The Annual General Meeting season is almost over. And unless Edward Snowden surfaces at one of the remaining corporate board meetings, this year’s most notable AGM was once again the Berkshire Hathaway meeting in Omaha.
Berkshire Hathaway’s CEO Warrent Buffett has long demonstrated leadership in engaging with his investors by turning the Annual General Meeting into a company love fest. The meeting of more than 35,000 shareholders – already known as “Woodstock for Investors” – added a new twist this year: Buffett invited Doug Kass of hedge fund Seabreeze Partners Management to attend. Unlike the other investors, Kass is a short-seller who makes his living betting against Berkshire Hathaway by shorting the stock.
The meeting in the Quest Center is the central focus of the Berkshire shareholder’s year, where Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger take questions from shareholders and reporters both in person and online for six hours – albeit with a break for lunch. The weekend kicks off with a free cocktail party. The lines may be long to get a drink or hors d’oeuvres, but it’s free. Shareholders are also free to wander the convention hall where Berkshire-Hathaway company booths line the floor. The jewelry and furniture businesses offer deep retail discounts to shareholders.
By inviting Kass to join the Annual Meeting, Buffett proved that he was willing to be challenged. In fact, Buffett has quoted Darwin that it is “man’s natural inclination is to cling to his beliefs, particularly if they are reinforced by recent experience.” Buffett has also pointed out that when Darwin came across a finding that contradicted his conclusion, he made it a practice to write it down within 30 minutes.
Buffett’s deliberate, lifelong effort to find people to tell him why he might be wrong is one of the reasons for his success. Another is respecting the people who have invested in the company and honoring that investment with a willingness to listen to them and answer their questions.
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