The Annual Meeting
Our best guess is that 35,000 people attended the annual meeting last year (up from 12 – no zeros omitted – in 1981). With our shareholder population much expanded, we expect even more this year. Therefore, we will have to make a few changes in the usual routine. There will be no change, however, in our enthusiasm for having you attend. Charlie and I like to meet you, answer your questions and – best of all – have you buy lots of goods from our businesses.
The meeting this year will be held on Saturday, May 1st. As always, the doors will open at the Qwest Center at 7 a.m., and a new Berkshire movie will be shown at 8:30. At 9:30 we will go directly to the question-and-answer period, which (with a break for lunch at the Qwest’s stands) will last until 3:30. After a short recess, Charlie and I will convene the annual meeting at 3:45. If you decide to leave during the day’s question periods, please do so while Charlie is talking. (Act fast; he can be terse.)
The best reason to exit, of course, is to shop. We will help you do that by filling the 194,300-squarefoot hall that adjoins the meeting area with products from dozens of Berkshire subsidiaries. Last year, you did your part, and most locations racked up record sales. But you can do better. (A friendly warning: If I find sales are lagging, I get testy and lock the exits.)
GEICO will have a booth staffed by a number of its top counselors from around the country, all of them ready to supply you with auto insurance quotes. In most cases, GEICO will be able to give you a shareholder discount (usually 8%). This special offer is permitted by 44 of the 51 jurisdictions in which we operate. (One supplemental point: The discount is not additive if you qualify for another, such as that given certain groups.) Bring the details of your existing insurance and check out whether we can save you money. For at least 50% of you, I believe we can.
Be sure to visit the Bookworm. Among the more than 30 books and DVDs it will offer are two new books by my sons: Howard’s Fragile, a volume filled with photos and commentary about lives of struggle around the globe and Peter’s Life Is What You Make It. Completing the family trilogy will be the debut of my sister Doris’s biography, a story focusing on her remarkable philanthropic activities. Also available will be Poor Charlie’s Almanack, the story of my partner. This book is something of a publishing miracle – never advertised, yet year after year selling many thousands of copies from its Internet site. (Should you need to ship your book purchases, a nearby shipping service will be available.)
If you are a big spender – or, for that matter, merely a gawker – visit Elliott Aviation on the east side of the Omaha airport between noon and 5:00 p.m. on Saturday. There we will have a fleet of NetJets aircraft that will get your pulse racing.
An attachment to the proxy material that is enclosed with this report explains how you can obtain the credential you will need for admission to the meeting and other events. As for plane, hotel and car reservations, we have again signed up American Express (800-799-6634) to give you special help. Carol Pedersen, who handles these matters, does a terrific job for us each year, and I thank her for it. Hotel rooms can be hard to find, but work with Carol and you will get one.
At Nebraska Furniture Mart, located on a 77-acre site on 72nd Street between Dodge and Pacific, we will again be having “Berkshire Weekend” discount pricing. To obtain the Berkshire discount, you must make your purchases between Thursday, April 29th and Monday, May 3rd inclusive, and also present your meeting credential. The period’s special pricing will even apply to the products of several prestigious manufacturers that normally have ironclad rules against discounting but which, in the spirit of our shareholder weekend, have made an exception for you. We appreciate their cooperation. NFM is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. On Saturday this year, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., NFM is having a Berkyville BBQ to which you are all invited.
At Borsheims, we will again have two shareholder-only events. The first will be a cocktail reception from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, April 30th. The second, the main gala, will be held on Sunday, May 2nd, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Saturday, we will be open until 6 p.m.
We will have huge crowds at Borsheims throughout the weekend. For your convenience, therefore, shareholder prices will be available from Monday, April 26th through Saturday, May 8th. During that period, please identify yourself as a shareholder by presenting your meeting credentials or a brokerage statement that shows you are a Berkshire holder. Enter with rhinestones; leave with diamonds. My daughter tells me that the more you buy, the more you save (kids say the darnedest things).
