After lunch with Warren the students queued up to have their pictures taken. It took well over an hour to have individual and small group shots with the Oracle of Omaha. He mugged for the camera, did different silly poses (he got down on his knee and acted as though he were proposing to me). He was so generous, and joyous, but by the end of 160 student photos he was looking a bit worn.
We hopped into buses to visit Borsheim’s, a large jewelry store owned by Berkshire Hathaway. The selection was amazing, and stories about the level of service were impressive: they will send a selection of diamond earrings to a customer in order to facilitate a choice – the customer returns the “extras.”
One of our students asked if they avoid purchasing “conflict diamonds,” those stones that have financed wars in Africa. The manager explained how they avoided conflict diamonds and then asked, “Are you from California? Californians always ask that question.” We were each given Borsheim’s catalogs and t-shirts with Warren and his partner’s images on the front. They may not be rock stars, but they have t-shirts. On the other hand, maybe with all of those diamonds, they are the real rock stars.
After the Borsheim’s visit we sorted into buses going back to the airport or back to the Courtyard Marriott. We were tired but exhilarated. What did the students value most? Warren’s charm, humor, intelligence and accessibility astonished them. They were happy to have those pictures so they could prove to others – and to themselves – that they had actually spent several hours with billionaire Warren Buffett.
At least as important, many said, was the opportunity to be with each other and to share the experience.
Students from all three of the UC Davis MBA programs planned the trip and traveled together, and for many they were meeting fellow GSMers from other programs for the first time. We tell them they all take the same courses with the same professors but I think for some this was the first time that they really believed it. They were comparing mid-term exams and favorite professors across programs as we waited in the airport lounge.
Two days later I got a letter from Warren Buffett on lovely, buff Berkshire Hathaway stationary. Warren once again praised the UC Davis students and noted with pleasure their volunteerism.
We’re on a roll - maybe next year I’ll ask for 160 students to meet with Warren.