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Buffett's 'Ringmaster' Turns Grand Ideas Into Reality - 27 Apr 2015 17:34


[[html]]April 27, 2015 12:56 p.m. ET<br><br>One morning in late 2011, shortly after he bought the Omaha World-Herald newspaper, Warren Buffett stopped by the desk of his second assistant, Carrie Sova, with an idea.<br><br>Mr. Buffett, a former paperboy, thought it would be "fun" if shareholders of his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. BRK.B -0.35 % got to test their newspaper-tossing skills against his at the following year's annual meeting.<br><br>The company held its first paper toss in May 2012, launching an annual tradition and with it the event-planning career of a woman the Berkshire chairman and CEO now calls the "ringmaster."<br><br>Berkshire's annual meeting stands alone. Part question-and-answer session and part trade show, it offers attendees not just a chance to listen to Mr. Buffett and his partner, Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, but also to browse and buy products from Berkshire's ever-expanding collection of businesses. About a decade ago as the event was beginning to draw tens of thousands of people to Omaha, Neb., Mr. Buffett created the role of meeting planner to oversee all the duties, from mailing credentials to transporting steers from Texas to a pen in the exhibition hall.<br><br>Four years ago with the circus format already in place, Mr. Buffett approached Ms. Sova about becoming the ringmaster. She "jumped at the chance," according to one of Mr. Buffett's annual letters, and since then she has been trying to turn increasingly ambitious ideas into reality. One year that meant figuring out how to park a working locomotive from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., the Berkshire-owned railroad, on a track outside the CenturyLink Center in downtown Omaha, where the meeting is held.<br><br>"She never took a course in this, and she stepped right up," Mr. Buffett said in an interview.<br><br>This year's meeting is a grander-than-usual show. Berkshire expects more than 40,000 people, which would be a record for an event that is Omaha's second-biggest draw after the College World Series, as it celebrates 50 years under Mr. Buffett's control. Attendees will begin showing up this Thursday before the May 2 meeting to eat at Mr. Buffett's favorite steakhouses and network with other shareholders. Saturday kicks off with a miniparade led by two Texas Longhorn steers, Jake and Norman, followed by a Wells Fargo stagecoach driven by four horses. Berkshire is a major Wells Fargo WFC 0.61 % Co. shareholder. Watson, the supercomputer owned by International Business Machines Corp. IBM 0.59 % , another company in which Berkshire owns a big stake, will be in the CenturyLink Center.<br><br>As usual, Ms. Sova will be in the thick of it, roaming the grounds with walkie-talkie in hand. Her main job on the day of the meeting is to make sure the roughly 40 Berkshire-owned or affiliated companies, spread over an exhibition hall bigger than three football fields, have what they need. "Every year people can't get a hold of me because my cellphone battery dies," Ms. Sova said.<br><br>Ms. Sova, 30 years old and a graduate of Creighton University in Omaha, first came to work for Berkshire six years ago after her sister, Mr. Buffett's previous second assistant, left and recommended her sibling as a replacement. Ms. Sova and Debbie Bosanek, Mr. Buffett's first assistant, share duties, but putting the meeting together takes up much of Ms. Sova's time for at least nine months of the year.<br><br>Despite Mr. Buffett heaping praise on her in his annual letters, Ms. Sova dislikes attention and insists she only executes "Warren's orders."<br><br>Ms. Sova and her Berkshire colleagues start kicking around ideas for the meeting's theme months in advance. With only 25 employees, Berkshire runs a lean operation at its Omaha headquarters, and many of them, including Chief Financial Officer Marc Hamburg, pitch in for the meeting.<br><br>Once a theme is chosenthis year's is "50 years of a profitable partnership"Ms. Sova and an external design firm hired by Berkshire turn their focus to allotting space to each exhibitor on the hall floor. Space is based on the popularity of a company's products, its display plans and whether it is a fully or partly owned business. See's Candies usually has the largest booth, while Kirby this year has about 50 square feet for its vacuum cleaners. Coca-Cola Co. KO -0.09 % , 9%-owned by Berkshire, had to settle for a 60-foot-by-20-foot display area after requesting more space for this year's meeting.<br><br>From the Archives<br><br>How Berkshire's feted annual meeting has grown over the years, and coverage of last year's event<br><br>"It's always a fight for space," said D'Ann Lonowski of Mint Design Group. "But if you say, 'that's all you get,' they don't fight or push much further."<br><br>One of Ms. Sova's first tasks after taking the meeting organizer's job was figuring out just how the newspaper toss would work. The game now involves throwing a specially printed copy of the Omaha World-Heraldfolded, no rubber bandfrom a distance of 35 feet to get it to land, pages intact, on a home porch provided by Berkshire-owned Clayton Homes Inc., a maker of manufactured housing. The winner gets a Dilly Bar from Dairy Queen, another Berkshire company. Mr. Buffett is undefeated.<br><br>Although he doesn't focus on details, Mr. Buffett has final approval on every aspect of the meeting. "The big picture—any of the really good concepts that make the meeting what it is…stemmed from Warren, and the little details of making all of it come together were worked out by our staff," Ms. Sova said.<br><br>There is plenty of last-minute scrambling. Last year, See's lugged a 7,000-pound fake lollipop onto the display floor. However, when employees unwrapped the 10-foot lollipop stick that had shipped separately, they discovered it was badly scuffed. "I remember running around wondering, 'where are we going to find white paint' " to cover up the marks, said Courtney Cohen, who handles the See's Candies exhibit. Fellow organizers eventually supplied a bucket of white paint and brushes.<br><br>It wasn't always such a production. The earliest meetings attracted no more than a dozen shareholders who piled into the cafeteria of an insurer owned by Berkshire. By the mid-1980s, as Mr. Buffett's acclaim spread and Berkshire's stock price soared, the number of attendees swelled to the hundreds. Many were lured by shopping discounts at Nebraska Furniture Mart, an Omaha retailer Berkshire had bought in 1983. In his letters, Mr. Buffett began enticing shareholders to the meeting with promises of discounts on Berkshire goods and services.<br><br>Shopping has become a central attraction, and many businesses offer products made for the occasion, notching record sales that day, so much so that Berkshire is opening the exhibition hall a day early so shareholders can buy even more stuff. This year, shoppers can choose from special gold-printed "Berkie" boxers with caricatures of Mr. Buffett and Mr. Munger, running shoes with Mr. Buffett's face on the back and a toddler T-shirt that says, "The next Warren Buffett."<br><br>Write to Anupreeta Das at moc.jsw|sad.ateerpuna#moc.jsw|sad.ateerpuna<br><br><a href=''></a>[[/html]] - Comments: 0

