In mid-April, Buffett led a small entourage on a whirlwind European tour to promote one of Berkshire’s latest acquisitions, Executive Jet Aviation. I went along for the ride (on one of EJA’s Gulfstream IV-SP jets) and got an unusual chance to observe the notoriously press-shy Buffett at close range against a kaleidoscopic backdrop of private airports, luxury hotels, and banquet halls stretching from London to Frankfurt to Paris. Buffett survived a demanding regimen of midmorning coffees, two-hour luncheons, 90-minute press conferences, and four-course banquets. ”I never get tired,” he told reporters in London, ”except for my voice.” Actually, Buffett was ashen with fatigue midway through the third day but soldiered gamely on, answering even the lamest questions with the same expansiveness and wit the fifth time he heard them as he did the first. Only once did Buffett show annoyance. During a press conference at the Frankfurt airport, Richard Santulli, EJA’s normally understated chief executive, let his admiration of Buffett overflow. ”People say that he’s the most astute investor of the 20th century,” he said. ”I say ever.’ Buffett, who was sitting at Santulli’s side, gave a little snort. ”Why not?” he said sourly. ”I’m sitting right here.” Like any mogul, Buffett has his special needs. On this trip, he indulged two of them, listed here in reverse order of importance: red meat (at lunch and dinner) and Coca-Cola (all the time).
Whenever I lost track of Buffett, Coke often appeared to guide me–a carbonated version of the proverbial trail of crumbs. In London, our party went from airport to hotel in separate cars. When I arrived at the Berkeley Hotel, I did not have to wonder for long whether Buffett had preceded me. A bellhop approached with a shopping bag. ”Is this yours?” he asked. Inside were two six-packs of Cherry Coke. Two days later, I was in the crowded lobby of the Schlosshotel Kronberg near Frankfurt, following a white-gloved waiter bearing aloft a single bottle of Coca-Cola on a silver tray.