Sunday, May 6, 2007

Day Two: Bloodshot eyes and adrenaline.

20070505-IMG_5692.jpg, originally uploaded by Buffett Jr.
I am visiting from central Texas. I live in tornado alley. So when I tell you that last night was hit by a ferocious storm, that statement is not to be taken lightly. And the remnants of that storm were still in full effect when I got up at 5am. Normally, I would already be in line by this point, but we decided to try out my friend' Mike's secret spot in the upper deck, which didn't require such hardcore dedication. Still though, four hours of sleep (when you know I couldn’t sleep the night before) was still tough this year. Despite the enormous storm that had persisted through the night (and was still throwing down lightening bolts every few minutes), people had camped out in line since 1 am. I heard rumors that the first person got there at 11 pm the night before, but I never verified this.

After securing our seats:

20070505-IMG_5741.jpg, originally uploaded by Buffett Jr.
we headed to the exhibit area, where I saw the second longest line that has ever occurred at the annual meetings. Berkshire had a surprise offering of real 41 cent stamps of Warren and Charlie being sold in sheets. To my knowledge, no one had known about this. If I had, I would have walked right in off the street and let others secure the seats. Only 5,000 sheets were produced, and each person could purchase up to five sheets, which they almost surely did after waiting in line for probably two hours. I personally decided I would rather spend my time at the meeting rather than in line, knowing full well that with every person buying five sets you could just buy one of the sets on eBay three days later for less than $50. They appear to be going for 20 bucks now.

Walking past this, I headed over to the Justin Boots display just in time to see Warren climbing up on stage with his ukulele and playing a song with a country band:

20070505-IMG_5715.jpg, originally uploaded by Buffett Jr.
Before he started, he tested out the microphone (“testing, testing, one billion, two billion”) and then said "I may well be looking for another job soon. This is my first audition. Maybe my last" (a reference to his plans to find a young new Chief Investment Officer to replace him). He ended with "watch for us on 'American Idol.'" He then wandered around meeting all the vendors, picking up some Dairy Queen, and singing a repeat of "If You Knew Susie" with the Fuit of the Loom guys like the one he free styled last year (which I caught on film).

20070505-IMG_5716.jpg, originally uploaded by Buffett Jr.
I hate to say it, but the meeting was a little bit of a disappointment this year. There will always be repeat questions, but it seemed like there were a far higher number this year than last. Between last year's meeting, the press conference, and the interviews I have read or watched throughout the year, I feel like I could have answered almost every question myself for both Warren and Charlie. On top of that, the protesters were also a bit more aggressive this year and managed to get up to the microphone on three separate occasions.

This is the first meeting I could recall in three years (and ten years of reading) that did not contain a "why don't you pay dividends" or "when are you going to split the stock" question. The whole meeting was just…off in a weird way.

A lot of the merchandise on hand was also the exact same as last year, and all the retailers stopped giving away free samples. You used to be able to walk out off the hall with a bag so loaded down schwag that you had to make a separate trip to the hotel to come back for the things you bought. Now, Benjamin Moore even makes you pay $1 to take a small paint sample home with you.

Don't let me give you the wrong impression though, the meeting and exhibits were still a blast.

20070505-IMG_5737.jpg, originally uploaded by Buffett Jr.
And afterwards, I got to do something I had always wanted to do but had never gotten the chance; head out to Eppley Airfield to play with the Netjets planes. Today, there were five separate planes on hand, each with a captain and first officer answering questions at the door. The highlight was the enormous Gulfstream 4 that greeted us at the entrance into the hangar.

20070505-IMG_5795.jpg, originally uploaded by Buffett Jr.

20070505-IMG_5787.jpg, originally uploaded by Buffett Jr.

20070505-IMG_5790.jpg, originally uploaded by Buffett Jr.

After this, we headed over to a hotel for "Of Permanent Value" author Andy Kilpatrick's 2007 International Party. Andy is a great guy, and very generous. The party provided dinner with another open bar and great conversation. While I was there, I ran into two-time U.S. Chess Champion Patrick Wolff. Patrick is the guy who whooped me in 2005 while playing five other people at the same time.

20070505-IMG_5801.jpg, originally uploaded by Buffett Jr.

After this was dinner at Drover's and another party at the Upstream Brewery in the old market. Another great time was had here, with everyone going around the table and giving their best stock idea. Each was followed with a thesis.

By the time the clock struck 12, we realized we were out much too late and headed quickly for home in even more pounding rain of the sort that would give central Texas a run for its money in tornado season.


Josh Minton said...

Too funny, man. I work in NetJets Sales and was at this event. I remember seeing you guys walking down the stairs from the GIV-SP and taking pictures. Great shots--it was a hell of a great meeting, wasn't it?

Rick said...

Ah yes, the Richard Nixon shots. Well if you're going to do it right, you've got to do it up big.

Yeah, a great meeting again. Already planning next year -- my fourth consecutive. Warren's book comes out next year too, so the exhibit hall is going to be mayhem.