Past winners from China say lunch was well worth it

Updated: 2011-06-13 13:34

By Li Aoxue (China Daily)

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Past winners from China say lunch was well worth it

BEIJING - Two Chinese business tycoons who attended previous Warren Buffett auction lunches called the experience informative and inspiring, according to earlier media reports.

Duan Yongping, a 50-year-old executive in the electronic appliance business, has attended Buffett's charity lunch twice. He said the lunch always includes seven to eight people, chatting for three hours. He was the winning bidder in 2006, paying $620,100, and again in 2008 when he put in a joint bid with Zhao Danyang.

"It would not be only the bidder who asks Buffett questions, and the topics can include investment, life and charity," Duan told the Chinese business website yicai.com. "We would also talk about golf, playing bridge and girlfriends," he said.

"For instance, we talked about investment. I asked him whether he had made mistakes on investment. He said he did: He invested $4 billion in a company 10 years ago, in a deal that turned out to be worth only $400 million.

"But this is like playing golf, he said. If you perform well on every shot, it is not fun. The key to investment is to reduce the mistakes you make," Duan said.

Zhao, 38, a Chinese hedge fund manager, paid $2.11 million for the lunch in 2008. He told the media that he and Buffett talked broadly and topics included inflation, foreign exchange rates, company management and charity.

While dining at Smith & Wollensky steakhouse in New York in June 2009, Zhao gave Buffett the famous Chinese white spirit Maotai and donkey-hide gelatin (the 2,000-year-long traditional Chinese medicine for enriching health). Zhao also asked Buffett to sign several copies of Buffett's book, The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, according to a report on Zhao's blog at sina.com.cn.

Buffett gave Zhao's 6-year-old son a $20 bill and wished the junior Zhao a future as a great investor.

While Buffett heard that Zhao Danyang's fund return was 47 percent that year. Buffett playfully gave his wallet to Zhao, asking him to manage his money.

Duan says most of Buffett's observations have already been heard before. "But the biggest harvest of the lunch is that it enhanced my confidence on value investment," Duan said.

"Having a conversation with Buffet face-by-face is different," Zhao said. "Buffet told me how to make decision based on his experience, and I have learned this from him," Zhao said.

"It is like what we read from the martial arts novel: When a disciple practices with the martial arts master, he will improve himself after the practice every time," Zhao said.

Asked why they bid for the "expensive" lunch, Duan said they did it because the money goes to charity, and he makes substantial charitable gifts each year.

"My wife and I had also set up a fund for Chinese students at Stanford University.

"Since this lunch is a donation and allows me to have a conversation with a billionaire investor, why not?" Duan said.

Zhao said that he had been puzzled by some investment problems for years and could not find the answer in a young capital market like China.

But Buffett, coming from a mature capital market and with experience in several business cycles, had a broader insight on investment.

"It's not because you are not smart enough to solve the problems. It's because you haven't experienced enough," Zhao said. He said he got great insight during the three-hour lunch and what he gained could not be quantified in money.


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