University of South Carolina

Buffett to students: Passion will lead you to the top

By Peggy Binette, peggy@mailbox.sc.edu; 803-777-5400

Ask college business students whom they would most like to meet, and billionaire Warren Buffett is bound to be on the list.

Twenty business students in the Darla Moore School of Business had that opportunity in February when they flew to Nebraska to meet the “Oracle of Omaha” and get his take on leadership and life.

“This was by far the most influential, amazing experience of my life,” said Jocelyn Paonita, a junior finance major from Summerville.

Catherine Barall, a senior honors college student from Columbia, Md., said the conversation with Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, dovetailed with her studies.

“It supplements everything I have learned in my finance classes, and it’s even more useful on a real-world level,” said Barrall, a triple major in international business, finance and risk management. “It was definitely the best experience I have had in the business school outside of classes. It was an incredible opportunity in relation to my future career plans. I plan on becoming an investment manager, and Warren Buffett is the best investor in the world. His knowledge and life lessons made me realize even more how excited I am to start my career.”

The students -- 12 undergraduates and eight graduate students -- were selected through an application process. Each year Buffett extends an invitation to a half-dozen business schools to meet with him. John Bachmann, managing partner with Edward Jones and a distinguished executive-in-residence at the Moore School, helped secure the invitation. Professor Jim Austin accompanied the students on the trip.

Joining Moore School students in a question-and-answer session with Buffett were students from Harvard, Columbia, Creighton, Iowa, Minnesota, NYU and UCLA.

The Moore School students say they were impressed by Buffett’s easygoing manner and genuine interest in them. Justin Jensen, a junior from Greenville, listened closely to Buffett’s message of finding a balance between one’s personal life and career.

“We were all expecting some master plan to make millions (or billions), but what he said was that he sees more value in doing something you enjoy than doing something that will make you a billionaire,” said Jensen, an honors college student majoring in finance and international business. “He lives a modest lifestyle, and that type of attitude is inspirational to me and every young college student. He made me think that if I focus on working hard at something I know and something that I enjoy, then I am certain to be successful.”

Buffett said his recipe for success is communication, passion and dedication.

“He told us that he excelled in his field because he loves it and because he is in control of what he does and where he will go in the future,” Paonita said. “He said we should do what we enjoy and that the money will follow because passion will lead you to the top.”

Football and Finance

Before Carolina students could ask their first question, Buffett jumped in to give his take on South Carolina’s win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, saying, “You know you were very lucky with that pass at the end of the first half,” referring to Alshon Jeffery’s Hail Mary catch.

After a long laugh, Carolina students asked their three questions:

Q: What would you do if you were 21 and had to make your fortune all over again?

“I would probably become a newspaper boy. There’s not much difference between my life and your life. I probably have a similar house, car and lifestyle to you. I spend 12 hours a week playing online bridge against my friend in San Francisco for free. The only difference between my life and your life is my private jet, which I’m not going to give up.”

Q: The U.S. trade deficit is unsustainable. How do you propose we resolve this?

“The government should raise 18 to 19 percent of GDP through taxation. The government should spend 21 percent of GDP. A 2- to 3- percent deficit is acceptable. The problem is exacerbated by medical expenses. We spend 17 percent of GDP alone on medical expenses. No other country spends more than 10 percent of its GDP on medical expenses.”

Q: You require one-third of the participants at this event to be women. What is the reason for this requirement? [USC’s group included eight female students]

“There are two reasons for that, and I’m going to tell you about one of them. I was born in 1930 and had two sisters. My sisters were just as smart as I was and had better personalities, but they weren’t awarded as many opportunities as I was. I want women to be afforded greater opportunities in this day and age.”

After lunch at Buffett’s favorite spot, Piccolo Petes, the Moore School students toured two Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries and discussed the companies’ business strategies.

Buffett summed up his good fortune for the group by saying, “I live on cherry coke. I drink strawberry milkshakes for lunch, and I eat popcorn for dinner. I’ve been very lucky.”

Barall also feels lucky for the opportunities that the Moore School has provided, including the help she received in landing an internship this summer.

“Siemens Industry invests in its workers with a rotational development program. It could possibly be where I begin my full-time career,” Barall said.

 

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Posted: 03/02/12 @ 2:25 AM | Updated: 03/30/12 @ 7:27 PM | Permalink