Marvin Blum knew he had won the lottery. But don’t call him and tell him some story about being a distant relative.
The estate planning lawyer from Fort Worth’s The Blum Firm didn’t win the actual lottery, but he did earn the right to ask the first question from his station at the 2023 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. That’s a rare thing, at least for most people. For Blum, it’s the third time he’s been able to ask a question at the event in 10 years of attending.
Often called “The Woodstock for Capitalists,” the annual meeting is as much festival as it is a business meeting. Some attendees camp out the night before to get a good seat.
Only about a dozen people attended the first meeting of stockholders in 1965, but now up to 50,000 flock to Omaha, Nebraska, a city of less than 500,000, to glean pearls of folksy business wisdom and some witticisms from 99-year-old Charlie Munger (vice chairman) and the more youthful 92-year-old Warren Buffett (CEO and chairman) of the holding company that owns such well-known brands such as GEICO, Duracell, Fruit of the Loom and Dairy Queen.
In fact, at the annual meeting, you can buy Dairy Queen ice cream, Fruit of the Loom T-shirts and underwear, Brooks shoes, Justin boots, GEICO insurance, Pampered Chef cookware, chocolates from See’s, and plenty more items from various Berkshire-owned companies.
Like a rock festival, there are T-shirts — and underwear — emblazoned with Buffett’s and Munger’s faces. This year, there were Buffett-themed Squishmallows, a large pillow from a company owned by Berkshire Hathway. Blum says they sell lots and lots of Dilly bars from Dairy Queen, one of Buffett’s favorite treats.
“That’s my wife’s favorite part of the trip,” said Blum.
This year’s meeting, on May 6, was streamed live on CNBC but ran into stiff competition: the coronation of King Charles. Buffett joked that they had their own royalty, their own King Charles – his business partner, Charlie Munger.
Blum loves going to the event, in large part because Berkshire Hathaway has so many interests in Fort Worth.
The conglomerate, whose stock trades at about $325, owns BNSF Railway, Acme Brick, Justin Boots, TTI in Fort Worth and Mouser in Mansfield.
Blum got lucky his first time at bat, getting to ask a question about estate planning and Buffett’s famous thesis that he wants to leave his children “enough so they can do anything, but not so much that they can do nothing.”
Blum asked Buffett: “How much is that?”
Buffett’s answer: “I think that more of our kids are ruined by the behavior of their parents than by the amount of the inheritance.”
That was 10 years ago and now it is more competitive to ask a question, particularly because they take them online, said Blum.
About 10 microphone stations or zones were set up around the arena for the questions, and Blum found himself at zone four. Attendees interested in asking questions take half of a lottery ticket with a number on it and the other half goes into a box. The monitors at each zone then pick the numbers out of a box to decide the order of the questions.
This year, when the monitor handed Blum his ticket, he knew he was a winner.
“I looked down at it and I told the guy right then, ‘This is my year.’ I said, ‘I’ve got this.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘How do you know that?’ I said, ‘Because you just handed me my lucky number.’”
Blum had the number 18.
“In the Jewish religion, 18 is a very special number,” Blum said. “Eighteen actually signifies the word life. In Hebrew, the number 18 is represented by the letters chet (8) and yud (10), which spells the word ‘chai,’ the Hebrew word for ‘life.’ ”
It has become a custom in Jewish culture to give monetary gifts in multiples of 18, signifying a hope for a long life.
So when the monitor later drew out his number first, Blum was fully expecting it.
Veteran attendee Blum had written his question in advance. He knew to do this because the first year he asked a question he was thrown off by the reverberation effect in the arena.
He also writes out the question because it can be intimidating to stand in a room with about 40,000 people and be on live TV as well.
“That’s a lot of people watching you,” said Blum. “I’m not shy, but that’s a big crowd, and now with TV it’s even larger.”
He began his question by introducing himself as being from Fort Worth, “home to many of your companies.” He then mentioned the fact that he had met Buffett at the memorial for Paul Andrews, the late founder and CEO of TTI.
