College of Business: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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I Met Warren Buffett


By Cynthia Wang

How many college students can claim that? Not many, I can tell you that much.

There are about 640 college students each year who have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the world’s wealthiest people. Buffett hosts four Q&A sessions each year and invites 20 participants each from 8 schools to each event. The ILLINOIS Business Honors students have been fortunate enough to attend three separate times over the past three years.

It all began when Business Honors student Jeremy Nuzzo ‘10 approached Associate Dean John Hedeman about the possibility of inviting Warren Buffett to campus. Dean Hedeman suggested instead to look into the possibility of visiting Warren Buffett in Omaha. Nuzzo took up the challenge and ultimately was able to organize a trip to Omaha for himself and a group of his Honors peers.

A year later in 2010, another Business Honors student, Michael Lyons ’13 planned a trip to see Buffett with his peers.

This year, it was my turn.

We left at noon on Thursday, November 1 and spent 8 hours on a bus as we drove to Omaha, Nebraska. We stopped at the World’s Largest Truck Stop in Iowa for gas and a break but otherwise, we spent the entire bus ride focusing on what we would ask the Oracle of Omaha.

Upon arriving in Omaha, we stopped by the Upstream Brewing Company in downtown Omaha for dinner with Dean Hedeman, who drove out from Kansas, where he is currently retired, to meet with us.

The next morning, we started with an early visit to the Nebraska Furniture Mart, the largest home furnishing store in North America. The store is over 1 million square feet. Ryan Blumkin, great-great-grandson of founder Rose Blumkin, spoke to us about the company’s history, current situation, and future plans.

After the tour, we headed off to the highly anticipated event –Buffett’s Q&A session.

Representative students from seven other schools were also present – Columbia, Missouri, London Business School, Dartmouth, Kansas State, UNO, and Nebraska. It seemed unreal as the third richest man in the world cracked jokes as soon as he walked into the room.

“Being 82, I always get great applause on the way in because no one knows if I will be here at the end,” Buffett said.

The two hours of the Q&A session went by incredibly fast. Buffett’s repartee with the group was filled with humor and insight.

A recurring theme of Buffett’s comments was encouragement for us to find our passions, because, as he says, we’ll “do the work of five people and tap dance to work.”

Another piece of advice he reminded us of was to be careful of whom you marry because it “is the most important decision you’ll ever make.”

“Find someone with low expectations,” he adds with a smile.

At the end of the Q&A session, Buffett asked for representatives from Columbia, Missouri, London Business School, and Illinois to join him for the drive to lunch where we would all regroup. My group proudly volunteered me to go with promises to tell them all about the drive.

Lunch was fantastic. I had the opportunity to sit with Buffett and talk about the advantages and challenges of my generation. Afterwards Buffett took pictures with each of the groups.

The trip was one that I will never forget and one that I will continue to reflect upon and share with others. ILLINOIS has been full of opportunities and I am so grateful for each and every one of them.

UIUC College of Business