Today I want to tell you about an experience I was fortunate to have recently, how the experience came to be, and what I learned from it.
The experience I had was to attend the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders meeting. Berkshire Hathaway is a holding company which oversees and manages a number of subsidiary companies. The CEO of the organization is Warren Buffet. The Vice-Chairman is Charlie Munger. The meeting was held in the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, NE. Approximately 40,000 people turned out for the event.
Honestly it was like being at a rock concert. There was a stage at the far end of the arena. When the time came for the meeting to begin, the room got dark, spotlights started whirling around, confetti fell from above, then the curtain was drawn back and out walked Charlie Munger and Warren Buffet. The place erupted in applause and even some cheers. Then, they simply went and sat down at the table that was on the stage, and opened the meeting.
I know what you may be thinking, “THAT was exciting?” Oh my yes! Before they got down to business, Warren took time to introduce his board. This was something that had briefly tickled my brain in the weeks leading up to the meeting, but I had sort of forgotten about unti that moment. Then I remembered, “His son, Howard, is on the board – oh wow! Howard Buffet!” (Someone I greatly admire.) And, then immediately I remembered THE BEST part – also on the board is Bill Gates! Buffet announces his name – “Bill Gates” – and this figure rises from his seat. I was in the same room with not only Warren Buffet, but Bill Gates! Granted, we were separated by several thousand people, but I saw him with my own eyes!
Once the introductions were finished, it was time for the main part of the meeting to begin – the Question and Answer session. This amounted to Warren and Charlie sitting at that table on that stage and answering 7 hours worth of questions, ranging anywhere from general philosophies of life to specific details about the companies that they run.
And now you may be wondering again, “And THAT was exciting?” Again, yes! And, I’ll tell you why in a moment, but first I want to share with you how the opportunity came to be.
It was while I was on my trip to Africa. One evening, two of the trip participants were having a conversation while I happened to be walking by. They were talking about economics and investing, two subjects that always make my ears perk up. So, I sort of inserted myself into the conversation. Well, then one of them mentioned hearing Warren Buffet speak. I said, “When and where will that be?” He said, “In May, but it’s a shareholders meeting and you have to be a member to attend.” “Oh drats,” I thought to myself. But, then he said, “But, I’m a member and I can get you a ticket.” I couldn’t believe it! I said, “Are you serious?” I’ll never forget what he said, “I’m as serious as a heart attack.” Then I knew, I was going to get to see Warren Buffet in concert!
What I learned from the whole experience: probably the most profound lesson came when one young man stood up at the meeting and asked the following question (summarizing here): “How do you really succeed in business if you weren’t fortunate enough to attend one of the top business schools and therefore do not have access to that prestigious alumni network?”
Charlie Munger was the first to offer an answer. He said, with a little bit of levity in his voice, “Well, I never went to business school.” Chuckles throughout the arena. It’s true, he didn’t go to a prestigious business school. He did go to Harvard LAW school, but he continued with his point. He said, (again, summarizing here), “Look, you just need to play the hand you’ve been dealt.” I’m sitting there thinking, “seriously? Like, ‘bloom where you’re planted?’, like ‘be in the right place at the right time?'” But, Buffet chimed in with a similar response to the question. Their point was to take a look at your surroundings, where are you right now, at this place and time, and what can you make out of where you find yourself to be. Buffet went to college at a local university – U of NE – Lincoln. Then, he went on the get his master’s in economics at Columbia University. But, he didn’t become who he is today simply because of where he went to school. I would proffer the opposite to be true. He went where he did because he made the most of every opportunity leading up to those experiences. He didn’t wait for something to happen to him. He deliberately made something out of every moment.
I thought to myself, “I buy that.” I believe it. I realize there are some people who do have greater advantages than others simply because of connections they are afforded due to where they were born or maybe the family into which they were born. But, there are also countless stories of people who have risen far above seemingly hopeless circumstances to become hugely successful in their lives, successful here not meaning simply financial wealth but overall happiness and satisfaction with life.
And, I thought about the notion of making something out of a situation in which you find yourself, and I thought about being on a trip to Africa, and walking by two guys having a conversation about economics, and stopping long enough to be offered a ticket to hear Warren Buffet speak, and then this was the lesson I learned, that, yeah, there is opportunity everywhere, you just have to be watching for it, with vigilance.
Every day. Every day you are “in the right place at the right time.” Believe it for yourself and you will discover it’s true.
Enjoy the day, my friends!