Katie Ryerson and her father took a train from their hometown of Columbus, Ohio, to Omaha, Nebraska, for her first Berkshire Hathaway Inc. shareholder meeting, a weekend the conglomerate’s billionaire chief Warren Buffett calls “Woodstock for Capitalists.”
They were part of a crowd expected to top last year’s estimated 37,000. Shareholders filled the downtown CenturyLink Center’s 18,000-seat arena, plus overflow rooms, on Saturday for the meeting itself with the man dubbed “the Oracle of Omaha.”
“My dad bought shares of Berkshire for me when I was born,” said Ryerson, a student at Michigan’s Hillsdale College.
“It is amazing,” she said in an exhibit hall where stockholders thronged to buy products made by Berkshire units.
“So many people are dedicated to the same thing. I’m kind of overwhelmed.”
Buffett and Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger taught and entertained shareholders as they answered more than five hours of questions at the meeting, the weekend’s main event.
It was also a time for many to shop and eat.
The Fruit of the Loom unit erected crowd-control barriers after crowds overwhelmed its display area last year. A line to get inside early on Friday afternoon stretched 150-deep.
“Very interesting, like a carnival atmosphere,” Les Magee, a retired accountant from Gainesville, Florida, who was attending his first meeting, said as he waited on that line. “It’s like Disney, because of the lines.”
See’s Candies sold most of the 21,714 pounds of confections it brought. And by the time doors were closing on Saturday afternoon, Dairy Queen was down to two boxes of unsold frozen treats. It had brought 25,000 dessert bars and Blizzards.
Buffett got his usual vanilla-orange bar for free this year.
“We’re always going to buy a few things,” said Joseph Schwartze, a retired carpenter from Omaha, after he purchased Ginsu knives. “We never go to the meeting. He starts talking about derivatives, and I would go to sleep.”
Other shareholders get little sleep. As usual, several hundred lined up before daybreak on Saturday to enter the arena, many to get good seats.
They are not allowed to hold places once inside. But that is not the rule outside, where Mark Hughes, an investment adviser from Ashton, Maryland, attending his 26th meeting, said he got on line at 2:15 a.m.
“I’m here with a lot of friends,” he said. “I don’t trust them to get up in time to get a good seat.”