than personally bequeathing the money. Buffett’s $31 billion gift, announced in June, is the largest charitable donation in history.

The day culminated in dinner at Gorat’s Steakhouse, known as Buffett’s favorite restaurant.

Students said they were extremely impressed by Buffett’s humility, wisdom and sense of humor. Emily Schofield ’09, a YES member who went on the trip, said that his down-to-earth nature was evident in his answers to students’ questions.

“I don’t think it was just an impression, I think it’s how he really is,” Schofield said.

But some participants said they wish Buffett had touched on a few more specific topics.

Borerro said that he would have wanted the famed businessman to explain his personal political stances.

“I would have liked him to talk about his politics, especially on ‘death taxes,’” Borrero said.

YES President Brad Hargreaves ’08 said the large size of the group caused some logistical hassles, including a change in venue for meeting Buffett and the inability to tour Berkshire Hathaway’s headquarters. The number of students also made it difficult for everyone to have their questions answered, Hargreaves said.

He said the trip’s diverse makeup of both graduate and undergraduate students has helped expand YES’s presence beyond its core members.

“Obviously this trip is great for YES’s reputation,” he said. “It reached out to people who haven’t thought about YES before,” he said.

Hargreaves said the organization hopes to plan another trip to meet Buffett in the next few years.

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