Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting: Woodstock or Mecca?

By: Sumeet Goel

I was just in Omaha for what has commonly been referred to as the “Woodstock of Capitalism,” better known as the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting. I attended last year for the first time and it was an amazing experience so naturally I had to go back.

What was different this year is that it came right on the heels of my attendance at the 20th Annual Milken Global Conference in Beverly Hills. The more I thought about both conferences, the more I wondered if the “Woodstock of Capitalism” nickname really held true. I began to wonder if maybe the Milken Global Conference was actually more like Woodstock and the Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders Meeting was something more akin to Mecca. Now bear with me for a minute as I explain. The Milken Conference is filled with rock stars, athletes, celebrities, and journalists. You’ve got Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talking to Katie Couric in one room and the President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, talking finance in the other, while Lionel Richie performs in the ballroom in the evening. There are multiple Bushes, Joe Biden, and Betsy DeVos all speaking on different subjects. In essence, there are lots of different performers and panels to see, whereas Berkshire Hathaway is centered on the one prophet that everyone travels from far and wide to see, speaking to the masses.

The audience for these two events only further reinforced this notion of Woodstock vs. Mecca. The Milken Conference audience was 90% male, well-to-do, and business through-and-through. While that isn’t exactly the audience Woodstock attracted, the idea stands that both Milken and Woodstock appealed to a specific, homogenized crowd, no matter how different those crowds may have been.

The Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders Meeting, on the other hand, is more of a cross section of the population and strikes many different demographics. On my outbound flight to Omaha alone, I met an Omaha native who grew up with a Buffett, a young millennial whose grandparents were paying for him to go, a middle-aged man taking his 11-year-old son and 79-year-old father as a unique “boys weekend” trip, three middle-aged housewives who have been going for years, and a grandmother who bought her shares 40 years ago. These people had little in common besides their desire to hear the words of the great Warren Buffett.

I may have pushed these analogies past their breaking points, but regardless, both conferences provided me with interesting takeaways to reflect on, which I will be elaborating on in posts this coming week.