Saying Yes to Omaha
Mar 12, 2015 10:57AM
By Anthony Flott
The Omaha billionaire gave Fox Business Network Anchor Liz Claman two of them. But the market maven still got the deal she was after—what eventually became the hour-long 2006 CNBC report, “Warren Buffett: The Billionaire Next Door.”
“He rejected the first couple of pitches,” Claman says.
Initially, Claman proposed talking about upcoming mid-term elections. “He summarily said, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen in politics.’” Claman countered, suggesting they talk about what might happen a bit closer to Buffett’s wheelhouse—the markets. Again, Claman got a “no.”
“He said, ‘I don’t know where the market’s going.’ Now I’ve struck out twice.”
She got a hit on her third swing, suggesting she come to Omaha and ask Buffett how he values a business. “That’s all he cares about—finding great, appropriately valued businesses.
“I finally got it right. I remember it so crystal clearly. It really was a pivotal moment in my career. Journalists get a lot of ‘nos.’ The really good ones don’t take no for an answer.”
Make no mistake, Claman’s one of the good ones. She made a national name for herself with CNBC then, in October 2007, jumped to Fox Business Network where today she anchors “Countdown to the Closing Bell.” Her debut with Fox? An exclusive with Buffett, of course.
Claman has made it to Omaha more than a dozen times, mostly to report on the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder Meeting. And she’s still getting her one-on-one with Buffett, as well as time with his sidekicks, Berkshire VP Charlie Munger and fellow billionaire buddy Bill Gates.
Claman knew precious little about Buffett’s hometown before her first visit. “My mother was a huge fan of Willa Cather and had us read all her books,” she says. “That’s what I knew.”
But it’s become a welcome spring break. “I never, never roll my eyes thinking I ‘have’ to go to Omaha,” she says. “I love the restaurants. I have my favorite people, favorite places. Omaha has a vibe to it.”
Especially the food. She mentions Twisted Fork, M.’s Pub, Mahogany Prime Steakhouse, and V. Mertz (“As good as any high-end New York restaurant,” she says). Last year, she held a meet-and-greet at 801 Chophouse. And at Buffett’s request she ran a 5k charity run sponsored by a Berkshire holding company. Then again. And again. The Fox Business crew joins her.
She’ll cover her ninth Berkshire annual meeting when it convenes May 2. It never gets old.
“There’s nothing like it in corporate America or the business world,” says Claman, who’s covered the meeting from recession to recovery. “I think Warren and Charlie work very hard to keep it fresh every single time, and every year they really stay on the news of what’s happening and also pointing forward to where they think it’s going.”
Claman has to continually reinvent her reporting of Buffett, too. She’s interviewed him 31 times, but often with a different twist. It’s a must given the copycat nature of news reporting. One year there was an hour-long sit-down with Buffett, Munger and Gates as the markets opened. Then came the Monday sit-downs. Then questions with Buffett on the Thursday preceding the meeting—right before a bridge game. Then an interview at the Hilton—“Berkshire Central,” Claman calls it—as shareholders were checking in.
CNBC and Bloomberg News have followed suit. But Claman, like Buffett, seems to always stay one step ahead of the competition.
“Each time we do something different,” she says. “I always have something up my sleeve. It’s really on us to keep it fresh and different.”