‘Woodstock for Capitalists’ Brings Investing to Life for Business Students

By Kerry C. Regan, June 19, 2018
IC Students Attend Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting.

Eight Ithaca College students were among the 40,000-plus who attended the 2018 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, popularly known as the “Woodstock for capitalists.” They were there as guests of three shareholders with IC connections, who, for the second year in a row, offered the opportunity to top-performing business students to get a taste of real-world investing.

Among the highlights: a chance to gain some pearls of wisdom from Berkshire’s plain-spoken chief executive officer, Warren Buffett, one of the world’s most successful investors and among the world’s five wealthiest people. He and long-time partner and company Vice Chairman Charlie Munger held forth for five hours answering questions from shareholders, who line up as early as 3 a.m. for the 7 a.m. meeting to ensure they get a spot in the 17,500-seat arena. Latecomers must watch video feeds in other venues.

The IC contingent arrived at 5:15 a.m. “When the doors open, people literally run to get good seats,” said one of the trip’s organizers, Jay Muenzen ’02, director of IC’s investment program and an instructor in the business administration program, noting that the IC contingent “walked fast.”

The meeting was part of a three-day trip organized by Muenzen and Jeff Bush ’10. The tour kicked off with a full day at the Wichita, Kansas, headquarters of multinational conglomerate Koch Industries, one of the largest private companies in the U.S. Bush is a manager of a strategy and business development group within Koch’s agriculture and energy subsidiary, KAES. He facilitated a day of conversations with Koch colleagues and senior executives, who offered advice on navigating career paths and what Koch looks for in job/internship candidates, and provided examples of a day in the life of Koch corporate development analysts.

“Every internship or job I’ve had has some sort of Ithaca connection contributing to the opportunity.”

Jeff Bush ’10

The group then moved on to Omaha, where the festival-like Berkshire Hathaway meeting offers a full weekend of activities, including exhibitions by Berkshire Hathaway companies like Dairy Queen and Geico, as well as a Sundaymorning footrace presented by Brooks Sports Inc. The IC group attended a Friday Columbia Business School Value Investor dinner as well as the Saturday meetings.

The trip exposes IC students to possible career opportunities outside financial hotbeds like New York City, the trip organizers noted. The students who participated were selected through an application process that was open to business students of all grade levels.

Sam Perri ’19 attended for the second year in a row. “I’m studying finance and accounting, and I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do after school, but this has sparked my interest in investing and changed my outlook on my career path,” he said.

The trip also had a tangible reward for Sam. Through contacts gained at Koch, he has an internship with the company this summer.

“We continually seek bright students who demonstrate humility, integrity and passion for value investing and who are interested in internships in Wichita or other locations across the broader Koch platform,” Bush said. “Every internship or job I’ve had has some sort of Ithaca connection contributing to the opportunity. The value of networking within the larger IC community has certainly benefited me and Robert Crawford ’10, another alum who contributes to the Berkshire Hathaway trip experience.”

The other seven student participants were: Gabrielle Bakkalapulo ’19, Jonathan Brown ’21, Guillermina Castro ’20, Rachel D’Amelio ’20, Tim Friedo ’20, Ryan Harter ’20 and Nicolle Mistysyn ’21. Friedo saw so much value in the experience that he ended his study abroad experience in London early to go on the trip.  Steven Novakovic, an instructor of finance and international business, accompanied the students on the trip along with Muenzen.

Muenzen hopes to make it an annual event. “I’m a big proponent of learning outside the classroom,” he said. “The students have meaningful interactions with alumni and top professionals in the field that can shape and change their lives. You can’t overstate the value of that kind of experience.”