For some, the road to Omaha, Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffett costs a fortune.
For two Puyallup brothers, all it cost was an idea.
Anthony and Justin Lundberg, 12 and 9 respectively, met with Buffett a few weeks ago. They chatted. They dined. They came away richer for the experience both in their outlooks and their portfolios.
For their mother, Barbara, the billionaire Buffett “was the kind of guy you’d love to have as a neighbor.”
For the boys, he resembled a grandfather.
Their journey began with a cartoon and a boat.
The boat was old and yellow, and by last summer it had spent too many months out of the water and it was no longer useful to this Puyallup family. It was standing disused over on the side of the house. Barbara and Joel Lundberg decided to help teach the boys a lesson about finances, about selling and buying. If the brothers would make the boat presentable, then market and sell it, then they could share in the profit.
“People wanted to pay a little less than we wanted,” said Anthony. “We had to bring it down along the way.”
They were asking $4,200.
They took $3,200.
“Our dad got most if it,” Anthony said. “My brother and I got to $200 or $300 of it. We stuck it into a bank account.”
“That boat had been sitting there for three years,” said Barbara.
Alongside the boat came a lesson.
“We want them to understand the value of hard work and the cost of life,” Barbara said.
Lessons also arose on a website, smckids.com, home of the Secret Millionaires Club. The site focuses on financial literacy for children and young adults, and offers a series of cartoon “episodes” each containing a truth about money.
“The kids watched one a day,” said Barbara.
Warren Buffett is one of the characters on the site.
Another feature is a running stock ticker featuring companies including Disney, Build A Bear, Nintendo, Kelloggs, Nestle, Hershey and McDonalds.
“We got to know about the contest,” Anthony said.
That was last summer. The contest asked kids to come up with an idea fit for the marketplace and come up with a plan on how to make the idea into a business.
Anthony and Justin thought to mix apparel and technology.
“A solar-powered windbreaker that can charge a cellphone,” said Anthony.
MAKING THE FINALS
Anthony had been reading “Nanotechnology for Dummies” and he noted that his dad “loves being outside. He was always complaining about his cellphone dying.”
“It’s like a Powermat in your pocket,” said Justin.
“We kept brainstorming ideas,” he said. “We tried to work out the bugs.”
They entered the contest. They described something of a business plan, described the product, discussed what personnel they would need to succeed and how they would bring the product to market.
Competing against some 3,000 other entrants, the Lundberg brothers reached the semifinals. Contest organizers then sent a camcorder and directed that the brothers create a product video.
From five semifinalists they made the cut to three, which meant a trip to Omaha and a chance to meet the man himself.
Barbara took the call.
“She started screaming like crazy,” said Anthony.
Said Justin, “I was at a friend’s, and when I came back ...”
“... We were playing a trick on him, being casual. Then we told him we made it,” said Anthony.
A round of public voting followed, wherein the ideas were posted and online viewers voted to select a winner.
Joel and Barbara sent out emails to family and friends. Students and staff at Fruitland Elementary were enlisted to help. The boys were featured one night at on the big screen at Cheney Stadium. For reaching the finals, each boy received $500.
And a trip to Omaha with their parents and a mentor.
They left on May 20.
Justin and Anthony especially recall the large koi in a pond at the hotel.
And how it was announced that they came from “Pwallup.”
On the second day, Anthony said, they “had to go in this huge room. We were waiting and waiting.”
The two other teams presented.
Then came Anthony and Justin. They explained their product, and what they would need to succeed, and how they would go about the business of building a business.
“We thought the other team won,” said Anthony. That would be the team that managed a student store in New York. The third team came from Connecticut with an idea about home safety.
The eight judges went to work.
As they all waited, in walked Warren Buffett.
“Everybody jumped up and greeted him,” said Anthony.
“He was pretty funny. He was just kind of a normal person, not that different from anybody else,” said Justin.
“He was like someone’s grandpa,” said Anthony.
They all shared a buffet and a few lessons about business.
“The biggest lesson is to take a chance and do it, and you never know where it’s going to take you,” said Anthony.
“You have to take time, and not just jump in right away,” said Justin. “And the more you learn, the more you earn.”
“A big part was how to give back, how you do it not necessarily for yourself,” said Barbara.
Buffett liked the idea about the windbreaker.
“He said he needed to connect us to his friend Bill,” said Anthony.
That would be Bill Gates, Buffett’s friend and sometime bridge partner.
“It’s a great opportunity we’ve gotten here,” said Anthony.
The opportunity extends beyond an electronic windbreaker and a chance to break bread with a billionaire.
“I believe they serve as excellent role models to their peers. They are students who have grasped the ability to reach goals that looked unattainable at one time. It’s great that they have achieved notoriety,” said Puyallup School District Superintendent Tony Apostle last week.
“We’re proud of these students,” he said. “We need to be certain that our students know the value of money, how to invest, how to write a check, how to cover the commitments they make, and the importance of knowing one’s credit.”
“It’s an extraordinary accomplishment for these two young men,” said Scott Jarvis, director of the state Department of Financial Institutions.
Financial literacy is one of the primary goals of that department.
“People should bring that message home to the dinner table, and talk with their kids,” Jarvis said.
The winning team, from New York, proposed a portable school store that would sell school supplies and snacks. The other finalist team, from Connecticut, offered to organize a series of “safety clubs” that would sell memberships and certify that a home was safe from fire and other emergencies.
And although Anthony and Justin each plan to foster a career in Major League Baseball – and marine biology for Justin – they still may have time to be entrepreneurs.
The windbreaker idea just might catch on with investors and a manufacturer, and the brothers already have something of a nest egg.
They didn’t win first prize, but Buffett did give them each 10 shares of Berkshire Hathaway Class B stock, valued at around $80 a share. Class A shares, incidentally, are worth more than $121,000 a share.
Depending on how the stock market fares, in a few years the Class B shares might even be enough to buy a nice little boat.
For more information
The Secret Millionaires Club has not announced whether there will be a 2013 “Grow Your Own Business Challenge” contest. For more information, and to check out the site, visit www.smckids.com.
And for information about financial literacy – for persons of any age – visit the state Department of Financial Institutions at email@example.com