This was my second year in Omaha for the most famous annual corporate meeting in the world. Berkshire Hathaway has been an American icon for years, and the recent drama surrounding David Sokol made this year's meeting, held on April 30, extra special. I found the event fantastic and walked away with some great pearls of wisdom. Warren Buffett, the "Oracle of Omaha" and Berkshire's legendary chairman and CEO, and Charlie Munger, Buffett's deputy, were on their A-games and did not disappoint. Here are a few takeaways for entrepreneurs and investors alike:
1. When facing a crisis, face it head on. This is simple enough, but the media circus around Sokol's controversial trading of Lubrizol -- and subsequent high-profile departure from Berkshire Hathaway -- had the potential to cast a dark cloud over the proceedings. Instead, Warren and Charlie spoke early and often about it. They faced hard questions from media and individual shareholders and responded with brutal honesty. While the matter has clearly more life in the public eye, their upfront nature took the focus off of them and onto the facts. Because of their willingness to face the questions, they downgraded the crisis early in the meeting. Lesson -- don't shy away from crisis.
2. Don't worry about inflation -- just invest in the right companies. Consumer products that don't use capital to grow or operate are great inflation hedges. Sees Candies, the tastiest of Berkshire's 70 companies, is a cash cow with pricing power. While Warren and Charlie see inflation on the horizon, they also see businesses that can quickly raise prices when costs go up as the best hedge around.
3. America is still the best place to be. As rough as the economy and the geopolitical landscape may be right now, Warren is still bullish on America. He said that given the choice to be born anywhere in the world, at any time in history, he'd still pick today in America.
4. Gold is pretty -- and that's about it. If you were to take all the gold in the world and jam it into a cube, it would be about 67 feet on each side. Warren explained that you could look at it and touch it, but that's about it. That same cube would be worth about $8 trillion. In comparison, you could buy ExxonMobil 10 times over, all the farmland in the United States and still have a trillion in pocket money. While he sees the attraction to gold right now, he believes it's in a bubble.
5. Humor is critical to a great organization. There were several times during the meeting when Warren or Charlie said downright hilarious things. Charlie's most famous quote during these meetings is "I have nothing to add." This usually comes after Warren speaks for a few minutes. During the Sokol questioning, they were asked why they weren't more harsh with the press release describing Sokol's departure from the firm. Charlie gave great advice many hotheads should embrace: "You can always tell someone to go to Hell tomorrow, if you're still mad." But the funniest moment of the meeting came in the first video montage when the entire cast of The Office made a special cameo -- "Michael's Replacement." In the video, the folks at Dunder Mifflin found out that Warren would be the new regional manager and Charlie would be his No. 2. Probably one of the funniest skits I've ever seen.
As usual, it was a great meeting. The lessons are important and every meeting inevitably produces these sorts of gems. I highly recommend that you mark down next year's event -- Saturday, May 5, 2012, in Omaha, Neb. It's hard to top the cast of The Office, but somehow, I'm sure Warren and Charlie will manage to do it.