The Last Time I Talked to Warren

Monday, April 11, 2016

Surrounded by “Fortune 500” companies and in one of the “most highly banked areas” of the country, Carlson gets a lot of amazing speakers. As a finance major, I’ve heard from the CFO of US Bank, the CEO of Wells Fargo (a Carlson alum), corporate M&A execs for 3M and Medtronic, private equity founders, investment bankers, even a former executive for Enron…but no “speaker” has ever come so close to the #onceinalifetime awesomeness that is Warren Buffett.

Every other year, top MBA programs like Carlson get an opportunity to make the trek West, (or East, looking at you California), to meet the Oracle of Omaha in private sessions. Planning for this adventure falls to the Carlson Finance Club, and so it was my great pleasure to pick the 19 students who would have the privilege of shaking Mr. Buffett’s hand....or smelling his hair. 

While meeting Warren Buffett is a highlight of the MBA experience, the most important part of any Carlson MBA trip is always the bonding that happens. Imagine throwing 20 mostly finance and consulting MBAs on a coach bus for 6.5 hours with nothing but a couple coolers filled with…water..., then plopping them down in Omaha, Nebraska, with 5 hours to kill before bed. I was almost surprised coming down to breakfast the day of our visit when my ridiculously good-looking classmates (seriously best looking MBA program there is) were sleekly suited and ready to go.

The trip included three site visits to Berkshire subsidiaries: Nebraska Furniture Mart, which rivals a Google campus in size, Borsheims, (where the ladies tried on rings equivalent to our expected lifetime NPVs), and Oriental Trading Company, where we were showered with Minnesota love and Pixie sticks. Our time with Buffett included a two-hour Q&A and a steak or chicken lunch. (As you can imagine, “London Roast” swept the board. #GoMidwest).

Standing up to represent Carlson in front of the wealthiest man in the world was the pinnacle of my year and half on the Finance Club board, making every classroom scheduling hassle, negotiation with WallStreetPrep and Chipotle lunch order worth it. We had preselected our questions: “What traits or redflags do you look for in a management team when evaluating a company?” Buffett, being Buffett, snatched up the opportunity to wax poetically, comparing his work with Berkshire to “the Sistine Chapel”. “Everyday”, he said, “I come to work with my paintbrush, and I get to add a little more to a never-ending canvas. That is the type of managers I look for in my [potential investment companies].”

Our last visit with the CEO of Oriental Trading Company, a younger version Robbin Williams in every way, gave us the perfect example of a Buffett manager: The CEO shared experience selling to Berkshire, a process that took all of 5 days between “calling up Buffett”, sending over financials and selling the company.  It was then time to get back on the bus. Right before we left I noticed OTC was kind enough to let another school, probably Michigan, use their empty cubicles as changing rooms. (#idontknowthesepeople) 

I’m expecting Warren to call any day with that job offer.

Meeting picture