"What the Internet offers is the opportunity to monetize the hopes of others...to take the dreams of millions of people and turn that into cash," the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway said during a five-hour question-and-answer session following the annual shareholders' meeting Saturday here. "There has been very little money created by Internet businesses; it has been a big trap for a lot of people," Buffett said.
Curious shareholders peppered Buffett with questions regarding technology throughout the day. In response to a question on whether Buffett?s view of the Net has changed since last year, "We think the Internet is a huge opportunity for certain of our businesses," he said. "See's Candies' Internet business is up 40 percent this year. But I think the idea that you could take any business idea and turn it into wealth on the Internet is just wrong."
Berkshire Hathaway owns companies in a wide range of industries from Geico automobile insurance to See?s Candies and Dairy Queen, among several others.
Buffett's reluctance to invest in the Internet has kept his company largely out of the devastating market correction in the tech sector. Last year a shareholder asked Buffet to invest in technology to improve returns from the all-time low of 0.5 percent in 1999. This year a shareholder stood up and thanked Buffett for not following that advice.
When pressed by shareholders on who would lead the company in the event of his death, the 70-year-old Buffett declined to name any one person, but said that a handful of key people in the company already know which two people will take over his duties.
"We?ve got a lifetime of effort in this. We want to prove that its not based on a couple of guys like us, but we want to make sure it can be institutionalized," Buffett said.
After mentioning that the instructions of his succession are sealed in an envelope at headquarters, Buffett said, "When they open that envelope, the first instruction is to take my pulse again."
News.com's Hari Sreenivasan reported from Omaha, Neb.