Electronics-component distributor TTI Inc. was purchased by Berkshire Hathaway in 2007, the third Fort Worth company to be acquired by the conglomerate. Andrews died in 2021 at 78.
“I always like to mention Fort Worth because Warren loves Fort Worth,” he said. “I think Omaha is a lot like Fort Worth and Warren likes Fort Worth, obviously, because he owns so many companies here.”
Because so many of the questions Buffett receives are about investing, Blum, as an estate planner, said he likes to ask questions about estate planning and inheritance.
Blum’s question asked for Buffett’s thoughts on the failure of many parents to prepare the next generation for an inheritance, particularly an inheritance that may include a family business.
Buffett had plenty of advice to offer. He said he will not sign a will until his three children have read it, understood it and made suggestions.
“I do think if the children are grown and the will is read to them, and if this is the first time the kids have heard about this, the parents have made a terrible mistake,” Buffett said.
Buffett said in a number of cases he has known, the children did not know what was in the will until it was read to them.
“Within 15 minutes both sides had a lawyer,” he said.
Buffett said that if you want your children to have values that are important to you, you have to live those values.
“They’re learning about it from you from the day they were born,” he said. “Don’t think a cleverly drawn will will substitute for your own behavior in teaching your kids the values you hope the kids will have.”
Then Buffett turned back to TTI’s Andrews.
He said Andrews could have sold to another company for a higher price, but he wanted to take care of his team and he knew Berkshire Hathaway would do that.
Blum was pleased Buffett talked about Andrews.
“I think Andrews, like Buffett, had those values,” said Blum. “For Paul, it wasn’t about the money. He wanted to take care of those people who were working for him. He knew that Buffett wouldn’t come in and raid the company. That’s the kind of values Warren understands.”
Blum will be back next year and as long as the two gurus of capitalism are offering bits of wisdom.
“Maybe I’ll get to ask another question,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate so far.”
New life for Public Market
The long-empty Fort Worth Public Market is getting a new life. The iconic building at 1400 S. Henderson St. opened in 1930 as one of three Public Market buildings in the South from original developer John J. Harden. The building was designed by B. Gaylord Noftsger of Oklahoma City and cost about $150,000 to build or about $2.7 million in 2023 dollars.
The site was used by local farmers, vendors and businesses, and at one point it housed 145 vendor stalls and 30 permanent retail spots. But the Great Depression took its toll on the Public Market, and it basically closed in 1941. It was then used for a variety of purposes but fell into disuse. It remained vacant, but the striking architecture and stained glass windows have seen the building become a focus for historic preservation.
It was purchased in 2012 by Fort Worth energy executive Bob Simpson, who has purchased and renovated several historical buildings, but he then sold it in 2014 to Cisco-based Wilks Development.
Wilks Development plans to build a five-story senior-living building that backs up to the original building and Interstate 30. There are also plans for a restaurant and office space in the main building. On its website, Wilks Development touts the building’s close proximity to downtown, the Cultural District and the near southside as key attributes.
A groundbreaking for the project is set for Tuesday, June 20, the 93rd anniversary of the original opening. Architecture firm BOKA Powell is working with Wilks Development on the project. The project is expected to finish in late 2024.
New drive-through brew
7 Brew, a drive-thru coffee concept, is dropping in on Saginaw – literally. The construction crew dropped the future 7 Brew coffee stand into place at 604 S. Saginaw Blvd. on Wednesday, May 17, in preparation for a planned July opening. The Saginaw Boulevard stand joins the already-open North Tarrant Parkway stand as the second 7 Brew location in the greater Fort Worth area. As part of the opening, the company is donating $1,000 to Cook Children’s.
7 Brew started in Rogers, Arkansas, in 2016. The brand currently has more than 75 stands across the country. The 7 Brew stand will add 50 jobs to the Saginaw area when it opens in July.
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