Mr. Buffett’s Maine contribution

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Warren Buffet attending a charity fundraiser (Courtesy of the Associated Press)

On the weekend of May 1, I attended the 50th annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders’ meeting in Omaha, Nebraska with my Dad. Frequent attendees and first time visitors like myself arrived to a city bursting at its seams. My Dad and I arrived in front of the CenturyLink Center (capacity 17,500) at around 5:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, and stood in a line that snaked around one city block. When the stadium doors finally opened at 7:00 a.m., this massive eclectic group with only their share(s) of Berkshire Hathaway stock in common charged through to find their perch for the show. I was able to find two empty seats in section 203 in one of the upper levels. For the next 6 hours, I listened to Chairman Warren Buffett (age 84) and Vice-Chairman Charlie Munger (age 91) field questions on company culture, declining sugar consumption, capital allocation, monetary policy and everything in between.

Many of the fellow spectators hung on their every word, while some of us occasionally nodded off. My business acumen paled in comparison to much of the audience, but I was able to follow along during certain discussions (thanks to my professors at Colby!). Mr. Buffett and Mr. Munger also successfully weaved their wit and good humor into the discussions, energizing the crowd in the process. The rapport between the two men brought the sold-out crowd to much applause and laughter. The most impressive moments came when Mr. Buffett and Mr. Munger imparted advice on topics that could be understood by all. Their discussions on human behavior were quite elementary, which is why they were so brilliant.

When a seventh-grade boy from the crowd asked about making friends and getting people to like you, Mr. Buffett instructed him to simply write down three qualities you like about someone that you admire. Mr. Munger delivered a similar straightforward response when asked about what matters most to him: “Your main duty is to become as rational as you can be. I admire people that see it the way it is.” In a business that often appears to require superior intelligence and complex technical skills, Mr. Buffett and Mr. Munger have proven that maybe rationality and emotional stability are its only prerequisites. This is a promising notion.

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Harold Alfond

Later in the day, as my eyes began to get heavy, I heard Mr. Buffett mention Dexter Shoe. I sat up a little taller in my seat and listened to him speak about “his most memorable failure.” Mr. Buffett detailed his acquisition of the Dexter Shoe Company, owned and operated by Mr. Harold Alfond, in 1993. He most regrets paying for Dexter Shoe in Berkshire Hathaway stock, as the value of his company’s stock has increased significantly over the last twenty years (roughly 15 times). While foreign competition has been ruinous for Dexter Shoe, the legacy of the company lives on. Mr. Alfond and his foundation have used those gains to make many charitable donations to colleges, local sports facilities and hospitals in Maine.

Mr. Buffett filled the stands that day with people who all benefited from Berkshire Hathaway in one way or another. They not only came to listen to him and ask him questions, but also to thank him. Mr. Buffett made no mention of Colby College or Waterville, but our community has been a great beneficiary of Berkshire Hathaway (even if it is to Mr. Buffett’s chagrin). The state of Maine is a better place because of Mr. Alfond and his foundation. Thank you, Mr. Buffett.

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