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Warren Buffett’s ‘Woodstock for Capitalists’ a Smaller Affair After Pandemic

Warren Buffett’s ‘Woodstock for Capitalists’ a Smaller Affair After Pandemic

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc will hold its annual shareholder meeting in person on Saturday for the first time since before the pandemic, but the extravaganza dubbed “Woodstock for Capitalists” is likely to see fewer people and pared-back events.

Buffett, 91, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire, and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, 98, will answer shareholder questions for roughly five hours when the meeting convenes in Omaha, Nebraska.

Shareholders likely will address issues such as recent investments, a still-swollen cash pile, share buybacks, rising inflation and supply chain disruptions, and even whether someone other than Buffett should chair the company.

Joining them will be Vice Chairmen Greg Abel, Buffett’s designated successor as CEO, and Ajit Jain.

Many shareholders, however, go for more than just the meeting.

Events around the city over three days include a 5-km run (3.11 miles), shareholder shopping from dozens of Berkshire-owned businesses at the downtown CHI Health Center arena where the meeting takes place, and several private investing conferences.

“You’re selling as fast as the cash register will ring,” said Phillip Black, co-owner of the Bookworm, the only non-Berkshire business selling at the arena. He said weekend sales have topped $100,000 in past years. “You’re kind of glad when it’s over so you can get a little rest.”

Still, shareholders will notice changes, beyond needing proof of COVID-19 vaccination to attend events.

Berkshire expects attendance to be “considerably less” than the 40,000, many from overseas, common in recent meetings. The 2019 meeting, the last in-person meeting before the pandemic, added $21.3 million to Omaha’s economy.

“I attended for 25 years in a row before COVID,” said James Armstrong, a principal at Henry H. Armstrong Associates in Pittsburgh. “But I’m just not going to make the trip. I’m not doing much flying yet.”

Occupancy rates in the Omaha area’s 15,608 hotel rooms, as measured by data firm STR Inc, may fall short of the usual 90% to 95%, with more rooms at lower rates beckoning late travelers.

Borsheims won’t pitch its familiar outdoor tent with live entertainment and a buffet smorgasbord at the mall housing the Berkshire-owned jeweler, though cocktails will be available.

And a shareholder favorite–the newspaper toss where Buffett displayed skills he once used as a paperboy–has been scrapped.

Armstrong, like many others, plans to watch the meeting online at cnbc.com. Berkshire first webcast meetings in 2016.

Still, the weekend nonetheless should add many millions of dollars to Berkshire’s coffers.

Shareholders can buy a pontoon boat from Berkshire’s Forest River unit and designed by “Margaritaville” singer Jimmy Buffett (no relation).

Frugal shoppers can again spend $5 at Oriental Trading for cherubic Buffett and Munger rubber ducks. And those not on a diet can scarf up the 21,085 pounds (9,564 kg) of peanut brittle and other treats that See’s Candies are bringing.

Deborah Ward, executive director of Visit Omaha, said “the energy in the city was lost” when Berkshire moved its 2020 and 2021 shareholder meetings online.

“It will be nice to have that energy back,” she said. “Being associated with Berkshire helps Omaha’s brand a great deal. Warren Buffett could live anywhere in the world. He chooses to live here.”

David Brown, who retires next week after 19 years leading the Greater Omaha Chamber, said many businesses not affiliated with Berkshire schedule events around the weekend.

“Berkshire has for us been the annual Super Bowl of business,” he said. “That means they’re filling up bars, restaurants, and stores. You can feel the lift it gives.”

Marta Keller, general manager of the downtown M’s Pub, said some Berkshire customers book a year in advance. M’s creates a special menu for them.

“There will be a rib eye, a beef tenderloin. Everybody talks about Nebraska being about beef,” Keller said. “We keep it simple, but we’re trying to be creative because food has gotten so expensive.”

At the Bookworm, all books have Buffett’s seal of approval.

New this year are Nancy Rips’ updated “My New Berkshire ABC” for children (A is for Apple, a big Berkshire investment), and a book on Berkshire’s evolution from a failing textile mill that Buffett finally closed in 1985, twenty years after taking over.

“Mr. Buffett likes to educate shareholders,” Black said. “It will show how he put his capital into something that really wasn’t good and reallocated it in a more productive way.”

Borsheims Chief Executive Karen Goracke said the jeweler sells as much during the week as in the Christmas season. She and other CEOs of Berkshire businesses will again dine together this weekend.

“I saw Warren about a week ago,” Goracke said this week. “He’s in great spirits, and just happy to have the meeting in person again. He loves to do it. He’s energized by it.”

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