At Berkshire Hathaway's annual shareholders meeting last spring, a faculty member from the University of Colorado's Center for Education on Social Responsibility approached the company's CEO, billionaire Warren Buffett, and gave him a compass on behalf of the school.
It's a symbol given to speakers and business leaders as a way to show CU's commitment to teaching ethical business practices.
"It reminds people not to lose their moral compass," said Catherine Milburn, a senior instructor at CESR. "We're all about infusing ethics and values into the business leaders of the future, and I guess Buffett liked that idea."
Apparently, Buffett liked the idea enough to bump CU up the waiting list for a coveted spot in his annual Q&A sessions with college students.
On Friday, 19 of CESR's finest will join about 100 fellow business students from schools such as MIT and Harvard in Omaha, Neb., where they will hear from Buffett and tour Berkshire Hathaway's facilities.
Buffett, 82, is widely considered to be the most successful living investor, and he is revered as much for his philanthropic efforts as his financial savvy. He's pledged to give away 99 percent of his $46 billion fortune to charity.
"He's about helping others, and maybe leveling the playing field a little bit," said CU senior Brittany Moore. "It's not just about being successful, it's also about being a good person. Learning how (Buffett) combines those two is very fundamental to understanding how to do that."
Berkshire Hathaway invited the university about six months ago to send 19 students and a faculty member to Omaha. All CESR students were invited to apply for the trip, though only those who demonstrated real interest in Buffett's principled approach to business were considered.
"If someone just wanted to go to get investment advice, that wouldn't cut it," said Milburn, who is accompanying the students on the trip.
Buffett, an outspoken critic of sexism in the financial world, requires that at least seven representatives of each participating school be female.
"Through his requirement, college women have been enabled to attend his seminar that might otherwise be overlooked for their male counterparts," said CU junior Michelle Wildman. "I am thrilled that women are being seen as a strong force in the workplace."
Hilla Davis, a finance professor at the University of Wyoming, took a group of her students to Omaha last year for one of Buffett's college sessions.
"We talk a lot about ethics and how Buffett is a good example of being successful in the world of finance without taking shortcuts, but actually seeing him and hearing him talk was really inspiring to the students," Davis said.
"They're still talking about it."
The CESR students in Omaha anticipate a similar experience.
"Even in my wildest dreams I never thought I would have the opportunity to meet him," Wildman said. "I am so honored to be in his presence."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Alex Burness at 303-473-1361 or firstname.lastname@example.org.