Tens of thousands of shareholders flocked to Omaha, Neb., this weekend for Berkshire Hathaway’s (BRK-A, BRK-B) annual conference to hear CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger give an update on the $360 billion conglomerate and watch them drink Coke. And notably among the faithful this year was a growing number of Buffett fans from China – around 3,000.
“For me, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger are the gods of investing. We feel lucky that we can come here and they can share their luck with us,” says Xiang Wang, 38, president of Invesmart, a Shenzhen-based fund manager. A true follower, Wang said he has attended the meeting every year since becoming a Berkshire shareholder in 2011. Last year he organized a trip for 30 of his friends. This year he came with his wife and an employee and his family. And a highlight every year is a visit to Buffett’s home. “We go to the outside of his house because normal people like us want to feel closer to Warren Buffett,” he says.
At the shareholder meeting last year Wang actually got the opportunity to meet the Oracle of Omaha himself. There is a rumor that circulates among Chinese circles that if you spend more than $250,000 on Berkshire products at the conference, you can meet Buffett, says Jing Li, the founder and president of JingLi U.S., a marketing firm that helps organize U.S. tours for Chinese investors. (Wang planned his own trip to Omaha.)
There’s no official rule but Wang decided to test out the theory anyway. The annual meeting is held at Omaha’s CenturyLink Center and several of Berkshire’s 62 subsidiaries are showcased in the exhibit hall every year. He bought about $200,000 worth of jewelry from Borsheims, a Berkshire-owned company, despite being told repeatedly that Buffett was too busy, particularly because it was the 50th annual meeting. However, once Wang began accumulating items, he says he “saw shiny coins and dollar signs from the salesman’s eyes.” Those dollar signs led to Borsheims setting up a meet and greet for Wang and Buffett after the Invest in Yourself 5K race that Berkshire organizes every year.
Wang made the most of his 15 minutes by asking Buffett two questions — one about the Chinese economy and one about why he doesn’t invest in Chinese companies. Buffett’s response to the latter: “Because I have an American heart.”
Li hears at least one story like Wang’s at every annual meeting. “Buffett knows how important the Chinese are among his investors,” Li says.
This year she partnered with three tour groups to organize a 10-day trip for 45 people from China, which included a weekend in Omaha, a trip to Stanford University, Google and Facebook headquarters, and a day trip to Las Vegas. In total, the trip, including all travel and lodging, came to about $13,600 per person.
She calls the annual meeting the “biggest annual party of high-quality, wealthy Chinese investors.” The key thing for them is to network with other investors. That’s why Chinese internet behemoth Tencent (TCEHY) and media company Sina (SINA) organized meetings at Omaha’s Hilton for Chinese investors to network and mingle.
“This is not just an event to listen to Warren Buffett. It’s a social networking event among the Chinese investors,” Li says. “They actually go to talk about other investment opportunities with each other.”
Li says for Chinese financiers, attending the annual meeting is a rite of passage. “Most of them don’t speak English well and need translators. But they come to experience the whole event because many of them have so much money. They don’t care about how much they need to spend if it means there’s a chance they can meet Buffett.” And investors like Wang say they’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Click here to view a full replay of the 2016 Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting, which Yahoo Finance live-streamed exclusively. At this page you can also find our extensive coverage of the event.