It was Angela Pasquerello’s most memorable college experience to date. Not only did the senior accounting major fly to Omaha, Neb., meet billionaire investor Warren Buffett and hear his advice for success, but she also cemented friendships with a group of her classmates.
Pasquarello was one of 20 Manning School of Business students invited to visit with the “Oracle of Omaha.” Each year, Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, invites select groups of students from across the country, most of them MBA candidates, to meet for a question- and-answer session and then lunch. Management Prof. Ravi Jain had written to Buffett twice, asking that his finance students be included. This year, the invitation came.
“I couldn’t imagine having a better experience through school,” says Pasquerello, who is enrolled in Jain’s Portfolio and Security Analysis class. “I learned so much and made so many friends. It was a great group.”
The students from UMass Lowell and seven other universities met with Buffett at the Field Club, the oldest country club west of the Mississippi River. At Jain’s urging, the group arrived at the auditorium an hour early and got front-row seats. Jain’s students prepared several questions in advance and three of them got to pose theirs to Buffett. Pasquerello asked him how he maintains a positive outlook. His response surprised her: His optimism is unyielding.
“The visit with Warren Buffett was a unique opportunity for our students to learn firsthand from one of the world’s most successful investors,” says Dean Kathryn Carter, who accompanied the students on the trip. “The students were outstanding representatives of the University and I’m sure the experience is one that all of us will always remember.”
Invest in Yourself
Buffett told the students that their best investment is in themselves and said the best way to prepare for the business world is to sharpen their written and oral communication skills. “He’s as sharp as a tack. He told stories that students could understand,” says Kevin Kohr, a senior finance major who helped plan the trip.
Buffett even gave Kohr a ride to the restaurant, Piccolo Pete’s, where the group went to lunch. Buffett, who drives himself everywhere, offered to chauffeur four students in his Cadillac and Kohr was chosen to go with him. “It was like talking to someone’s grandfather,” Kohr says. “He’s so down-to-earth. He made it about us. He asked us what we are doing now and where we see ourselves in 10 years.” After lunch at the downtown Omaha restaurant, Buffett posed for pictures and chatted with the students.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Jain. “Buffett is a pure financial genius. He has a different way of looking at finance, a common sense approach.”
Classroom Meets Real Life
Jain’s students are well-acquainted with Buffett’s approach to investing. The required text for the Portfolio and Security Analysis class is “The Intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham, the book Buffett read as a college student that shaped his investment strategy.
Jain’s students oversee the University’s Student Managed Fund, one of four investment funds set up by the UMass Foundation on the Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth and Lowell campuses. The UMass Lowell fund has won the intercampus competition three out of four years using Buffett’s value investing philosophy.
Manning School alumni supported the trip, donating about $7,000 to help pay the travel costs. “They were thrilled to help our students,” says Steven Rogers, senior major gifts officer. Rogers says plans are in the works to organize a trip to New York City next year so students can meet with finance professionals on Wall Street.
While in Omaha, the students toured Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary Borsheims, one of country’s largest jewelers, and met with its CEO. Pasquerello and Kohr agree that the shared experience of the trip has forged strong bonds with their classmates. “Not only did we get to meet Warren Buffett and hear his ideas, but now we are all good friends,” Kohr said.