The Notre Dame MBA

MBA NEWS

Dining with an oracle: MBAs meet Warren Buffet

by Carol Elliott Notre Dame News and Information

December 5, 2008


Nick Shirk, 2010 MBA candidate at the University of Notre Dame, had dinner with Warren Buffett the other day. The steak was good. Meeting Buffett was priceless.

“He does not disappoint,” said Shirk, who plans a career in investment management. “He comes across as being very sharp and well-read, yet he seems to somehow have avoided letting it go to his head. Possibly living in Omaha helps.”

The Notre Dame MBA Finance Club – 26 students accompanied by Jerry Langley, a professional specialist in the finance department – visited Buffett on Nov. 21, 2008. This was the club’s second trip to Omaha in as many years.

Buffett, nicknamed the “Oracle of Omaha,” is the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and consistently ranked by Forbes magazine as either the No. 1 or No. 2 most wealthy American, with a fortune currently valued above $50 billion. Renowned for an investment style that adheres to a value-investing philosophy, Buffett also is known for his personal frugality and philanthropy. In 2006, he irrevocably earmarked the majority of his Berkshire shares for charity, mostly to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He has given shares worth about $6 billion so far.

For several years now, Buffett has chosen to speak only to student groups. Seven days during the year, he hosts MBA students from a total of 48 schools. He spends several hours with the students, answering their investment questions. Then he takes them to dinner at his favorite hometown restaurant, Piccolo’s (also known as Piccolo Pete’s), tablehopping so that everyone gets a little face-time. Other business schools in attendance included University of Nebraska, University of Toronto, Wake Forest, University of California-Berkeley and the University of Michigan.

Shirk was selected to ask Buffett a question during the Q&A period that Fox Business Channel was videotaping for a special called “Buffett U,” which was televised on Dec. 4, 2008. He asked about the role of the government in reducing the risk of another mortgage crisis. “He gave a response discussing the potential implications that people in government would have faced if they had tried to tighten lending or taken steps to address the housing bubble several years ago,” said Shirk. “Politicians would have had a hard time raising these concerns at that time, even if they were valid.”

Shirk was struck by how low-key and approachable Buffett was. “He does not have a computer on his desk. He drove himself to the restaurant and allowed several students to ride with him.”

Buffett’s best advice for students? “He said that taking a Dale Carnegie public speaking course was more valuable than any of the courses he took in college,” said Shirk. “He said the ability to communicate was a very valuable skill that played a critical role in his success.”

During Notre Dame’s visit, there was a bit of breaking news when Buffett commented that he didn’t think President-elect Barack Obama would change tax rates right now, given the current economic conditions. But he also said that he believes high tax rates won’t cause negative investing behavior. “I don’t think it’s abusive that those luckiest in society end up giving greater portions of their salary and their money back to society,” Buffett said.

He also commented on his recent purchases of GE and Goldman Sachs stock, as well as several stocks he has sold.

To view the Fox Business story about the visit, click [here].

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