Warren Buffett's shareholder gala enters home stretch

Thu Apr 28, 2016 10:43am EDT
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By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Warren Buffett, who pitched newspapers as a teenage delivery boy, may be entering the final stretch of his "Woodstock for Capitalists," after cutting back his involvement in the event and opening it up for an online audience.

This weekend's gathering of Berkshire Hathaway Inc shareholders in Omaha, Nebraska for the company's annual meeting likely won't be the last.

But its evolution mirrors the evolution in Buffett's own leadership, focused more on the roughly 90 energy, insurance, manufacturing, railroad, retail and other companies in his empire, even as he delegates more to people who work under him.

This month, for example, Berkshire's General Re unit said its next chief will report not to Buffett, as the departing Tad Montross does, but to Ajit Jain, a top Buffett lieutenant.

Buffett, 85, is the oldest chief executive of a Fortune 500 company, and has given no public sign he's close to done.

In 2015, the world's third-richest person celebrated perhaps his final milestone anniversary at Berkshire, as more than 40,000 people descended on Omaha and overwhelmed its downtown CenturyLink Center to honor his 50 years at the helm.This year's gala again features a cookout and five-kilometer run, and centers on Saturday's five-hour question-and-answer session with Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, 92.

Buffett "gives Omaha a heck of a lot of free visibility that a lot of cities would pay dearly for," said Ernie Goss, a professor at Creighton University there who studies the region's economy.

Still, there's a catch. "We all have friends who are waiters or waitresses or bartenders, and Berkshire Hathaway investors are not the biggest tippers," he said. "There is a message there: if he's frugal, we're going to be frugal."   Continued...

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett yells "Go big red!", the Nebraska Cornhuskers chant, prior to the Berkshire annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska May 2, 2015. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo