Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett is known as the Oracle of Omaha, and each year, investors gather to hear his wisdom at the company's annual shareholder meeting. Buffett took control of Berkshire, which was then a failing textile company, in the mid-1960s. Under his leadership, Berkshire has grown into one of the world's largest conglomerates. As a result, he and other longtime shareholders have become extremely wealthy.

Berkshire Hathaway has in some ways set the standard for lavish annual meetings. The daylong, carnival-like atmosphere features comedy skits, disco balls, music, celebrities like Bill Gates, and even dancing characters from the various companies in the BH portfolio, including the GEICO gecko. Live online coverage of the proceedings provides real-time updates for those individuals who are interested in the event but unable to attend.

All it takes is a single share to be considered a stockholder and join the party. You can own either the company's Class A shares, trading around $425,000 as of May 2021 or the more affordable Class B shares (around $280 each).

Key Takeaways

  • Berkshire Hathaway is the holding company run by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, which includes stakes in businesses such as GEICO and Fruit of the Loom.
  • Berkshire's annual shareholder meetings are lavish spectacles, featuring a keynote speech by Mr. Buffett himself.
  • To attend a shareholder meeting, you'll need to own one or more of the company's pricey Class A shares or the more moderately priced Class B shares.
  • Non-shareholders can still buy guest passes to attend.

The Lure of Berkshire

Buffett’s record of creating shareholder value has made Berkshire Hathaway’s annual general meeting an anticipated event in the world of finance. Retail investors typically choose not to attend annual meetings, but they make an exception for Berkshire. For many years, about 40,000 Berkshire shareholders from around the planet have traveled to Omaha, Neb. The event has become known as "Woodstock for Capitalists" in the financial press.

Shareholder meetings are generally administrative sessions that follow a specific format set forth well in advance of the meeting. The format dictates parliamentary procedure, the amount of time allocated for each speaker, and procedures for shareholders who wish to make statements. A corporate secretary, attorney, or another official often presides over the process. Even for a behemoth like Berkshire, the business portion of the agenda takes only about 20 minutes. The election of directors and votes on shareholder proposals are handled in a largely scripted manner. At the conclusion of the meeting, the minutes are formally recorded.

Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting provides a way to learn from the world’s most respected investor, Warren Buffett. The gathering is also an excellent opportunity to network with other shareholders of the company.

Here is a guide for anyone who is considering attending the upcoming Berkshire shareholder meeting.

The Berkshire Hathaway 2021 annual meeting, held as a live-streamed-only event on May 1, 2021, featured an unscripted surprise. Vice-Chairman Charlie Munger made a casual remark that indicated Warren Buffett would be succeeded as CEO by Greg Abel when Buffett eventually steps down. Abel is CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Energy and Vice Chairman in charge of noninsurance operations.

Who Can Attend?

For the most part, and as the name implies, Berkshire’s annual shareholder meeting is for the company’s shareholders. The primary purpose of the gathering is to give shareholders an overview of Berkshire’s performance during the last year. It also gives everyone a chance to learn the company's plans going forward. Both investors and the media can pose important questions about the company to the management team. At the 2019 meeting, Buffett and Vice-Chairman Charlie Munger answered questions for almost six hours.

Although it's for shareholders, being a shareholder of Berkshire Hathaway is technically not a requirement to attend the shareholder meeting. Having a meeting pass, however, is. Holders of both classes of Berkshire Hathaway stock (BRK.A and BRK.B) can request up to four passes—which they generally do via a form they receive with their annual reports.

If you are a shareholder and aren’t able to receive your passes in time, you can visit the lobby of the CHI Health Center Omaha, the site of the meeting, the day before. You'll have to show identification and proof of stock ownership, like a brokerage account statment.

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Warren Buffett's Probability Analysis Advantage

What If I Am Not a Shareholder?

People who are not Berkshire shareholders can buy a pass from a shareholder, who often sell extras on the secondary ticket market. eBay (EBAY) is one popular marketplace where Berkshire meeting passes can be found a few weeks before the event. They typically go for between $10 to $25 each.

Note that these passes are required to go to all shareholder events taking place throughout the week of the meeting.

Passes also give you discounts on items sold by Berkshire subsidiaries during the week.

Planning Ahead

With tens of thousands attending, it is critical to plan your trip to Omaha many months in advance. As Warren Buffett once said, “Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” When you consider the costs of lodging, airfare, and dining, attending the meeting can get expensive. That is especially true if you wish to take advantage of the sales offered by Berkshire subsidiaries. Justin Boots, Dairy Queen, and See's Candies set up shop at the main meeting and other shareholder events.

And they do a brisk business. As an example, in Berkshire's 2012 annual report, Buffett shared some of the sales statistics for the previous year's meeting. He said, "Last year, you [shareholders] did your part, and most locations racked up record sales. In a nine-hour period, we sold 1,090 pairs of Justin boots, (that's a pair every 30 seconds), 10,010 pounds of See's candy, 12,879 Quikut knives (24 knives per minute), and 5,784 pairs of Wells Lamont gloves, always a hot item. But you can do better. Remember: Anyone who says money can't buy happiness simply hasn't shopped at our meeting."

The Bottom Line

Warren Buffett sure draws a big crowd for someone without a guitar. His company's annual general meeting is one of the most attended events in the business world. The point of the gathering is to update shareholders on the company's recent performance. However, being a shareholder is not a requirement for admission. All that one needs for entry is a meeting pass. The meeting brings tens of thousands of visitors to Omaha. That makes it almost impossible to secure a flight and a place to stay at the last minute. Potential attendees should plan and budget for the meeting months in advance.