Rady MBAs and UC San Diego Undergrads Meet Warren Buffet

Students with Warren Buffet

Don’t get into credit card debt. Don’t make any business decision that you wouldn’t like to read about on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. Learn to master public speaking. Marry someone who will be supportive and uplifting. That was some of the advice investment guru Warren Buffett gave 20 undergraduate and graduate students from UC San Diego when they met him during a student gathering he hosts every year in Omaha, Neb.

The students, from the Rady School of Management and UC San Diego’s Undergraduate Investment Society, said Buffett inspired them to pursue their dream jobs. “Ask yourself: If you won the lottery, would you still go to work the next day?” was how he put it.

Students toured businesses owned by Berkshire Hathaway, where Buffett is chairman and CEO. Then students had the opportunity to talk with Buffett personally over lunch at his favorite restaurant.

Buffett convinced Danielle Cusumano, MBA ’11, to take advanced management communications. “He said that it is not just your ability to get up in front of a large audience that will determine your success, but how persuasive you are.”

Wesley Ren, MBA ’12, said some of Buffett’s most valuable advice was to worry about an investment’s big picture, not the nickels and dimes of each transaction. “When he put that in perspective, it is very convincing.”

The Rady School, the Chartered Financial Analyst Society of San Diego and the UC San Diego Foundation sponsored the trip, covering travel costs to Omaha for all 20 students.

During the Q&A session, Buffet cautioned students that the recession isn’t really over, despite government reports. Markets are still depressed, but in the long run, the U.S. economy still offers unique opportunities, he also said. A good short hand for his message would be “When people are greedy, be fearful, but when people are fearful, be greedy,” said Jamie Homrig, a second-year student at the Rady School.

Buffett’s guiding principles in business are simple and common sense, yet few people put them into practice, Homrig also said. Spend less than you earn, Buffett advised. Invest what you don’t spend. Don’t get into credit card debt. Once you do, there’s no investment that can make up for the interest and finance charges.

Buffett also put a strong emphasis on ethics. Business decisions should be made with integrity, he said. Visualize yourself at the center of a circle defined by your principles. If you’re constantly stretching your boundaries and pushing your limits, you will inevitably find yourself outside of the circle one day, he told his audience.

A Rady instructor made a similar analogy during a class recently, Homrig said. It’s called “The Wall Street Journal test,” he added: if it shows up on the front page of that paper, you better be happy with it.

One offshoot of Buffett’s strong emphasis on integrity is his focus leadership. When he buys a company, he doesn’t want to run it, Homrig said. He wants it to run itself — and ethical leaders are key.

Homrig, the Rady student, is pondering starting his own business or working in private equity. He said Buffett is a personal idol, not just because he succeeded, but because of how he attained success.

“He follows his principles, he doesn’t cheat, he doesn’t break the rules,” Homrig said. “And he’s done really well.”

Portions of this article initially appeared in ThisWeek@UCSD. Click here to read the full story.