Engineering science undergrad meets Buffett, learns investment great’s philosophies

Business magnate, famed investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett, center, joins Vanderbilt University students in making the school's hand sign. (Submitted)

Her trip to meet investment genius Warren Buffett was a whirlwind, but Vanderbilt engineering science major Katherine Ferraro learned a lot from him.

Her main takeaway: Pick a person you know and imagine you’ll get 10 percent of all his or her successes for life, and then list the person’s five best qualities. Choose to practice those qualities.

But that was far from the only advice Buffett passed along during her visit last month. Ferraro, who is also a financial economics and engineering management minor, said she plans to carry his words with her past Commencement and into her next phase as a consultant with Bain & Company in Dallas.

“He was so down to earth,” she said. “He said that, if he made $100,000 a year and could keep his airplane, which he really loves, his life would not change at all.”

Engineering science major Katherine Ferraro at Nebraska Furniture Mart. (Submitted)

Managerial Studies Program Director Gary Kimball said Buffett invited students from Owen Graduate School of Management, along with six other universities, to spend the day at Berkshire Hathaway, tour company facilities and have lunch and a Q&A session with him. There were slots for 15 graduate students and two undergraduates from Vanderbilt, and he selected Ferraro as one of the latter.

“I selected Katherine because she is the embodiment of the ideal student: attentive, friendly, conscientious, extremely hard working and exceptionally bright,” he said. “Katherine had displayed in class the ability to take very complicated issues and analyze such with clarity of process and results. Her work consistently displayed an inspiration for excellence.”

Kimball said the experience of getting to meet arguably the best investor of the last 50 years was priceless for students.

Ferraro agreed. Her group prepared for the visit by researching Buffett and reading a compilation of his essays. They voted on the best questions to ask him.

In Omaha, they toured the massive showroom of Nebraska Furniture Mart, a subsidiary of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, and learned about the engineering system behind nightly price updates on every item to ensure the business is beating its competitors. Then they gathered with students from six other universities at Berkshire Hathaway’s headquarters and heard from the CEO himself.

“His presence filled the room, but in the best kind of way,” Ferraro said. “He was just so welcoming.

“We were particularly interested in technology investments and the way Mr. Buffett approaches negotiation. With each question, Mr. Buffett made sure to incorporate a personal example and provide really meaningful advice.”

Buffett then treated students from all the schools to lunch at the Field Club of Omaha, volunteering to drive four of them – including a Vanderbilt student – in his own car.


Heidi Hall, (615) 322-6614
On Twitter @VUEngineering