Visits with Mr. Warren Buffett
Business magnate, philanthropist, guru, and investor are some of the words that come to mind when most people think of Mr. Warren Buffett. As one of the most successful investors in the world, and certainly one of the most well known, the man seems untouchable. However, on October 16, 2015, Mr. Buffett invited 18 undergraduate and two graduate students representing NAU-The W. A. Franke College of Business (FCB) for a visit with him in Omaha, Nebraska, the ninth such invitation made to FCB students. The trip included a question and answer session along with tours of two of Berkshire Hathaway’s companies.
Students who went on the trip came away with words of wisdom from the investing titan, and, for some, a renewed excitement for the possibilities of an industry that reaches far beyond financial power.
One of the questions asked of Mr. Buffett was, “What qualities do you find in successful people?” Franke students found his response fascinating.
“Successful people he has interacted with are focused. They are following a passion that they have,” recalled MBA student Mike Deloge.
“There are three qualities that Berkshire Hathaway looks for in the people that they hire: Integrity, brains, and energy. [Mr. Buffett] said, if they don’t have integrity, we don’t want them with brains and energy,” Deloge said.
MBA student Daniel Phillips had a similar takeaway.
“[Mr. Buffett] said, ‘When you focus on your passions in life, there are no risks.’”
Phillips also recalled the tour of Oriental Trading Company’s fulfillment center as one of the highlights of his trip.
“The tour that we got was very thorough. It was amazing to see how the technology there came into play.”
At the Nebraska Furniture Mart, Phillips was impressed with an app that would show you the location of whatever item you are looking for in the store.
Senior Hannah Speer noticed Mr. Buffett’s influence in Berkshire Hathaway’s stores.
“One thing both Nebraska Furniture Mart and the Oriental Trading Company had in common were their management styles. Although they’re entirely different companies, both had a really interpersonal aspect to them, which is something that is very important to Mr. Buffett. He passed that down to his management,” Speer recalled.
Students on the trip were also surprised at the openness of Mr. Buffett himself.
“I expected him to have a very closed-down personality; to not want to open up to us. Instead, he was very personable. He treated us as though we were aspiring individuals who wanted to be successful,” said junior Sierra Lobianco.
“…he talked about our futures. He told us that in searching for an individual to spend our lives with, like a spouse, we should look for someone who makes us the best individual we can be,” Lobianco recalled.
Lobianco grew up hearing of Mr. Buffett, and his contributions to the investment world.
“My dad always said, ‘Live like Warren,’ and for the longest time, I actually thought Warren Buffett was a member of my family. To finally meet him and hear everything that I’ve heard for the last 13 years growing up, and to actually shake his hand was a very unique experience,” she said.
Some students, like junior Celeste Tuon, have had their eye on this opportunity for quite some time.
“When I first got [to FCB] as a freshman, I remember walking by the Buffett wall with my parents and admiring it. I remember thinking, ‘this has to be a goal that I go for.’ So once the opportunity did come around, I put much time and effort into it. My parents were never prouder,” she said.
Junior Alyssa Kewenvoyouma had the opportunity to ride with Mr. Buffett on the way to lunch and sit next to him there.
“You don’t feel like you’re sitting next to someone who’s a billionaire,” Kewenvuouma said. “He’s a very humble man.”
Kewenvoyouma shared with Mr. Buffett her interest in economic development and being an advocate for Native American tribes.
“He told me that what I wanted to do was great. His granddaughter is actually married to a Ho-Chunk man, so he suggested that I get in contact with him,” Kewenvoyouma said.
“He talked about the importance of communication. He said, ‘If you don’t know how to communicate, it’s like winking at a girl in the dark.’
“It was an amazing experience. …an opportunity that I will be telling my grandchildren about.”
Although all of the students took the same tours and attended the same sessions, each student had a personal takeaway from this opportunity.
However, the general consensus seems to be similar to what Deloge said about his time on the trip: “It was one of the highlights of my time here [at NAU].”
More about this amazing opportunity
Scott Coor (’76 MKT), Trendwood Inc., utilized his connection with Mr. Buffett through his furniture company for FCB students to be considered for their first invitation in Fall 2006. The students impressed Mr. Buffett with their appreciation of his Life Lessons beyond the financial arena. This has kept them in consideration since.
Travel for this year’s trip was sponsored entirely by Keith (’79 FIN/ECO) and Cindy (’80 MBA) Newlon, owners of Pioneer Title Holding Company which owns Pioneer Title Agency and Yavapai Title Agency. He is also an FCB Alumni Hall of Fame member and serves on the NAU Foundation Board.
Marc Chopin, professor of economics, accompanied the students on the trip. “While Scott Coor was not able to join us this year in Omaha, he called while we were there. On the Friday of Homecoming we were able to coordinate a meeting with Scott and most of the students who went on the trip,” he said. “It was difficult to tell who was happier during that meeting—the students telling Scott of their takeaways from the trip, or Scott as he listened to the students!”
Chopin went on to speak on behalf of the students. “I was extremely proud of the manner in which our students conducted themselves as they took their place beside students from many other prestigious universities. To a person, they presented themselves in the most professional manner and expressed their appreciation to all who made the trip possible.”