My 10 Most Important Lessons I’ve Learnt from Berkshire Hathaway’s AGM 2024

Sharing my 10 most important lessons I've learnt during my recent trip to Berkshire Hathaway's AGM 2024.

This is spectacular. Just immersing in the crowd with so many like-minded investors is an experience. 

I was in Omaha over the weekend to attend one of finance’s most inspiring and greatest investors of all time, Mr. Warren Buffett. 

What a crowd on Saturday!

I was inspired by how even at 93 years old, his mind is sharp as a blade. He’s still willing to serve his 40k+ shareholders who turned up for the AGM over the weekend. 

And he patiently answered all of their questions. There’s so much humility and reverence.

I’ve re-watched and read the transcript for Berkshire Hathaway’s AGM, as I want to capture as much learning as possible. 

You can watch the full replay by CNBC here.

As an investor that invests for dividends, Here’s my top 10 lessons I’ve learnt from Berkshire Hathaway’s AGM 2024. 

1. Warren Buffett plays the long-term game

Today, Berkshire Hathaway is flushed with just over $182 billion of cash in Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett’s company never stops accumulating capital. And he needs to be more patient with picking the right investments.

Because with a massive cash pile, it gets harder and harder to produce the returns that would move the needle. He admits – he doesn’t know how to use all this cash effectively. 

That’s why Buffett says he prefers to “Only swing at pitches we like”. This requires a lot of waiting around and doing nothing. If everybody wants to swing at every pitch just because they haven’t swung, then it’s going to affect the returns they get.

2. Buy great businesses, not stocks

Despite selling Apple shares for tax reasons (he expects capital gains tax to go up in the future), Buffett still thinks Apple will be the biggest stock holdings in Berkshire Hathaway. 

The thing is, behind each stock is a business. And you should analyze businesses – not stocks. After that, think about whether you would be willing to buy the entire business if you had the money.

If the answer is “yes”, then only look at a reasonable price you would be willing to pay 

Buffett said: “One interesting thing is that Charlie and I looked at common stocks, or marketable equities, or the things people love to look at as being businesses. And so when we own a Dairy Queen or we own whatever it may be, we look at that as a business. And when we own Coca Cola or American Express, we look at that as a business. 

Now we can buy really wonderful companies in the market as businesses… But in terms of deploying your money, we always look at every stock as a business. We have no way, no attempt made to predict markets. We have no attempt made to pick stocks. I went through many, many years doing the wrong thing. I got interested in stocks very early, and I was fascinated by them. 

I wasn’t wasting my time, because I was reading every book possible and everything else. But finally, I picked up a copy of the intelligent investor, and there were a few sentences in there that said, much more eloquently than I can say it: If you look at stocks as a business and treat the market as something that doesn’t tell you, isn’t there to instruct you, but it’s there to serve you, you’ll do a lot better over time than if you try to take charts and listen to people talk about moving averages and look at the pronouncements and all of that sort of thing. 

And so that made a lot of sense to me then, the way I’ve been allowed to deploy it.”

Even at 93 years old, Buffett’s thinking toward investing has never changed: pick stocks as a part-ownership stake in a durable business. 

3. Understand risks well — then decide how you accept it

The insurance business is the main cog that drives Berkshire Hathaway’s long-term success.

Warren Buffett knew investing in banks gave him great financial leverage from investing in “other people’s money”. But he also found that insurance gave him a more powerful financial leverage.

If Berkshire is able to collect more insurance premiums than it had to pay out as claims, his company could accumulate plenty of “other people’s money”, or insurance float to invest in. This means, he and his team understands insurance risks very well – and pricing these risks accurately. 

Buffett’s incredible gift at spotting people (like Ajit Jain) who knows about insurance risks is crucial: “We won’t find another Ajit, but we have an operation that he has created and that is at least part of it. There are certain parts of it that are almost impossible for competitors to imitate, and if I was in their shoes, I wouldn’t try and imitate them. 

So we’ve institutionalized some of our advantages. Ajit’s presence allowed us to do it and he did it. But now we’ve created a structure that didn’t exist when he came in 1986. Nothing close to it existed with us or with anybody else. 

And insurance is the most important business at Berkshire. Marketable securities are important, but they’re not in the class exactly as our insurance business.”

Met renowned author, William Green who wrote Richer, Wiser, Happier

4. Understand human behaviour is key to investing

Finance school teaches you to analyze data and facts. However, as investors, we need to combine financial analyses with the laws of human behaviour. Buffett says Charlie Munger understood this combination very well.

For instance, Warren Buffett may not know the technology behind Apple, but he understands why people buy the iPhone. He compares the iPhone as a much more valuable product than a car. 

He said: “Apple is in a position with consumers, where they’re paying maybe $1,500, or whatever it may be, for a phone. And the same people pay $35,000 for having a second car.

When they have to give up a second car or give up their iphone, they’d give up their second car. 

But if people have both an iPhone and a car, and you ask them which one they would choose – to have a second car in your life or a second iPhone, they would give up the second car.”

Knowing human behaviour teaches us what motivates people, what makes them take out their wallet and buy stuff.

This gives us greater insights to why some companies have a durable moat – why some companies don’t. 

You can check out My Top 10 Singapore Dividend Stocks to Buy Ultimate Guide 2024.

5. Find something you can be obsessed with

Because this obsession will drive you to look for things that nobody else is looking for. 

A young boy from New Zealand (originally from Thailand), asked how Warren Buffett would invest if he had to start again with $1 million. And Buffett said you can earn a 50% annual return with that capital. But you can’t just be in love with the money. 

Instead, you’ve to be in love with the field (e.g. investing) you’re in – be obsessed with the very thing that excites you. This motivates you to look at corners where people aren’t looking, and that’s where value can be found. 

