By Vitaliy Katsenelson
I am about to embark on my 11th annual trip to Warren Buffett’s Omaha.
This year I have something unique to share with you: an excerpt from a chapter I contributed to a book, “ The Warren Buffett Shareholder .” Let me tell you a little bit how this chapter came about.
In the early 2000s I taught graduate investment classes at the University of Colorado. As a class assignment I had students do presentations on Buffett’s annual letters to his shareholders. We broke up 30-some years of Buffett letters into six time periods and divided the class into six groups. Each group had to present the most important lessons they learned from Buffett’s letters.
The day of presentations was not my finest moment as a teacher. It started out great, but soon all the presentations started to sound the same. Here is why: Buffett’s letters are full of wisdom, and each letter has a new insight or two. But value investing philosophy rules are the same now as they were 50 years ago. Buffett simply adds a new shade of grey onto the same wisdom in each letter. Here is the thing with shades: You see them only as shades next to other shades, not as colors in their own right.
Then I discovered that author Lawrence Cunningham had edited Buffett’s letters into a book, 50 Shades of Warren Buffett . Okay, the actual name of the book was “ The Essays of Warren Buffett .” When people ask me for the one book they should read about Warren Buffett, my answer is always The Essays of Warren Buffett — it’s as close to an autobiography of Buffett as you’ll get.
Here is an excerpt from The Warren Buffett Shareholder:
“Next year in Jerusalem” is a phrase sung by all Jewish people at the end of Passover.
“You left Russia 24 years ago and this is your first visit to Israel?” the Israeli border officer at Ben-Gurion Airport snarled at me as she thumbed through my American passport. I had kept singing “Next year in Jerusalem” but had never followed through on it. Now it was 2015 and I hadn’t even set foot in my holy homeland yet, but was already overwhelmed with Jewish guilt!
Just as for Jews Israel is a homeland that we know is always there, for value investors Omaha turns into our homeland for three days in early May. My first pilgrimage was in 2008. I had just finished my first book on value investing when my editor at John Wiley & Sons recommended I participate in a book signing at the Omaha Dairy Queen during the weekend.
I was perplexed. I had labored over this book for two years, just to do book signings at fast food restaurants? Maybe, after DQ, I’d graduate to Burger King.
“You’ll see,” she said.
When I arrived at the DQ, it was packed with authors and book lovers, media, and ice cream. Somehow it felt natural: value investors (who love books) come to the DQ to meet authors, buy books, and scarf a Deluxe Cheeseburger. The event quickly drew so many people that the DQ simply couldn’t handle the traffic. In subsequent years, the event was moved to Creighton University. For investment book authors seeking to meet readers in person, there is no better place.
Several things came out of this DQ visit.
Before that day, I was indifferent to Dairy Queen’s ice cream. Since then, however, I’ve been taking family, friends, colleagues, and clients to DQs nationwide. I’d take a client to a fancy restaurant; we’d skip the dessert and go to DQ. I’d tell him the story about the DQ signing in Omaha, and suddenly a trip to DQ after a fancy dinner seems normal to both of us.