OMAHA, Nebraska - Warren Buffett, the 93-year-old billionaire chief of Berkshire Hathaway, mulled his future in telling shareholders on Saturday that if he were lucky, he would have another six or seven years but added that "it could end tomorrow."

Tens of thousands of shareholders, who over the weekend made their pilgrimage to see the Oracle of Omaha in person at Berkshire's annual shareholder meeting, hope it doesn't end that soon. But they're not worried about their investments.

"The crowds will be smaller when Buffett isn't here, but the company will still do well," said Jason Garner, a 20-year-old student from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario.

Berkshire is an $865 billion conglomerate whose dozens of companies include Geico, the BNSF railroad, Dairy Queen, many utilities, industrial businesses, and the maker of Ginsu knives.

Buffett has run it from his hometown of Omaha since 1965. Despite Berkshire's size, its shares outgained the Standard & Poor's 500 in the last decade, though by less than they once did.

Many who attended the weekend Buffett dubbed "Woodstock for Capitalists" expressed confidence, sometimes tinged with unease, about Berkshire's future without the legendary billionaire.

The death in November of Buffett's longtime business partner Charlie Munger at age 99 renewed focus on Buffett's own age.

Buffett navigated almost five hours of shareholder questions in a downtown arena with his successor-in-waiting Vice Chairman Greg Abel, 61.

In an adjacent exhibit hall featuring Berkshire companies, shareholders scooped up spatulas, jewelry, Squishmallows toys and several tons of See's Candies. Many posed for photos with the Geico gecko.

A large number of shareholders came from across the globe.

"Warren said Berkshire is built to last," said Mike Lin, a financial analyst from Guangzhou, China, who with his sister bought Benjamin Moore teddy bears.

Lygia Bulle, a financial planner from Curitiba, Brazil, took her 17- and 19-year-old sons to the meeting.

"Warren Buffett is the greatest investor in the world," she said. "Going to see him in person has a different impact from seeing him at home."


As usual, thousands of shareholders lined up in the overnight hours Saturday to hear Buffett, despite rain and wind that shortened the lines. Some said people were waiting 12 hours before the arena's 7 a.m. opening.

Buffett's fame, wisdom and magnetism are a big part of the draw. Abel won't command the same affection from shareholders though leaders of Berkshire's businesses say they regard him highly.

No one knows if the weekend will stay the same without Buffett. Omaha hopes so: no annual event other than baseball's College World Series matters more to its economy.

"Yes, I will be back if Warren Buffett isn't here because I will wonder about Berkshire Hathaway's future," said Gyuhwan Kim, 26, a software engineer from South Korea who got in line at 3:30 a.m. "But no, I will not come this early. Once is enough."

Jordan Kaneshiro, a Honolulu native now working as a nurse in Omaha, said: "It's just one of the things you have got to do. You buy shares of a company and you want to see what the company is up to."

That approach would survive Buffett's exit.

Buffett acknowledged that time will come, perhaps soon, breaking out in laughter after telling shareholders: "I not only hope that you come next year, I hope I come next year."

Richard Callahan, a BMO banker from Omaha, said Buffett has become less visible locally.

"You just don't see him," he said. "I live and work in the same neighborhood. You don't see him out in his car as much, and once in a while you'll see him with a driver."

But the 57-year-old still marvels at Buffett. "93?" he said. "I can only hope that I'm functioning as he is."

(Reporting by Koh Gui Qing and Jonathan Stempel in Omaha; Editing by Diane Craft)