Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting

April 30-May 1, 2011

Warren Buffett's first 5K

May 9, 2013: 1:46 PM ET

Berkshire Hathaway spent some time promoting its sneaker brand Brooks at its annual meeting.

photoFORTUNE -- I ran three miles in Warren Buffett's shoes.

For the first time, this past weekend, Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) hosted a five-kilometer run on the Sunday of its annual meeting. I ran. Buffett did not.

But he was there to shoot the starting gun, give out awards and add, of course, some folksy charm. Berkshire has owned sneaker company Brooks since 2006. But until last year, it was a division of underwear company Fruit of the Loom, which is also owned by Berkshire. Last year, Buffett spun Brooks out into its own operating company and began more aggressively promoting the company, at least at Berkshire's annual meeting.

The running shoe company is trading on Buffett's popularity as well. There's a drawing of Buffett running on the inside of the shoe, and it says "Berkshire Hathaway" on the side.

This was Buffett's weekend after all.

This guy got into the spirit.

Brooks CEO Jim Weber says he likes directly reporting to Buffett. He meets with Berkshire's CEO twice a year, including once at the annual meeting. "If we need him to talk through strategy, he's always available," says Weber. "What I like the best is that I know this is our last owner."

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Berkshire is known for rarely selling companies. But at the annual meeting this year, some people speculated about a breakup after Buffett is no longer running the company. Buffett said he didn't think that would happen but said it would be up to his successor.

Weber says Buffett has been very supportive of Brooks's focus on the high end of the running shoe market. "It creates a moat," says Weber, referring to a Buffettism about the things that protect businesses from competition. "He likes that." Though he struggled with the question as to what business advice Buffett has given him, or what Buffett has advised him to do differently.

Nonetheless, Brooks's focus seems to be working. Weber says sales, which are up 34% from a year ago, will crack $500 million in 2013. And he thinks the company is on the path to double that in the next few years in part because it is spending a lot of money on research. Its newest line of shoes are light-weight, playing to the whole barefoot running movement.

Brooks CEO Jim Webber (on left) and Warren Buffett

Brooks CEO Jim Weber (on left) and Warren Buffett

And in one sense, Buffett needs Brooks to get big fast. One of the things Buffett rarely gets criticized for is that at a time when many are worried about U.S. obesity rates, and rising health care costs, many of Buffett's companies, including Dairy Queen and Coke (KO), which Buffett has long been a big investor in, push sugary foods.

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So you could see Brooks as hedge, just in case America decides it's time to get a lot healthier, though at this point it's still pretty small hedge. Even if not, Weber says he thinks Brooks fits into Buffett's philosophy about life. "We think a full life is a See's candy followed by a run," says Weber.

Berkshire's diversification: Water for the 5K was handed out in Dairy Queen cuts.

Berkshire's diversification: Water for the 5K was handed out in Dairy Queen cuts.

Last summer, I ran my first 5k in a number of years and finished in just over 34 minutes. It was hilly. I have been running regularly since. Brooks lent me a pair of PureCadence 2 sneakers to try out for the race. When I put them on, they were immediately comfortable. The sneakers say they have features to prevent overpronation, a condition I didn't think I had during the race, but I guess I don't know. The shoe's tongue is fully attached on one side, so you can't pull it up to get your foot in, which I thought would be annoying, but it wasn't. I finished the race in 29 minutes and 46 seconds.

It must have been the shoes.

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About This Author
Stephen Gandel
Stephen Gandel

Stephen Gandel has covered Wall Street and investing for over 15 years. He joins Fortune from sister publication TIME, where he was a senior business writer and lead blogger for The Curious Capitalist. He has also held positions at Money and Crain's New York Business. Stephen is a four-time winner of the Henry R. Luce Award. His work has also been recognized by the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the New York State Society of CPA and the Association of Area Business Publications. He is a graduate of Washington University, and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children.

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