Finance

Berkshire Hathaway prepares for its first shareholder meeting without Charlie Munger

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Warren Buffett’s annual address to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders this Saturday is going to be missing something.

The death of his longtime business partner Charlie Munger last November at the age of 99 was the end of an era—and while Buffett won’t be on stage alone, the back-and-forth conversations aren’t likely to be as sarcastic or as warm.

Greg Abel, who runs Berkshire’s noninsurance operations and is expected to eventually succeed Buffett as CEO, is slated to join Buffett this weekend, along with Ajit Jain, who heads the insurance business.

Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting has been called “Woodstock for Capitalists.” It’s a three-day event that offers everything from shopping to a 5K race to a picnic and draws as many as 40,000 people from around the world each year.

Some come for the festival. Some for the celebrity (Apple’s Tim Cook and actor Bill Murray have popped by in the past). But most, traditionally, have come to listen to Buffett and Munger offer their thoughts on investing and the current climate.

“Charlie and I are shameless,” Buffett wrote in his letter to shareholders last year. “Last year, at our first shareholder get-together in three years, we greeted you with our usual commercial hustle. From the opening bell, we went straight for your wallet. In short order, our See’s kiosk sold you eleven tons of nourishing peanut brittle and chocolates. In our P.T. Barnum pitch, we promised you longevity. After all, what else but candy from See’s could account for Charlie and me making it to 99 and 92?”

Munger passed away days before his 100th birthday. He and Buffett met when they both worked at a grocery store owned by Buffett’s grandfather as teenagers, but didn’t realize it until 1959. But it wasn’t until 1978 that they began to make magic, when Munger joined Berkshire Hathaway as vice chairman.

“The blueprint he gave me was simple: Forget what you know about buying fair businesses at wonderful prices; instead, buy wonderful businesses at fair prices,” Buffett wrote in the company’s 2015 shareholder letter. “Altering my behavior is not an easy task (ask my family). I had enjoyed reasonable success without Charlie’s input, so why should I listen to a lawyer who had never spent a day in business school (when – ahem – I had attended three). But Charlie never tired of repeating his maxims about business and investing to me, and his logic was irrefutable. Consequently, Berkshire has been built to Charlie’s blueprint.”

In February’s letter to shareholders, Buffett paid tribute to his partner, saying “Charlie never sought to take credit for his role as creator but instead let me take the bows and receive the accolades. In a way his relationship with me was part older brother, part loving father. … Though I have long been in charge of the construction crew; Charlie should forever be credited with being the architect.”

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