Twenty UW-Madison MBA students lunched on New York strip steaks, french fries and root-beer floats with billionaire Warren Buffett in his hometown of Omaha last Friday — on Buffett's tab. And they came back with lessons to chew on about business, investing and life.
The School of Business graduate students were among 160 students from eight colleges and universities around the country who were chosen for a chance to meet with Buffett and ask him questions.
Buffett, 80, is chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway and the third wealthiest man in the world, according to Forbes magazine.
He's just a "really humble and down-to-earth man," said Gustavo Leone. He stressed "family, passion and value" as key factors in making business decisions, Leone said.
Most surprising was Buffett's belief that the biggest decision a person makes is whom to marry because "they play such a significant part of who you are," said Leone, a native of Ecuador.
Buffett said when he considers investing in a company, he interviews top managers to see "if they're in love with the business or in love with money," then chooses those with the business passion, said Carlos Olivares, of Baytown, Texas.
Leone, Olivares and Sandy Walter of Milwaukee were among several UW students lucky enough to sit near Buffett at lunch and chat with him casually, after a more formal question-and-answer session at Buffett's office.
They said Buffett told them he likes to "sit in sweats on the couch and watch college football" on Saturdays, including the recent UW Badgers' win over Ohio State. He didn't say which team he rooted for. But Walter noted that one of the pictures on Buffett's office wall is an autographed photo of former Green Bay Packers player Paul Hornung and coach Vince Lombardi.
"You can tell that despite being a celebrity ... he's the same person that he was when he was 11 years old and had read every business book in the Omaha Public Library," Walter said.
Student Dan Walker organized the Wisconsin contingent. "It was a fantastic opportunity," said Walker, an Omaha native who owns Class B shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock. "He's an expert on the business of life," Walker said.