Billionaire Warren Buffett will mark 50 years of leading Berkshire Hathaway the same way he has for years: by spending hours answering any and all questions at the shareholder meeting.
More than 40,000 people from around the world are expected to fill an Omaha arena and several overflow rooms Saturday to hear Buffett and Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger talk.
On Saturday morning, adoring investors mobbed Buffett as he toured the exhibit hall Saturday morning before the meeting.
Between chanting with University of Nebraska cheerleaders and competing against Bill Gates, Kathy Ireland and shareholders in a newspaper tossing competition Buffett got sales updates from the heads of Justin Brands, Dairy Queen and Heinz.
Heinz expects to sell out of the 12,000 sets of ketchup and mustard they brought because they sold 8,000 of them Friday. Buffett predicted that Berkshire will do more deals with the 3G Capital investment firm that he teamed up with to buy Heinz and now Kraft Foods.
Jason Meister, 24, said that after years of trying, he finally persuaded his dad to bring him to the meeting from Miami. He said he has admired Buffett since he first read a book about him as a teenager, and that he hopes to make a career of investing.
"I like his style. It makes a lot of sense to me," Meister said Friday after having his picture taken with a cardboard cutout of a cartoon Warren Buffett as they toured the exhibit hall.
James Wilbur said he and his wife drove from Seattle to Omaha because they wanted to experience the event while the 84-year-old Buffett and 91-year-old Munger are both still around.
"He says he's going to be around another 10 years, but I wanted to see the annual meeting," Wilbur said.
There may not be many questions about Berkshire's recent performance because the company just reported a 10 percent jump in profit Friday. Berkshire earned $5.16 billion, as BNSF railroad and several other major subsidiaries performed well.
But Buffett will likely be asked about Berkshire's succession plans, given his age, and he may be asked about its manufactured home unit, Clayton Homes, after a recent story by The Seattle Times and The Center for Public Integrity questioned Clayton's lending practices.
Clayton denied wrongdoing, but Buffett has yet to directly address the issue. Clayton has one of its newer homes on display at the meeting.
Buffett has praised Clayton in the past. Last year, Clayton sold 30,871 homes to account for 45 percent of the manufactured homes. Clayton maintains a $13 billion mortgage portfolio.
Despite Buffett's age, many investors remain confident in the company's future even after its top two executives are gone.
"I have no qualms about it continuing," said Chuck Sloup, 52, of Omaha. "They've got some pretty awesome performers at the individual companies."
Gary Curtis, of Omaha, has been attending the Berkshire meetings for roughly 20 years and seen the crowd grow from a few thousand to the current tens of thousands. Curtis trusts that Buffett has planned well for the company's future.
"Everyone worries about succession. I'm not worried at all," said Curtis, 71. "The guy is so smart. He's going to have that in control."
To eventually replace Buffett, Berkshire plans to split his job into several parts. Several investment managers will oversee Berkshire's portfolio, and one of the company's current managers will become CEO, but the candidates haven't been named.
Buffett, however, has no plans to retire, and he says he loves his work and remains in good health.
Berkshire owns roughly 80 subsidiaries, including clothing, furniture and jewelry firms. Its insurance and utility businesses typically account for more than half of the company's net income. It also has major investments in such companies as Coca-Cola Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.
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