I recently attended the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha, Nebraska. Although it was a fun trip overall, I made a lot of mistakes in the planning and execution. Here are some of the lessons I learned; hopefully they will help anybody hoping to attend the meeting in the future.
1. Book your hotel early. No, even earlier than that. By November, when I first inquired, the downtown hotels were fully booked. When I followed through in late March, there were only a few hotel rooms left in all of Omaha itself (and neighbouring Council Bluffs, Iowa).
2. Try to stay in one of the hotels that have shuttle service to the meeting, or at least a hotel not too far away from Qwest Centre. You should be able to find one for well under $150/night. I ended up staying at a nice Super 8 at a highway junction Missouri Valley in rural Iowa, about 26 miles from the meeting. I thought this was rather clever, as I cut my hotel bill to $50/night. Then I discovered that car rentals started at $100/day that weekend. A city hotel plus taxi service (or better yet, shuttle service) would have been cheaper overall.
3. Don’t rent a car. As I mentioned, they cost $100/day that weekend. The main taxi companies put extra taxis on the road for the meeting, and I never had a problem hailing one. If you have to take a cab to rural Iowa (ahem), ask for the hourly rate of $23 (ca. 2009). You can usually take free shuttles between the Qwest Centre and the other events.
4. Get to the meeting early to get a decent seat, and bring a friend. That way one of you can hold the seats, and the other can get food, etc. I ended up having to find a new seat each time I came back from the bathroom, and with 35,000 attendees, the stadium was packed. Don’t bother with the overflow seating; the sound is not very loud and it’s just as crowded, but without the ambience.
5. If you don’t have a good seat, check out the Club Lounge. It’s pretty comfortable and there are decent video monitors to watch the meeting on.
6. Attend all the events that weekend. (Shareholders will receive a guide to the weekend events.) The meeting itself is too much of a gong show to really meet anybody, but the other events are relaxed enough to strike up conversation with fellow pilgrims. But be sure to stay for the whole Q&A period with Buffet and Munger on Saturday morning — that’s kind of the whole point of the weekend, despite what you may have heard about Nebraska Furniture Mart.
7. One exception to the last bit of advice: Don’t feel obliged to go shopping at the exhibition, unless you really want to buy a World Book Encyclopedia.
8. The folks at the Omaha Visitors Centre (a few blocks north of the Qwest center) are super nice.
9. If you forget to get your meeting credentials mailed to you, the line at Shareholder Services is pretty short at 08:00. You’ll need a brokerage statement (to prove you’re a shareholder) and some ID.
10. Apparently you don’t actually have to purchase a share to acquire meeting credentials. I read later that Berkshire sells credentials on Ebay to undercut scalpers.
11. The “continental breakfast” at the meeting is a selection of packaged donuts and danishes, and the lunch is a $13 sandwich. Stick to the greek food carts (mmm, gyros) and the fruit smoothie stand. Or even the restaurant across the street at the Hilton.
12. There were a surprising (ie. non-zero) number of families there. It must have been awfully boring and crowded for the youngsters there.
13. Comfortable shoes.