Buffett faces Dairy Queen protests at Omaha AGM

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The Independent Online

The Investment guru Warren Buffett is set to receive a frosty welcome in his home town of Omaha, Nebraska tomorrow when he arrives to speak at the annual meeting of his company Berkshire Hathaway.

Disenchanted franchisees of the Dairy Queen fast food chain, which is owned by Berkshire, are so annoyed about plans to re-brand outlets under the new Grill & Chill brand, they have hired a billboard to tell Mr Buffett - and the expected 14,000 shareholders - of their anger.

Placed on the main road into Omaha - the Interstate 480 - the board reads: "Warren, your grill is killing our chill."

The franchisees claim they are being strong-armed into converting to the new brand, which will cost thousands of dollars for the owners of each outlet. In addition to their poster, the group, which says it represents 1,500 DQ franchisees, plans to demonstrate outside the meeting, wearing sandwich boards and handing out leaflets.

DQ is adamant thatpressure has not been applied to franchisees. Instead, says company spokesman Dean Peters, it has simply given them the option to convert to Grill & Chill, to keep up with changing times.

"Unfortunately, there is some opposition that won't support our concept to improve our franchisees' sales and profits," he said. "We're doing everything we can to help them. We just want to stay competitive in the marketplace. But it is not in our wildest imagination to force them to convert."

Mr Peters said 40 of DQ's 5,500 North American outlets had made the conversion. However, the re-branding was a long-term plan with no immediate conversion targets on the table, he said.

Mr Buffett, nicknamed the Sage of Omaha, will kick off his meeting at 9.30am local time, but the doors will be open at Omaha's Qwest Centre from 7am, when the Sage's followers will fight to get themselves as close to the stage as possible.

Tickets for the event, tagged the "financial Woodstock", are like gold dust, with a proportion having this year been auctioned over eBay - the internet auction site - for more than $150 (£85).

After spotting the enormous price that people were paying, Berkshire added extra tickets at $5 a pair, which were snapped up immediately.

The company then tried to stop the auctions for other tickets, but was refused by eBay.

Berkshire's annual meeting represents the height of Buffett-mania every year. Memorabilia, such as Berkshire-branded cola bottles from the meeting, can be bought on eBay, as well as ceramic figures of the legend.

Mr Buffett's iconic status as the world's most successful value investor comes from his extraordinary performance over his company's 40 years. Yesterday, the founders of Google - Sergey Brin and Larry Page - said he was their biggest inspiration in developing the company.