Indian investors were thrilled to hear that veteran American investor Warren Buffett is planning to visit India in March next year.
What isn’t as widely known is that Mr. Buffett’s revelation came thanks to a 12-year-old Indian-American girl from Los Angeles.
Sabrina Chugh was one of about 40,000 people who attended the annual shareholder meeting of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., Mr. Buffett’s company, on Saturday. A lottery selected a handful of shareholders who could ask Mr. Buffett, the world’s third-richest man, a question.
Sabrina says she was nervous when she was under the spotlight although her father, lawyer Navneet Chugh, had helped her prepare the question in advance. Since then the proud father has been trying to make sure his daughter’s moment with the billionaire from Omaha doesn’t get overlooked.
‘I didn’t think I would ask it,’ said Sabrina in an interview by telephone from California on Wednesday.
Here’s an account of what happened, according to Sabrina, her father and two other people who attended the meeting:
Sabrina began by greeting Mr. Buffett and his partner Charlie Munger as ‘Warren and Charlie Uncle,’ and explained she was addressing them that way ‘because my parents are from India, and we have to call anybody older than us ‘uncle’ or ‘auntie’.’
Mr. Buffett suggested she had better call him ‘great-uncle’ instead (Mr. Buffett is 79 years old).
Sabrina identified herself and went on to say that India has 17% of the world’s population and its economy has been growing at 7% to 8% a year.
‘At this rate it will surpass U.S. GDP in 2043,’ she said. ‘Can you please tell me, why aren’t you investing in India?’
Mr. Buffett and Mr. Munger told Sabrina that they had looked at India and have India connections – referring to Ajit Jain, who heads Berkshire’s reinsurance businesses. But they feel stymied by the cap in place on foreign investment in insurance companies in India. Insurance and reinsurance are Berkshire’s main businesses.
Still, one of Berkshire’s companies, Israel’s Iscar Metalworking Co., does have business dealings in India, which is partly why Mr. Buffett is planning to come here next year.
Even though Mr. Buffett doesn’t invest in India, he has met many Indian CEOs over the years.
‘He’s quite familiar with many of the larger business leaders in India,’ says Mohnish Pabrai, a California money manager and a disciple of Mr. Buffett who attended the Berkshire meeting and witnessed the exchange.
Mr. Pabrai discussed India at a lunch with Mr. Buffett that he won in 2007 after bidding $650,000 along with his partner Guy Spier. The money went to a nonprofit organization. Indian-born Mr. Pabrai called it a small ‘guru dakshina,’ or an offering to one’s teacher.
Mr. Pabrai thinks that Mr. Buffett’s visit next year will be great for India. He said the main driver for Mr. Buffett’s interest in the country ‘is to participate in the massive growth that is coming.’