Buffett poses with students Shimony and Nelson.
Words of Wisdom from Warren Buffett
Ross students caravan to billionaire's Berkshire Hathaway.
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Investor Warren Buffett recently hosted Ross School of Business students at his home base in Omaha where members of the school’s Entrepreneur and Venture Club (EVC) tapped the Berkshire Hathaway chairman/CEO for wisdom and inspiration.
In mid-November, 27 representatives of the Ross EVC trekked to Nebraska in rented vans for a one-day conference and Q&A session. They joined students representing six schools across the U.S. and Canada, and no topic seemed to be off limits, says Kelly McKenzie, MBA/MSW '09. Buffett answered questions regarding everything from why he supported President-Elect Barack Obama in the 2008 election to what he thinks will happen to struggling Detroit automakers.
"He wanted hard-hitting questions," McKenzie says. But Buffett also was eager to share personal insights regarding his participation in philanthropic endeavors, especially those combating global poverty. "He said we are all products of society, and that he is who he is because he was born in a particular place, in a particular time. If he had been born somewhere else at a different time, he wouldn't be where he is today," she says. "It was inspiring that someone who doesn't need to care, does."
Buffett also was clear about his support of meritocracies rather than aristocracies based on inherited wealth. He does not believe in creating generations of entitled people, a theme that hit home for McKenzie.
"Being an MBA/MSW, my goal is to work with communities to encourage new entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and achieve things based on their own merit," she says. "Buffett's message was that we don't necessarily have systems in place that support success based on merit right now."
After the Q&A session, the approximately 160 conference attendees took photos with Buffett and joined him for lunch at Piccolo Pete's, a favorite local spot where all the waitresses know him.
EVC Co-President Aaron Nelson, MBA/MA '09, drove to the restaurant with Buffett in his car, a “modest gold Cadillac.” During the ride, Buffett asked Nelson about his interests and goals and reminded him to pursue a career about which he is truly passionate. "He told us to figure out what we're good at and do it," Nelson says.
For EVC Co-President Yogev Shimony, MBA '09, the conference and Q&A helped him understand a little bit about the way Buffett’s mind works. "He doesn't try to do anything he doesn't understand," Shimony says. "He knows what he knows." And for all his success, Buffett was anything but arrogant, he adds. "He's like a nice granddad."
Though it's tempting to think of Buffett as a kindly elder who will "sit down and chat with everybody like it's no big deal," according to Nelson, the sign above Buffett's office door assures no one will forget why he is who he is: "Invest like a champion today," it reads.
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