University of Southern California

USC Marshall students meet with Warren Buffett
Told to find companies with "a durable competitive advantage"
January 19, 2007 • by News at Marshall

Omaha, Neb. -- Warren Buffett created one of the world's great fortunes with his savvy long-term investing strategy, conducted for decades from his modest Midwestern perch here as head of Berkshire-Hathaway. And more recently, Buffett began giving away almost all of those billions to charity.

So when nearly 40 students from the USC Marshall School of Business were given the opportunity to meet with the "Sage of Omaha" and hear his perspectives on business, investing and other topics, they eagerly signed up for a trip to Nebraska. In January.

"He was really wonderful, an energetic, warm and charismatic man with a great laugh who seemed very interested in the students," said Guillermina Molina, Marshall's director of undergraduate student services who accompanied 27 undergraduates and 10 MBA students on the trip Jan. 19 to Jan 21. "And I think the students got a good look not only at a great investor's philosophies but also how he is as a person, and a remarkable person at that. It was a great trip."

The trip was the brainchild of junior Alfonso Guzman, president of Alpha Kappa Psi, one of Marshall's two undergraduate business fraternities. Guzman worked with Molina and Assistant Professor Christopher Jones to arrange trip logistics.

"Getting his insights into his outlook on life was the best part," said Guzman, adding that he enjoyed Buffet's views about purpose and productivity the most. "He tried to tell us that it's up to every individual to work hard to benefit society and that people should do the things they're the best at."

The 27 undergraduate participants were chosen for the trip after submitting a short essay. They also had to have at least a 3.0 GPA. Another 10 MBA attendees were chosen because they are part of the Student Investment Fund, a program through USC Marshall's Center for Investment Studies that allows them to manage a small portion of the university's portfolio.

During the 90-minute question and answer session the students had with him, Buffett credited his Omaha hometown for keeping him grounded, far from the Wall Street whispers that would have muddled his investment approach with 20 ideas a day.

Instead, he has spent his energy finding companies with what he called a "durable competitive advantage," whose business you can understand, and with management that he personally trusts and admires, advice he passed on to the students, citing as examples such strong performers as See's Candy, Fruit of the Loom and Coca-Cola.

And Buffett gave students a sense of his human side, championing the benefits of bridge and exercise to keep his head clear and sharp. Buffett follows his own path not only in investing, but also with his diet, salting his food with a farmhand's gusto, drinking lots of Coca-Cola, and regularly visiting his favorite Omaha steakhouse, Gorat's.

"He's very humble and funny," said Guzman. "He was happy to take pictures with us and give us advice. The whole experience was touching and really inspiring. I'll never forget it."

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.