Shareholder Perspectives: An Inside Look at the 2024 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder Meeting

Posted: 5-16-24 | Zach Terpstra

Shareholder Perspectives: An Inside Look at the 2024 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder Meeting

In the quaint, brick-lined streets of Omaha, Nebraska, the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting transforms the town into a buzzing hub of over 47,000 investors. Among them, I joined eager attendees from varied backgrounds — billionaires to beginners, retirees to college students, each united by their stake in Berkshire Hathaway. This gathering is a testament to the democratic nature of investing, where the entry barrier is simply being a shareholder, yet the experiences and conversations shared are profoundly enriching.  As we navigated discussions from financial strategies to personal anecdotes while attending “Woodstock for Capitalists,” the essence of financial responsibility as an inclusive, generational bridge vividly came to life.  Practically the only thing this diverse group had in common was that they all had equity in Berkshire Hathway.  That was enough.

Who can become a shareholder?

Such a diverse gathering of different kinds of people serves as an important symbol that finance is for everyone.  The benefits are inclusive for all and anyone with the means to invest can become a shareholder.  Whether you’re a seasoned investor looking to diversify your portfolio or a novice seeking to take your first steps in the world of investing, the opportunity to become a shareholder is open to all. With a wide range of investment options available, from individual stocks to mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs), individuals have the flexibility to tailor their investments to their financial goals, risk tolerance, and investment preferences. The notable characteristic shared by each attendee I interacted with was that at some point, they had decided to become an investor and participate in their own financial future rather than be a passive bystander.  This became apparent very quickly even before the meeting began.

Pre-Meeting Events and Networking

On Friday morning, the day before the actual meeting, investors lined up outside the conference center for a chance to shop Berkshire’s various brands.  From shopping at Fruit of the Loom to perusing private jets at NetJets, discounts were widely available. The age-old adage of naming the event “Woodstock for Capitalists” is well deserved.  As investors were purchasing approximately 12,000lbs of sweets from See’s Candy, management from Berkshire Hathway paraded the very same halls and mingled with their investors.  Greg Abel, Warren Buffet’s chosen successor, was striding along without being noticed.  We had an opportunity to briefly meet and grab a picture together before he continued on his way.

That night, I found myself at a backyard barbecue hosted by a group who had elected to attend the meeting together.  Over grilled burgers and hotdogs, we chatted about our interactions with management, our old and new ideas alike, how we were thinking about them, and most importantly the painful lessons learned from past mistakes.  Everyone had a unique, different relationship with their own finances.  Some were focused on growing wealth while others were worried about protecting it.  Some wanted to be involved with their investments while others had been religiously dollar cost averaging their income into markets for decades with little thought.  Perhaps the most engaging contrasts between groups were those that were highly aware of their purpose for investing, while others shambled through the markets unaware of their goals, values, or biases.  There were countless opinions being lobbed back and forth.  Yet those who were investing primarily for their own identifiable objectives alongside their personal values ultimately had an impenetrable defense to their investing styles.  They were tailoring their finances to themselves rather than chasing what others believed they ought to desire.

Considerations for the Annual Shareholders Meeting

After some slight sparring back and forth, the conversation quickly turned cooperative.  To have decent seats at the actual meeting the next day, many investors begin camping the night before outside the conference center in hopes of a chance to sit a smidge closer to Warren Buffet.  Wealth does not automatically grant favor in the eyes of the Oracle of Omaha.  Outside of being family or friends with Warren, your best bet for a seat in the same auditorium is to line up no later than 5:00 A.M., with doors opening at 7:30 A.M.  Many planned on arriving earlier in the morning, but a quick check of the weather forecast revealed that there were storms expected throughout the morning.  Recognizing we could not out-endure those who were already lined up camping the night before, the storms prompted a second thought: what if someone tougher than the average shareholder showed up towards the end of the storms for a shot at a better seat?  I decided to test the hypothesis and found myself at the front of the line with the other die-hard investors at 2:50 A.M. in the rain.

The next few hours were cold and wet, but the conversations from those next to me who traveled from areas all over the globe were enough to keep our minds off the elements.  The sheer number of investors accompanied by family members spanning multiple generations served as anecdotal proof that investing transcends cultural age barriers. The hours flew by as we chatted, and when the doors opened our, “hurry up and wait” transformed into a mad sprint to secure the best seats.

After setting a personal record in my 400m sprint time, we found ourselves in a wide-open auditorium with many scrambling to locate a row of seats to accommodate the entirety of their groups.  Saving seats at this event is allowed, but security is ever present to monitor whether certain attendees become a little too liberal with this rule.  Thankfully, those I sat with quickly came together and convened on the early-bird seating without issues.  At long last, the meeting began; we were finally able to see and listen to Warren Buffet offer his commentary on Berkshire Hathaway’s most recent fiscal report as well as answer a few hours’ worth of questions.

Takeaways from the Annual Shareholders Meeting

Echoes of Warren Buffett’s insights faded in the spacious auditorium, but the essence of the weekend in Omaha remained. In the convergence of thousands of unrelated people from across the globe, from experienced individuals to eager novices, the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting affirmed that the world of finance is accessible to anyone with the will to engage.  From spirited discussions under the umbrellas of a pre-dawn line to the communal triumphs of snagging early seats, every moment was a lesson in community and perseverance.  Beyond the practical tips and financial revelations, the true value lies in the shared experiences and the collective journey of personal investment. Whether through familial adventures or solitary aspirations, this event underscored the profound impact of taking ownership of one’s financial future, transforming a simple shareholder meeting into a vibrant festival of capitalist camaraderie.