CHEYENNE — Most Fridays this semester, University of Wyoming student Kaitlin Inchauspe would normally spend her day doing homework or lounging around.
But last Friday, the junior from Sheridan spent her afternoon chatting with and getting advice from the third-richest person in the world.
Inchauspe was one of 20 UW finance students who traveled to Omaha, Neb., to meet billionaire investor Warren Buffett for one of his regular meetings with students from around the country. The UW class had been on a four-year waiting list to meet with him.
And the wait paid off. While students from prestigious business schools such as Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania looked on enviously, the 81-year-old Buffett spent much of the session sitting with UW students, offering advice, taking questions, and even introducing them to singer Jimmy Buffett.
“It was such a neat experience,” said Toni Schumacher, a junior from Buffalo. “It’s something I won’t forget.”
The trip was organized by UW finance professor Hilla Skiba, who as a student at the University of Kansas attended several such meetings with Buffett.
“I think it’s really, really inspiring to meet someone who has been extremely successful without having to take shortcuts during his entire career,” Skiba said. “He shows that you can be successful in corporate America and not sail in the gray areas, that it is possible to do honest business and make a lot of money and at the end of the day be a good person.”
During the first part of the meeting, held at Buffett’s office at multinational holding company Berkshire Hathaway, each school took turns peppering Buffett with questions on everything from investment advice to how to be a good parent.
Schumacher asked him what he believed were the biggest obstacles that America faces, and how he deals with that as an investor.
Buffett offered an optimistic answer: that over the long-term the economy always grows, standards of living improve, and dilemmas like the current debt crisis and high oil prices are just temporary speed bumps.
“It kind of was not the answer I was expecting, but it was a good answer,” Schumacher said.
But the real advice came afterward, when Buffett took all the students to his favorite steakhouse, Piccolo Pete’s.
Skiba, having learned from past experiences, shoved half the UW group in a car and sped over to the steakhouse to get the table right by the door.
It paid off: When Buffett showed up, he ambled over and asked the students if he could sit with them.
But Skiba couldn’t have possibly predicted what Buffett did next. He excused himself, then announced to the group that he “wasn’t the real Buffett.” The students were confused until Jimmy Buffett walked in playing a guitar.
Afterward, both Buffetts rejoined the UW students and spent the next couple of hours trading small talk and fielding questions.
Eric Becker, a graduate student from Gillette, found out that the best advice Warren ever gave Jimmy — the two aren’t related, Becker was told — was to refuse the first offer to start a Margaritaville restaurant. By holding out, Jimmy Buffett said, he ended up with a much better deal.
Warren Buffett advised Schumacher that a common mistake investors make is to disperse their money into lots of different companies. A better strategy, he said, is to focus your investments on a couple of very well-run companies.
Schumacher, who plans to go into banking after graduation, said she’ll remember that advice in her career.
“It’s things that I can take with me, and stuff I can think about when I do start investing,” she said.
Skiba said she was impressed with her students, saying they compared well next to other students from some of the best business schools in the nation.
She said she’s already working to get UW on the wait list again.