Shortly after his graduation, Bobby Sullivan ’08 brought a game-changing idea to Professor David Chu, director of the Ciocca Office of Entrepreneurial Studies and prebusiness advisor. One of Sullivan’s close relatives sets up student visits for Warren Buffett, the recent graduate said, which meant he could help Holy Cross get invited to meet the Oracle of Omaha.
The timing did not work out right away. But Sullivan patiently checked with Chu every year. And on Jan. 31 Holy Cross students will meet Buffett in Omaha as part of a trip hosted by the student-led Finance Club. What makes this meeting especially noteworthy is that Holy Cross is the only liberal arts college invited; other attendees (primarily MBA candidates) will come from business schools such as the MIT Sloan School of Management.
“We do not offer either a business or finance major, but we still have a large number of graduates in finance,” Chu says. “You can always learn the technical stuff on the job. Our students’ can leverage their liberal arts training to see the world from a different angle. That’s where they add value.”
The schedule includes a question-and-answer session with Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway headquarters and tours of three Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries: Nebraska Furniture Mart, the largest home furnishing store in North America; Borsheim’s, a leader in the jewelry industry; and Oriental Trading Company, the nation’s largest direct merchant of value-priced novelties. Each tour will include meetings with members of the subsidiary’s finance and operations teams.
“It’s very exciting to think about meeting someone like Buffett with so much influence in the business world,” says Christina Rudolf ’14, an economics and accounting major from Switzerland, who helped organize the trip. “It will be a great learning experience, a great networking experience, and a great conversation starter in the future.”
What’s such an invitation worth? Companies have paid up to $3.46 million for their executives to dine with Buffett as part of an annual fundraiser for San Francisco’s Glide Foundation. Holy Cross students will interact with Buffett for the price of a plane ticket and an enthusiasm for investing.
They’ll also participate in preparatory activities designed to put them at their best advantage. Holy Cross investment officer Dan Ricciardi ’06 will lead a workshop in which students look at Berkshire Hathaway’s individual subsidiaries.
“There’s a lot more to running a business than just knowing basic financial metrics,” says Ricciardi, who will accompany students on the trip. “Seeing these businesses work and operate and understanding a corporation as a living, breathing thing: this is something students really get excited about.”
Like the other students, Rudolf has prepared potential questions for Buffett. “I’m interested in how women have shaped his business strategy,” Rudolf says. “I want to know how he foresees involvement of women in his company in the future and if he has any female role models.”
As president of the Finance Club, Andrew Marzo ’14, an economics major from Berkeley Heights, N.J., took the lead in planning the Omaha trip. He plans to ask Warren Buffett for his perspective on the value of a liberal arts education. Marzo is confident Holy Cross students will demonstrate that value in person.
“Holy Cross students have a tremendous amount of intellectual curiosity; we learn how to ask questions and to problem solve,” Marzo says. “And we have a culture of execution. Everyone who spends four years at Holy Cross learns how to get things done. That’s what allows us to compete against these other schools.”
In addition to Rudolf and Marzo, the following students will be meeting with Buffett.
Seniors (Class of 2014): Kevin Dufault, Shrewsbury, Mass.; Brian Flaherty, Fairfield, Conn.; Brett Gardocki, Suffield, Conn.; Yingying Hao, Beijing; Natalya Krykova, Nashua, N.H.; Kathleen Luther, Omaha, Neb.; Andrew Marzo, Berkeley Heights, N.J.; Megan Marrkand, Westford, Mass.; Gareth Purdy, Kansas City, Mo.; Eric Sherman, Hingham, Mass.; Brendan Siebecker, White Plains, N.Y.; and Xin Yuan, Ningbo, China.
Juniors (Class of 2015): Nicole Tan, Selangor, Malaysia; Patrick Toolan, Millington, N.J.; and Doug Wells, Darien, Conn.