Put it this way, Warren Buffett said when he was younger, he was fascinated by railroads. And he would pick up a stock manual filled with over 1,500 railroad companies, and he would flip through all of them. You’ve got to be interested in something that makes you want to read. 

During the AGM, Buffett said: “All I know is the human brain is complicated, but it does its best when you find out what your brain is really suited for. And then you just pound the hell out from that point. And that’s what I would be doing if I had a small amount of money and I wanted to make 50% a year. But I also want to just play the game. And you can’t do it if you don’t find the game of your interest – whether it’s bridge or whatever it may be like chess – or in my case finding securities that are undervalued.”

6. On having a circle of competence

When asked about AI, Warren Buffett says he doesn’t know much about AI. This shows he’s very self-aware of his knowledge and capabilities. 

In investing, this self-awareness is called “sticking within your circle of competence”. I’d learnt it’s easier to dig deep into knowing our strengths and our circle of competence – whether it’s choosing our careers, or picking our investing strategies. I admit, it’s easy to get carried away with the most fashionable trends. That’s how bubbles get formed, rise and then crash. 

But staying true to what we’re good takes us a far longer, sustainable path.

Warren Buffett said during the AGM: “I don’t know anything about AI, but I do have… that doesn’t mean I deny its existence or importance or anything of the sort. And last year, I said that we let a genie out of the bottle when we developed nuclear weapons, and that genie has been doing some terrible things lately. And the power of that genie is what, you know, scares the hell out of me. And then I don’t know any way to get the genie back in the bottle. And AI is somewhat similar.”

7. Pick your right heroes in life

I learnt that choosing your mentors and guides are crucial not just in investing, but they help light the path to create your own life. Buffett has shaped much of my thinking toward life and investing. He inspired me to search for my own set of heroes – my dad, my pole vault coach, my ex-bosses, my coaching mentor, friends – to become who I want to become. 

This connects to your heart, gives you energy, drives you, motivates you to be the true version of yourself. Sometimes, it’s not easy to find our own heroes, but that means we have to keep searching to find what’s true to us.

He said: “It’s not based on what they have accomplished. It’s the people you want to be yourself. And if you copy the right people, you’re off to a great start. And I don’t mean just about making money but it’s a great start to living your life.”

What also hit me that day was when someone who asked Buffett if he had one more day with Charlie, what would he do? And Buffett gave a gold reply: he said don’t wait for that one day, if you have a person whom you wish to spend that one day with. Instead, do it now. There’s so much power in that.

Choose who you want to live your life with and try to meet them more often.

Don’t wait until the last day.

8. The US economy is still the main market for investments

Berkshire Hathaway’s primary investments will still be in the US. When he passes Berkshire Hathaway to his successors, Coca-Cola, American Express and Apple will be one of the core holdings. 

Most of these US giants have the ability to scale across the world. For instance, he said companies like American Express do business around the world. Even Coca-Cola is the preferred soft drink globally – across about 180 countries. How people accept these products and services so far is almost unmatched. 

Put it this way, Buffett invests in US businesses that could sell beyond its home market —compounding value for shareholders over time.

9. You attract the people who reflect your qualities

Warren Buffett started out with only 100 shareholders in an employee’s cafe in 1973. 

Since then, he has compounded over 40k+ shareholders who attend his AGM over time. What I realized is these shareholders whom I’ve met are some of the best minds in the world – top CEOs (yup, saw Tim Cook and Bill Gates there), fund managers, capital allocators, and private investors. 

Buffett wanted to attract the right people, who reflect the qualities he has, or wants to have. 

A great way to become a better version of ourselves is to look inside ourselves and think about how we can attract our right crowd. 

Spotted legendary value investor, Mohnish Pabrai in the crowd!

10. Be human — at the end, we all just want to be loved

This is probably the greatest lesson I’ve learnt when I was there.

What I saw wasn’t just the greatest investor of all time on stage. But a Warren Buffett who cherished his relationships. I saw the people whom he loved – his family, friends and acquaintances – attended his AGM. His kids and even his younger sister, Bertie, were there.

He showed gratitude for Carol Loomis, a financial journalist at Fortune magazine and long-time friend of Buffett.

There’s really no other AGM like this. 

Buffett said he enjoys managing money for people. But he also prefers to have the feeling of being trusted. And there’s nothing more satisfying knowing that other people can count on you, to trust you.

If you don’t live a life where you surround yourself and limit yourself to people you trust, it won’t be much fun. I mean, I literally have been in the position ever since I was in my twenties of being able to have people I trusted around me. When you get that in your life, you cherish those people and you sort of forget about the rest.”

At the end of the day, whether you’re in the investment business, or any other business, it’s a relationship business, afterall.

My Final Thoughts

Since I quit the rat race in 2018, it’s been a wonderful journey meeting so many great investors and newfound friends. 

In my opinion, Warren Buffett is the greatest of all time. But he isn’t perfect. And that’s what attracts so many people to adore him. This year’s AGM was different. Because this year was the first time Warren Buffett spoke without his partner, Charlie Munger. When he accidentally said “Right, Charlie?” to Greg Abel after responding to a question, there was a moment of loss for his best friend and business partner. 

Warren Buffett was willing to share his vulnerable side — not many great CEOs do that. 

You could tell he still missed Charlie Munger, and it takes some getting used to not having Munger around. 

What inspired me the most during this trip is Buffett’s dedication to doing what he loves. When he says he “taps dance to work”, he means it. 

I wish Mr. Warren Buffett has a long life and many more great years to come. 

Sometimes, investing can be simple. 

Willie Keng, CFA

Founder, Dividend Titan

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Eng Chuan
Eng Chuan
1 month ago

Thanks for sharing your experience from the trip Willie! Great stuff!

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