ATHENS, Ga. — When he was 14, Sham Gad was flipping through a book of careers, searching for his future dream job. Along with the relatively enormous starting salaries for investment bankers, another item that caught his eye was the biography of legendary investor Warren Buffett.
"I think he's one of the smartest people in the world, not just in terms of investing, but also with regards to economics, politics and corporate America in general," said Gad. "He is the single reason why I want to run an investment partnership in the future."
Now Gad, an 11-month MBA student in the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business, has helped organize a whirlwind weekend excursion that will bring his MBA classmates closer to the man many admirers and pundits hail as the World's Greatest Investor. Nearly 60 Terry MBA students are set to have an audience with the "Oracle of Omaha" in the middle of the 24-hour trip to meet Buffett and tour the Berkshire Hathaway corporate headquarters in Nebraska January 19-20.
Gad, who grew up in Athens and earned a bachelor's degree from Terry in 2000, got the idea years ago when he read about another graduate school's travels to Omaha to visit Buffett. Upon his acceptance to the Terry MBA program, "making that type of trip a reality was one of the first things on my mind." Partially driven out of an intense personal desire to meet Buffett, Gad wrote an introductory letter to the Berkshire Hathaway magnate "explaining why such an opportunity to visit would be beneficial for our MBA program and all of the students involved."
A few weeks later, Gad received a response with an invitation for his Terry MBA classmates to join MBA students from the University of Southern California on January 20 for a tour of Berkshire's corporate headquarters, complete with a question-and-answer session with Buffett himself. "He's extremely devoted to the learning process for business students," Gad noted.
Jeff Cole, a medical doctor and Evening MBA student at UGA's Gwinnett campus, has helped organize the trip. "I remember reading about Buffett while I was in high school back in 1973, and his bio really jumped out at me. I've been a student and follower ever since."
Cole and Gad have teamed up to link the evening and full-time MBA programs together for the Omaha excursion.
"The collaboration between the two programs has been tremendously successful," said Cole, a former neurosurgeon who now works in health care administration in Athens. "I'm thrilled that close to 60 people from UGA will be making this trip to see a man who, despite being the second richest person in America, lives just like we do — living below one's means and investing wisely. That commonality, combined with his uncommon achievement, will certainly impress the students."
MBA Program Director Peter Shedd endorsed Gad's idea as soon as he broached it and put him in touch with Cole in the Evening MBA program.
"I think having our program associated with Mr. Buffett and the other programs involved puts us in a very special category," Shedd said. "This trip should serve as an inspiration to both current and future students that their initiation and drive can win opportunities for themselves and their classmates."
Both Cole and Gad have attended Berkshire shareholder meetings and have come away with valuable information. Cole is particularly grateful to the company; in 1994, he invested in Berkshire stock at approximately $15,000 a share. The stock now trades at close to $109,000 per share.
Emily Purcell, a first-year MBA student in the full-time program, is eager to learn from the investment legend. "It's such an incredible opportunity. In everything I have seen and read on Mr. Buffett, he is one of the most down-to-earth and charitable men you could meet, even with his immense wealth," she said. "To understand from him firsthand the lessons that he has learned in business and in life is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which will undoubtedly help shape my perspective on a variety of issues."
William Harper, another first-year MBA, aspires to be the chief executive of a major company and "hopes to gain knowledge as to what it takes to excel in today's corporate environment."
Gad is convinced the visit will have very positive results: "This trip will provide a great deal of wisdom for students on how to pursue their careers in business. Buffett's research and thorough investigation is such a key ingredient to his success. He is so effective at utilizing time and resources in order to make better, wiser decisions, and that is a lesson to which all MBA students should pay attention."
Gad said students making the trip also will take away some important messages regarding not only finance, but also character. "He's a man of such impeccable integrity, which is so critical in the business world. What he's built is amazing. There will never be another Warren Buffett."
Perhaps not, Cole said, but there will always be plenty of Buffett disciples who will carry on his wisdom and tenets of value investing. "His entire body of work and the way he lives sets a great example for all of us to follow."