This spring, 20 MBA candidates from DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business were chosen to meet one of the most successful investors in the world, Warren Buffett.
MBA candidate Kevin Carey (pictured right) gives his first-person account of the group's question and answer session with Buffett .
We travelled to the Omaha headquarters of Mr. Buffett’s investment holdings company, Berkshire Hathaway, on April 1. There, we toured various Berkshire companies and received the rare opportunity to engage in an informal Q&A session with Mr. Buffett. My thanks go to the Kellstadt administration, led by Assistant Dean Christa Hinton and Patricia Loukas, events manager at the Kellstadt Career Center, for facilitating the visit.
After touring one of Mr. Buffett’s first company holdings, the Nebraska Furniture Mart, we settled into the Cloud Room, a large conference room on the top floor at Berkshire Hathaway, for the main event.
In all, 160 students and professionals were present, representing the United States, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates. We all waited anxiously for the keynote speaker, some of us sipping our cola drinks, eagerly anticipating Mr. Buffett’s arrival.
Not much for fanfare, Mr. Buffett unassumingly entered the room and graciously waved away any applause, preferring to begin the Q&A session immediately.
“No question is off limits,” Mr. Buffett said, warning us that he is known to speak at length when answering any one question. In all, Mr. Buffett answered 16 questions in our two-hour session.
The topics in the Q&A session covered professional, socioeconomic, and personal matters. Quite surprising to me, Mr. Buffett offered sound advice not only on his professional area of expertise of investment management, but also on personal matters, such as the importance of family.
When it comes to investing, Mr. Buffett said you should avoid leverage and overreacting. The hardest part of investing is going against the grain, he said.
Often, he said, the best investment opportunities occur when everyone else is overemotional, as in times of economic crisis. The smart investor checks her emotions and looks for the opportunity in the midst of the storm, he advised. In addition, Mr. Buffett recommends mastering the language of accounting and public speaking, as well as understanding business valuation and the behavior of stock markets.
After offering general investment advice, Mr. Buffett then spoke about the investment strategy of Berkshire Hathaway. Berkshire Hathaway is extremely decentralized, with roughly 25 employees at the holding level and 331,000 employees at the operating level.
When evaluating investment opportunities, Mr. Buffett said, the main characteristic he and his partner, Charlie Munger, vice chairman at Berkshire Hathaway, look at is management. More specifically, Mr. Buffett and Mr. Munger find investment opportunities attractive when they can keep internal management intact, autonomous, and insulated from any politics.
Mr. Buffett spoke on a variety of other topics, including sustainability and inequality in the workplace. But there was one piece of career advice that resonated the most with me: “When honing in on your area of competence, understanding where the perimeter lies is far more important than the size of this area.”