Higher education

University of Iowa students meet the 'Oracle of Omaha'

Warren Buffett invited a group of MBA students to Omaha Friday

Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, prepares to speak at the Fortune’s Most Powerful Women’s Summit in Washington, D.C., U.S. on October 13, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, prepares to speak at the Fortune’s Most Powerful Women’s Summit in Washington, D.C., U.S. on October 13, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
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A group of University of Iowa MBA students got the chance Friday to hang out with Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor commonly known as the “Oracle of Omaha.”

Despite being the second-richest person in the world, according to Forbes magazine, the Berkshire Hathaway CEO came off as genuine and humble, said Dave Deyak, the assistant dean to the UI’s full-time MBA program.

“Sometimes you have this vision of these celebrity figures when you meet them. In this case, he was very authentic, very down to earth,” Deyak said by phone during their return trip. “I think that’s probably one of the keys to his success.”

For the past 11 years, the UI’s MBA program has gone on the trip to Omaha, Neb., invited by Buffett’s company. The group of 21 students, along with students from other universities, toured two of Buffett’s businesses, Nebraska Furniture Mart and jeweler Borsheims.

They later had a lunch — paid for by Buffett’s company — of steak, potatoes and green beans at Anthony’s Steakhouse, served with Coke. Berkshire Hathaway is Coca-Cola’s largest shareholder.

A question-and-answer session with Buffett ran the gamut of topics, Deyak said, with most of the investor’s advice focusing on life lessons. For example, Buffett said, “The most important decision you make is deciding who that person is you’ll marry,” and “You should always try to surround yourself with people who are better than you because they’ll help you rise,” Deyak recalled.

“He’s definitely a part of the Omaha community and he’s been able to do all of these things and really remained grounded. I think that’s a very valuable lesson for our students,” Deyak said.

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Ryan Johnstone, a first-year MBA student at UI, said common themes from Buffett’s talk struck a chord, such as making sound investments and not taking stupid risks.

“A lot of companies will take on debt to finance different types of assets ... . One thing Berkshire does is they’re very averse to taking on debt,” Johnstone said. “If you’re already in a position where you’re making money for your investors and your shareholders, why take the risk?”

Johnstone also said he was impressed with how Buffett, at 86, is “still clearly the sharpest mind in the room.”

“He can give you specific names, acts, numbers just off the cuff. It’s incredible,” Johnstone said. “There’s a reason why he’s been as successful as he has. He has every tool available in his arsenal.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; matthew.patane@thegazette.com

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