What it’s like for a student to meet the Oracle of Omaha
Several times a year, Warren Buffett invites business students to Omaha, Neb., to listen to the Oracle himself.
In mid-October I attended this event along with students from 10 universities and business schools. We met Buffett at the Hilton hotel in downtown Omaha, and the subsequent two-and-a-half-hour Q&A session opened the door for young people to ask Buffett about anything they pleased. His lengthy and genuine responses touched on a variety of timely topics:
Unsurprisingly, Buffett thinks coin offerings will end badly. “People get excited from big price movements, and Wall Street accommodates,” he said.
Bitcoin BTCUSD, -1.42% the mother of all digital currencies, currently trades at around $5,700, with a market cap now surpassing $90 billion. Still, Buffett remains skeptical, saying: “You can’t value bitcoin because it’s not a value-producing asset.” He added that there’s no telling how far bitcoin’s price will go and described it as a “real bubble in that sort of thing.”
Earlier this month, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway BRK.A, -0.43% BRK.B, -0.01% purchased a major stake in Pilot Travel Centers, which does business as Pilot Flying J, the largest truck-stop operator in the U.S. Buffett said he sees Pilot Flying J as a strong business, but the question is for how long.
When asked about the threat of autonomous driving and electric vehicles to the future of the trucking industry, Buffett didn’t seem too worried. He acknowledges that the shift from diesel to electric trucks and autonomous trucks would have a big effect, but doesn’t see this as a major imminent risk. Indeed, he doubts driverless vehicles will see 10% penetration by 2030.
“I don’t think I like an 18-wheeler coming down the road with no driver,” he quipped.
If autonomous driving does come along, it will be because those vehicles are safer than traditional ones.
“When you lose money at the horse races, you don’t have to make it back at the horse races.”
When asked about Berkshire’s strategy toward potential shrinkage in the insurance industry, Buffett responded with, “When you lose money at the horse races, you don’t have to make it back at the horse races, and this applies to business.”
He said there is no master plan at Berkshire except to “just keep playing the game.”
Buffett is all for clean energy. Berkshire has about $16 billion to $17 billion invested in wind and solar power, for example, plus another $3 billion to $4 billion in other clean-energy projects. He sees the world moving in the direction of clean-energy subsidies, with quicker change in the U.S. For instance, Buffett expects Iowa to be completely self-sufficient in energy through wind within three years, and he believes the days of coal plants in the U.S. are coming to an end.
Of course, with a young and ambitious audience in front of him, Buffett thoroughly covered topics related to work and life. Now 87, Buffett routinely mentions how he looks forward to going to work every day. A strong enthusiast of doing what you love, he told the students to “look for the job you would take if you didn’t need a job.”
Buffett also emphasized the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people. By interacting with people you admire and hanging out with people who are “better than you,” you will be able to continuously learn and become better yourself, he counseled. Said Buffett: “A wonderful group of friends is the biggest asset.”
With regard to careers on Wall Street, Buffett underlined that temperament is far more important than IQ. “If you can handle yourself, you can handle markets,” he said.
Buffett stressed how exciting the world is today and advised students to make the most of it. His parting advice: “Don’t forget what makes life enjoyable: being creative, and being with people you admire.”