Published: April 17, 2013

A group of 19 University of Colorado Boulder students and one faculty member recently received the chance of a lifetime to visit widely known philanthropist and investor Warren Buffet in Omaha, Neb. Several times a year, Buffet invites eight colleges with 20 representatives from each school to Omaha for a day of tours at his Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries, lunch at one of Buffet’s favorite local restaurants, and a Q-and-A session. This year, CU-Boulder was on that list.

The trip began a year ago when a program coordinator with the Center for Education on Social Responsibility (CESR) (part of the Leeds School of Business) and a Berkshire Hathaway investor attended the company’s annual investor meeting in Omaha. After the meeting, the CESR representative mailed one of the center’s “moral compasses” to Warren Buffet. The compass is a symbol given to speakers and business leaders as a way to show CESR’s commitment to teaching ethical business practices and to remind people not to lose their moral compass. Within a short time, CESR received an invitation to a collegiate visit on March 15, 2013. 

All CESR students were offered the opportunity to apply for the trip and final selections were made based on applications. Buffet, who is an outspoken critic of sexism in the business world, required that a third of the students be women. CESR supported the trip by covering half of the costs and the students paid for the remaining half.

During the two and one-half hour Q-and-A session, Buffet touched on a variety of topics including ethics and the importance of simply being a good person. 

“There will be people in this room who will be asked to do something they shouldn’t. I would urge you, if you ever get that order walk away,” Buffet told the students. “I will tell you it won’t be easy, it may hurt your career, but you only have one reputation. At least for our own behavior we are the guardians of our own reputations.”

For students in the CESR program, Buffet’s positive and ethical advice really resonated. 

“The most important thing I learned from him is definitely the passion and drive for life,” said Zhenghua Yang, a business student who attended the Buffet visit. “He’s super positive about everything that he talks about, everything that he’s involved in. I really think that’s the cause of his success.”

Although Buffet admitted to being terrified of public speaking early on, he underscored the importance of communication skills as a requirement for success in the financial world.

“Nothing’s worse than having great ideas and not being able to communicate them,” said Buffett. “If you learn to communicate well, you will increase your value by 50 percent. It’s way more valuable than spreadsheets. It’s one thing I wish I had learned earlier.”

Buffet answered many questions over the two and one-half hour session. Many questions were investment or business related, but the majority of his answers were based on his life experiences and included many words of advice.

Buffet left the students with the following words of wisdom: “Decide the qualities you like and emulate them and decide what traits you don’t like and get rid of them.  Assets are attainable and liabilities can be gotten rid of. The time is now.” 

A memorable trip was had by all.

Story and photo courtesy of CU-Boulder senior Brittany Moore, who attended the March Q-and-A session.