On Sunday, in the mall outside of Borsheims, a blindfolded Patrick Wolff, twice U.S. chess champion, will take on all comers – who will have their eyes wide open – in groups of six. Nearby, Norman Beck, a remarkable magician from Dallas, will bewilder onlookers. Our special treat for shareholders this year will be the return of my friend, Ariel Hsing, the country’s top-ranked junior table tennis player (and a good bet to win at the Olympics some day). Now 14, Ariel came to the annual meeting four years ago and demolished all comers, including me. (You can witness my humiliating defeat on YouTube; just type in Ariel Hsing Berkshire.)
Naturally, I’ve been plotting a comeback and will take her on outside of Borsheims at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. It will be a three-point match, and after I soften her up, all shareholders are invited to try their luck at similar three-point contests. Winners will be given a box of See’s candy. We will have equipment available, but bring your own paddle if you think it will help. (It won’t.)
Gorat’s will again be open exclusively for Berkshire shareholders on Sunday, May 2nd, and will be serving from 1 p.m. until 10 p.m. Last year, though, it was overwhelmed by demand. With many more diners expected this year, I’ve asked my friend, Donna Sheehan, at Piccolo’s – another favorite restaurant of mine – to serve shareholders on Sunday as well. (Piccolo’s giant root beer float is mandatory for any fan of fine dining.) I plan to eat at both restaurants: All of the weekend action makes me really hungry, and I have favorite dishes at each spot. Remember: To make a reservation at Gorat’s, call 402-551-3733 on April 1st (but not before) and at Piccolo’s call 402-342-9038.
Regrettably, we will not be able to have a reception for international visitors this year. Our count grew to about 800 last year, and my simply signing one item per person took about 21/2 hours. Since we expect even more international visitors this year, Charlie and I decided we must drop this function. But be assured, we welcome every international visitor who comes.
Last year we changed our method of determining what questions would be asked at the meeting and received many dozens of letters applauding the new arrangement. We will therefore again have the same three financial journalists lead the question-and-answer period, asking Charlie and me questions that shareholders have submitted to them by e-mail.
The journalists and their e-mail addresses are: Carol Loomis, of Fortune, who may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org; Becky Quick, of CNBC, at BerkshireQuestions@cnbc.com, and Andrew Ross Sorkin, of The New York Times, at email@example.com. From the questions submitted, each journalist will choose the dozen or so he or she decides are the most interesting and important. The journalists have told me your question has the best chance of being selected if you keep it concise and include no more than two questions in any e-mail you send them. (In your e-mail, let the journalist know if you would like your name mentioned if your question is selected.)
Neither Charlie nor I will get so much as a clue about the questions to be asked. We know the journalists will pick some tough ones and that’s the way we like it.
We will again have a drawing at 8:15 on Saturday at each of 13 microphones for those shareholders wishing to ask questions themselves. At the meeting, I will alternate the questions asked by the journalists with those from the winning shareholders. We’ve added 30 minutes to the question time and will probably have time for about 30 questions from each group.
At 86 and 79, Charlie and I remain lucky beyond our dreams. We were born in America; had terrific parents who saw that we got good educations; have enjoyed wonderful families and great health; and came equipped with a “business” gene that allows us to prosper in a manner hugely disproportionate to that experienced by many people who contribute as much or more to our society’s well-being. Moreover, we have long had jobs that we love, in which we are helped in countless ways by talented and cheerful associates. Indeed, over the years, our work has become ever more fascinating; no wonder we tap-dance to work. If pushed, we would gladly pay substantial sums to have our jobs (but don’t tell the Comp Committee).
Nothing, however, is more fun for us than getting together with our shareholder-partners at Berkshire’s annual meeting. So join us on May 1st at the Qwest for our annual Woodstock for Capitalists. We’ll see you there.