Managers Trek to Omaha In a Crush of Buffett Fans

Updated April 7, 2013, 7:18 p.m. ET

Managers Trek to Omaha In a Crush of Buffett Fans

By JONNELLE MARTE

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As attendance at the annual Berkshire Hathaway Inc. BRKB -0.94% shareholders’ meeting has ballooned over the years, mutual-fund managers say it’s become trickier to land some personal time with Warren Buffett—but easier to take a piece of him home.

Just ask Steven Check, manager of the $19 million Blue Chip Investor fund, who owns a coin with Mr. Buffett’s face on it, a never-been-used deck of cards that feature the Oracle of Omaha as the king, and bobbleheads of Mr. Buffett and his partner,Charlie Munger, among other Berkshire-themed possessions.

“Ten years ago you could run into him several times a night and shake his hand,” says Mr. Check, who also scored a few framed photos of himself and Mr. Buffett together during those earlier years. These days, you’re much more likely to walk away with just a Berkshire Hathaway golf club or money clip, or with some of the goods offered by the company’s subsidiaries, he says.

At the 194,300-square-foot hall that will be set up next to the meeting area next month and at other nearby vendors, you can get an insurance quote, upgrade your wardrobe or even buy a share of a private jet through one of Berkshire’s companies.

Buffett time or no Buffett time, Mr. Check and other fund managers say the real reason they make the trek to Omaha each year is to recharge with lessons from one of the best in the business. “It’s good to go there and get a reset, to clear your mind,” says Mr. Check. “I get a refresher course on the principles of investing.”For some managers, another big draw is the opportunity to rub elbows with investing pros from around the world. With this year’s meeting, Dowe Bynum, co-manager of the $104 million Cook & Bynum fund, will have attended 13 of the last 15 annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meetings. “It’s like a rock concert for some people, but for us and for other managers it’s a good place and time for us to meet,” he says.

Mr. Bynum, whose fund had 11% of its assets in Berkshire Hathaway at the end of 2012, making it the fund’s third-largest holding, says he and co-manager Richard Cook find two of their biggest influences in the leaders of Berkshire Hathaway. They even quote Mr. Munger on a part of their website explaining their investing philosophy: “I didn’t get to where I am by going after mediocre opportunities.”

Some Berkshire fans say the stability of Mr. Buffett’s investing style, which many of them try to emulate, makes it unnecessary to make the trip to Nebraska every year. Mark Mulholland, portfolio manager of the $490 million Matthew 25 fund, says he’ll be sitting out this year’s meeting after attending more than a dozen since 1989.

“You really have to go at least once,” says Mr. Mulholland, whose fund has 5% of its assets in Berkshire. But you don’t have to go each time, he says, because the core of Mr. Buffett’s beliefs and strategy doesn’t change that much. “He knows what he knows. It’s been time-tested,” Mr. Mulholland says, adding that there is one other, minor deterrent: “It’s also harder to book a hotel.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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