Omaha's 'Woodstock for Capitalists' celebrates Buffett

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Omaha (United States) (AFP)

Two words are on the lips of the tens of thousands who have descended on this small city in the American heartland: "Warren Buffet."

The third-richest man in the world will appear Saturday at the annual shareholder meeting of his Berkshire Hathaway empire.

Buffett, 88, is expected to arrive an hour before the event at the CHI Health Center kicks off at 8:00 am (1300 GMT), to tour stands hawking souvenir chocolates, t-shirts, books and bags.

The "Oracle of Omaha" and his 95-year-old business partner Charlie Munger will take more than five hours of shareholder questions posed by three journalists.

Two questions are sure to come up, as they did last year: Who will succeed him? And when does he intend to retire?

Buffett will also meet privately with investors and business owners, many of whom are making the trek to the central US state of Nebraska.

The meeting will be broadcast live exclusively on Yahoo! Finance. Cameras are prohibited inside the room -- that means no selfies with the business mogul.

Last year, about 40,000 people made the trip to Omaha, a leafy city home to about 410,000 residents, to hear him speak. Lines start forming at 4:00 am to enter the theater and by 8:00 am all the seats are gone.

- 'Integrity' -

Unlike other annual meetings, the goal here is not to release company results but to hear Buffett identify companies that he might invest in, or from which he might withdraw his money.

Does he believe in the strength of the sharing economy, symbolized by companies like Uber and Airbnb?

What does he think of artificial intelligence and self-driving cars?

David Kass, finance professor at University of Maryland, has made the trip each year for the past decade, sometimes with MBA students -- a number of whom were granted private meetings with Buffett.

"It's pretty much a hobby," said Kass, a Berkshire shareholder since 1985 and the author of a blog on Buffett.

This year he invited 200 of his students to follow the proceedings along with him, broadcast live in one of the university's auditoriums.

Berkshire Hathaway's meeting has been dubbed "Woodstock for Capitalists," with "festival-goers" hailing from the Who's Who of the American business community.

In addition to well-known names like billionaire Bill Gates -- Buffett's friend and bridge partner -- business executives and investors come to seek the approval of the well-liked, folksy mogul at a time when appearing elitist can be a curse.

"He sets a great example for the leaders, especially business leaders, setting a great example for young people. He gives his money to help other people... and I think there is something we are missing now in this world," said Indian millionaire Paul Singh, 68, who became an angel investor after the sale of his Primus Telecommunications company.

Singh's son Jay Phoenix, 32, a psychiatrist who became a millionaire after selling his startup, said Buffett represents a long view.

"Because you are getting wealthy and you are hitting those numbers, it doesn't mean that your lifestyle has to change that much," he said. "It's... about how you treat other people and the integrity that you have."

Buffett, who is worth almost $90 billion, still lives in a modest house about 10 minutes outside downtown Omaha that he bought in 1958.

Apart from surveillance cameras, no other security is visible, but if a visitor takes photos, an agent will come out and ask "nicely" what they will be used for.