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Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting 2024

May 08, 2024 | Steve Ross


This year's meeting paid tribute to Charlie Munger, who passed away in November 2023, just shy of his 100th birthday.

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My 22nd trip to Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting was filled with the usual excitement that I experienced during past shareholders’ weekends in Omaha. As you may recall from my 2023 Berkshire letter, last year was particularly special for me since I had the unique opportunity to have a short, private meeting with Vice Chairman Charlie Munger. Sadly, Charlie passed away last November 28, just 33 days shy of reaching 100 years old. Much of this year’s meeting was devoted to celebrating Charlie’s life and legacy as “architect” of Berkshire Hathaway. I arrived, as usual, at the CHI Health Center at 4:35am to get good seats for the 7am door opening, and I was a bit shocked that so many people had already shown up before me! Many of the shareholders whom I met were first-time attendees, as was my travel companion for the trip, my Ross Group colleague, Joanne Yecies. The meeting typically kicks off with a video presentation, and this year the 30-minute video was a tribute to Charlie. A range of emotions was felt among the 35,000 shareholders in attendance, since so many have observed Charlie’s incalculable wisdom and brilliance over the years. Charlie will be remembered as being humble and self-effacing, and he only typically spoke up when he had something relevant to add to a conversation. Most of the meeting encompassed questions from both shareholders and CNBC’s Becky Quick. Warren Buffett would first respond and then yield to Co-Vice Chairmen, Greg Abel and Ajit Jain, who sat next to him on the dais. One striking moment took place early in the session when Warren responded at length to a shareholder’s question. Afterwards, out of sheer habit, Warren turned to his left and asked “Charlie?”, only to see that Greg Abel was now seated next to him. It had never been clearer that Warren had such a long friendship and partnership with Charlie, and that natural, spontaneous response from Warren said it all! Warren added a few more valuable comments about his best friend. “We did everything together. We had as much fun with things that failed because we had to dig out together. Charlie was not only interested in the world at age 99, but the world was interested in him.” As I absorbed the essence and flow of the annual meeting, one thought reverberated in my mind. Charlie Munger’s absence was felt throughout the arena. There was a clear void; we missed his unique ability to take a complicated topic and quickly decompose the subject into rational, simple, and understandable terms. It was an art that Charlie Munger mastered! Warren’s grasp of all the moving parts around Berkshire’s business was still sharp, but it was clear that he was really hurting inside and did his best to forge ahead without Charlie next to him. The questions from the meeting revealed a specific insight by those in attendance. Shareholders are thinking about the future leadership at Berkshire Hathaway since Warren Buffett is approaching the age of 94. The “deep bench” of executives at Berkshire certainly have the skill set and smarts to run the company and its many businesses. But none will ever be able to fill the shoes of Warren & Charlie. They epitomized the dynamic duo. Warren said that he has significantly reduced his managerial role at Berkshire and has yielded much of the management to his executives. In fact, Warren said that his designated successor, Greg Abel, will have the final word on Berkshire’s investing decisions when he is gone. If that is not a sign of confidence, I am not sure what is. That said, there is one thing I believe will test time – the unique culture at Berkshire Hathaway. My wife Lori often teases me that I sometimes have the “emotion of an amoeba.” But at this year’s meeting, my emotions were out of whack over the loss of Charlie, and I wished that he could be there so we could enjoy his brilliance for just one more day. May his memory be a blessing.