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CCU Magazine feature, The Buffett Blog. Ryan Borawski, an MBA student who graduated in December, created a blog about his trip to meet Warren Buffett.

CCU students posed for a group shot on the roof of the TD Ameritrade headquarters.
Room at the Top: 23 Coastal Carolina University students posed for a group shot on the roof of the TD Ameritrade headquarters as part of their trip to Omaha. Blogger Ryan Borawski is fourth from the right.

Bill Gerber, CFO of TD Ameritrade, answers questions posed by CCU Students.
Tricks of the Trade:
Bill Gerber, CFO of TD Ameritrade, answers questions posed by CCU Students.

CCU freshman finance major Ryan Barkley, an offensive lineman on the Chanticleer football team, hands off a jersey to TD Ameritrade CFO Bill Gerber.
Winning Combination:
CCU freshman finance major Ryan Barkley, an offensive lineman on the Chanticleer football team, hands off a jersey to TD Ameritrade CFO Bill Gerber.

November 14

We woke up today extremely excited for what was in store for us. Today was our planned visit to TD Ameritrade, one of the top online brokerage firms in the United States. 

At 10:30 a.m., we pulled up to an interesting looking building that had the TD Ameritrade logo stamped at the very top. It looked relatively new, but it was difficult to tell with the unique design and engineering concept. There’s 525,000 square feet of workspace that includes a gym, cafeteria, basketball and volleyball courts, and state-of-the-art classrooms for training their highly qualified employees, who wear casual dress clothes to work. It’s not uncommon to come across a ping-pong or foosball table as you roam the halls that are splashed with sunlight through the glass exterior. The entire building was glass—a newly developed environmentally friendly glass that keeps the heat inside and the cold Omaha winter air outside. All of the water used in the building comes from the 35,000-gallon tank that fills up from rainfall or snowmelt. The doors are made of bamboo. The walls are insulated with denim. Each room is strategically placed to face a certain direction so that sunlight won’t hinder productivity. Dozens of solar panels line the rooftop, with windmills that could create enough energy to power the entire facility. The total cost: $250 million—or just four months cash flow for the online broker juggernaut.

The only thing better than the state-of-the-art facility was the culture and the people we met today. We were welcomed by enthusiastic employees who wanted to give us the best experience possible, beginning with Leah, the executive assistant who took our pictures. Then, Bill Gerber, the CFO of the company, walked out front to meet us and explained what we would be doing for the day. It was a tour, lunch, questions, more questions, some final questions and a final tour. As an MBA student, I thought it was just an incredible experience to pick the brain of one of the top executives in corporate America—and one of the funniest.

We discussed the history and current strategy of TD Ameritrade, the economy, management, politics, family life, company culture and the importance of self-improvement. The session included in-depth talks, a lot of note taking, nonstop laughter, information and advice that we will use for a lifetime. What an experience, and this was just day number one. 

November 15

Today was the big day. Today we were going to meet the most renowned investor in the history of the United States, Warren Buffett, president and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. This is a man who has a net worth of over $50 billion, yet is humble and down to earth. As part of our itinerary, we were scheduled to visit a few Berkshire Hathaway companies. The day started at The Nebraska Furniture Mart. The facility was enormous, the inventory was incredible, and the management was great. We were one of six schools that met there: Kansas State, University of Maryland, Notre Dame, University of Nebraska, Brigham Young University, and yours truly, Coastal Carolina University.

Legendary philanthropist and investor Warren Buffett accepts a signed football from CCU students.
One Chance in a Billion: Legendary philanthropist and investor Warren Buffett (center) accepts a signed football from the CCU group. (From left to right) Brianna Brown, Shana Ernst, Lindsey Weintraub, Shaneka Diggs, Naomi Dantzler, Tabitha Yagle, Cora Panos, Ryan Barkley, Amanda Thompson, Gina Cummings, Dominique De Wit, Ken Small, Diane Loscalzo, Warren Buffett, Alexander Klaus, Zachary Burns, Matthew Zellars, Patrick Beaver, Ryan Borawski, Lee Franks, Caitlin Vatcher, Joshua Chesner, Britany Higdon and Natalia Copenhaver.

When we pulled up to the Berkshire Hathaway headquarters in downtown Omaha, we were ushered into a room on the 14th floor with about 100 other students. Before we knew it, Warren Buffett walked in from the back of the room. After some hilarious jokes, he covered the background and the reasoning behind the purchase of The Nebraska Furniture Mart for Berkshire Hathaway. Then he opened it up to questions, in alphabetical order by school. BYU asked their question, and then it was Coastal Carolina University’s turn. Initially, Mr. Buffet was less interested in our question than with how the Coastal Carolina football team was doing. Many stone-faced students from other institutions seemed dumbfounded that Coastal Carolina football was on Warren Buffett’s mind. 

Our question was about Warren’s mentors and the degree of influence they had on his life and career. He spent well over 10 minutes answering the question. Every word that came out of this gentleman’s mouth was insightful. In total, every school asked two questions. Our next question addressed equality and women in the workforce. His response showed strong support for women in executive positions. In fact, he referred to that question a few more times as the presentation went on. The entire meeting lasted about two hours. At this point, everybody’s notebooks were covered in ink, and our brains were filled with new information that we had never heard before. 

The meeting wrapped up, and we were ready to go to Piccolo Pete’s for lunch—on Mr. Buffett’s dime. The food was great, the reflection of the experience even better. After lunch, we presented him with a custom-made football signed by Coach Moglia. Mr. Buffett proceeded to yell, “This is great, go deep!” We then squished in for a group picture. He asked us to say hello to Coach Moglia. “Tell Joe that I recently arm wrestled Ndamukong Suh [former Nebraska and current Detroit Lions defensive tackle] and beat him. I made him sign a waiver before the wrestling match so that I wouldn’t get in trouble once I hurt him and, yes, I won!” 

What a trip and what an experience! Of course this opportunity could not take place if it weren’t for the help of some amazing people. Alexander Klaus, who was named last year’s Coastal Carolina Alumnus of the Year, was extremely instrumental in making this trip happen. Rob Reed and Cara Scheuer were great faculty advisers and did an incredible job arranging the details. Ken Small and Gina Cummings of the Wall College made the trip with us and were invaluable in preparing us for the daily events. Finally, to the 23 students who were chosen for the trip: there is no other group of students that I would rather be with and no other school that I would rather represent than Coastal Carolina University.