Every spring, people travel from all across the world to Omaha, Neb., to hear Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger answer questions about the state of the economy and Berkshire Hathaway.
This year one of those international travelers was Chester Hoang, who attended the meeting with his wife, Kelly Chan. Hoang, a Chinese native and financial professional, traveled to Omaha from Hong Kong, where he’s lived since late 1999 after returning from a stint living in Northern California.
I am fascinated by how the Berkshire meeting draws people from so far away, so I asked Hoang if he would answer some questions via e-mail about his experience in Omaha. He graciously accepted and also sent me the three photos running with this article. Here is the interview:
Hoang in front of the BYD model car at the meeting
Examiner: How long have you been a Berkshire shareholder?
CH: I’ve been a shareholder since 2008. For many years, I’ve watched the shares and wanted to wait for the right opportunity to make the investment into this great company. However, I’ve been a follower for a very long time where I first encountered “Security Analysis” nearly 20 years ago when I first started college. I will continue to accumulate more of BRK, as it’s a special company and a rare one. At today’s price, it’s a great investment in my personal opinion. Buffett has mentioned in the past that the intrinsic value of Berkshire rises and falls in parallel with its net worth. The market of recent has yet to reflect the value of what Buffett masterfully accomplished over the past 12 months. I’m confident that it’ll be appropriately reflected in due course.
Examiner: Describe your occupation in Hong Kong.
CH: I advise companies and asset managers on their investments/acquisitions in the region with specific focus in China and certain parts of Southeast Asia.
Hoang and his wife, Kelly Chan, in Omaha
Examiner: Was this past spring your first Berkshire shareholders meeting? What did you think of it?
CH: 2009 was my first time at the Berkshire shareholders meeting, and I have already made reservations for hotel accommodations for 2010, as it does require close to a year in advance notice to book a place. I’ll be coming for many more years. Irrespective of the distance, people from all over the world come to Omaha to hear both the Oracle and Charlie Munger putting things into perspective in its purest form. As with many first-time attendees, we did the rounds at Gorat’s, Borsheim’s, Nebraska Furniture Mart, Dairy Queen, Kiewit Plaza and the Oracle’s house.
Due to our commitments in Asia, we were only able to stay in the U.S. four days. It took us nearly two full days to arrive and depart from the U.S., but my wife and I committed to making the journey, and will continue to do so in the years to come now that we own a small piece of Berkshire.
You can’t beat hearing them speak live and unplugged. It’s unlike any shareholders meeting that I’ve ever attended. What I greatly admire is that the guy sitting amongst the general audience can be a Berkshire CEO/manager, where they meshed themselves with the rest of crowd with no sense of pretentiousness. I greatly admire that sense of values and culture at Berkshire. I met one of the CEOs—if anything, it was anti-elitist and that made me truly value the times spent at the meeting.
Examiner: Why did you decide to travel across the world to attend? Was it worth it? Why?
CH: Paying homage to the Oracle himself is a yearly highlight event for many, such as me, where we travel across the globe to be present when Buffett and Munger speak “unplugged.” Spending nearly 22-24 hours in-flight and in-between four different airports from Hong Kong to Omaha is quite physically strenuous. But for us, the trip was worth every ounce of effort and more. I’ve watched practically all the official videos that are out there on Warren Buffett and most clippings of his interviews on the tube. But it doesn’t come near to being at the shareholders meeting and meeting the man himself, and some of his associates. They’re a special group of people and I have had the honor and privilege of meeting some of them. That alone made it worth the over 22 hours of traveling time.
Examiner: I've read that Buffett is hugely respected in China. Could you tell me more about the general attitude toward Buffett there, and what the respect stems from?
CH: Warren Buffett is highly respected in China and has long been called the “God of Stock.” After being closed for business for over 40 years, the stock market in Shanghai reopened with its debut in 1990. In 2003 the Shanghai market and the smaller Shenzhen Stock Exchange had just a little over US$512 billion in market capitalization. As of June 2009, the combined market capitalization stands at US$3 trillion, giving it a boost of nearly 490 percent in just 5.5 years.
In Hong Kong, in 2003, it was merely US$712 billion, and fast-forward to mid-2009, it now stands at US$1.8 trillion, giving it a boost of over 150 percent in a similar short time frame. This is already taking into consideration the demise of the market from the crisis. It was at over US$2.4 trillion in 2007. Irrespective of the above performance of the two markets in China and Hong Kong, it has had its fair share of booms and busts like any developing stock markets in the world.
As a backdrop of the two markets, it’s no surprise that people have come to see Warren Buffett as the epitome of what could be achieved in the stock market, and many have tried to emulate his success, though many would find this to be futile. Hence, as people in China become more aware of the stock market and become active participants, they will become even more interested in Buffett and his ability to consistently beat the market since 1956 with only a few down years. Hence, the well-deserved “title” he’s gained in China as the greatest investor ever. Buffett’s achievements have brought awe to speculators and the general investment community as a whole around the world, and for a frenzy stock market like China, he’s more revered than ever and has captured the imagination of many in China, particularly for those with newfound riches in China. With his past investments in PetroChina and, of recent, BYD, Buffett’s moves are carefully watched. With many of the state-owned enterprises still undergoing privatization where the public can become a part-owner of the companies as a listed company in China and Hong Kong, I believe Buffett’s teachings on value investing to the new and old generation of investors will be more relevant than ever.
In my opinion, Buffett has significantly contributed to the investment world’s perception of what sound investments are all about and how countries with newfound wealth, such as China, can also benefit from his humble teachings. As Bill Gates has recently said about Buffett in “Fortune,” Buffett’s ability to encapsulate the most complex issues on the table and communicate that to the general audience in its simplest form is one of his greatest qualities. His teachings will have an impact for current and future generations in China and Hong Kong that venture into the investment world. One can say that behind Buffett’s simplicity is a genius at work. I truly believe the world is a better place with Buffett, and that's not even taking into consideration his immense philanthropic contributions.
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