Stock Market Tips That Can Work For The Average Consumer - 26 Mar 2015 17:41


[[html]]There's a lot of articles written on investing every year. There is so much information available that after reading everything, you may find yourself even more confused than before. There are a couple of investing fundamentals that everyone should be aware of. Continue to read to learn more.<br><br>Investing in stocks requires you stick to one easy principle: keep it simple! If you keep the number of stocks you invest in under twenty, you will find it much easier to keep track of them all on a regular basis. This will also increase your chances <a href=""></a> of pulling out before any one stock drops too far.<br><br>When shopping for a broker, whether <a href=""></a> an online discount broker or a full service broker, pay special attention to all the fees that you can incur. Look at all the fees, including entry fees and exit fees, which are often overlooked. Fees can quickly add up, reducing your profits significantly.<br><br>If you have common stocks, be sure to use your voting rights. Depending on the company charter, you might get voting ability when it comes down to electing board members or directors. Voting often occurs by proxy or at the annual meeting of shareholders.<br><br>Check and recheck your portfolio often to keep it on track for success. Why? Because the economy, the stock market and investor preferences are continually evolving. Companies will merge or go out of business, and some sectors will pull ahead of others. There are many other instances that can occur that can make a big difference on the performance of a particular stock. You therefore need to track your portfolio and make changes as needed.<br><br>You must lay out a detailed stock investing plan in writing. The plan needs to include both buying and selling strategies. You should also include a budget that defines the amount of your investments. This will let you make choices wisely and not be ruled by your emotions.<br><br>The input of a financial adviser can be very useful, even if it is your intention to do all of your own stock selection and trading. A reliable advisor will offer more information than just a few hot stock tips. They will invest time in working with you and your goals. You and your advisor can then create a plan based on this information.<br><br>Keep in mind that profits don't always result from cash. Cash invested in not necessarily cash at hand, so remember that your investments need cash in order to thrive. Although it's fun to spend your money or reinvest it, you should make sure you have enough money available in order to pay off your bills. Take out some cash and keep it around for a rainy day. Leave the rest invested.<br><br>When you look at different stock prices remember to remain open minded. One rule of math that you can't avoid is that the higher priced an asset is, the harder it often is to generate a high return on that asset on a percentage basis. For example, keep an eye on a high-price stock and watch for a temporary drop before buying.<br><br>If you plan on using a brokerage firm for your investments in the stock market, ensure that the firm is one you can trust. You can hear a lot of promises from different firms, but they shouldn't be trusted 100% because you never know what could happen. Research the brokerage firm reviews on the Internet.<br><br>Sticking to the stock of major, well-established companies is a good idea in the beginning. Choose companies which are well-known to build your portfolio if you're just beginning to invest. Once you have more experience, it's ok to branch out more. Do not forget that the smaller the company the chances of rapid decline are just as likely as a rapid increase, and that it varies depending on the economy and type of industry.<br><br>Oftentimes, the best approach is to follow a constrained strategy. This is the process of finding rare and less competitive investment opportunities. Try to find unknown or un-valued companies. The companies that every other investor is trying to buy often sell at a premium. Buying stocks at premium prices does not give you any sort of edge in the market. By seeking the lesser-known companies that have decent earnings, you may be able to find an underdog.<br><br>If you want to save money when dealing with investing, think about online stock trading. There are a number of online trading firms that provide more affordable services than traditional brokerage firms. Make certain that you have done enough comparison shopping to ensure you have gotten the best deal around. Two good options are TD Ameritrade and Fidelity.<br><br>It is important to analyze how voting rights are aligned with equity when considering a potential company. Sometimes, in a bear market, a cyclical stock will underperform because of macro-economic conditions. This could be a big red flag.<br><br>While it's a great idea to be passionate about the market, make sure it doesn't consume your life. If you obsess over the stock market on a daily basis it is more likely that you will become tired and start making mistakes.<br><br>Now you have all the information you need to know. You have learned the basic principles of successful investing, and you know why it is a good idea to invest your money. Living for the moment can be fun, but when it comes to investing, you need to take a longer perspective. Since you now understand the stock market a little better, think about taking what you have learned and turning it into extra funds.<br><br>[[/html]] - Comments: 0

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