Buffett’s Berkshire Succession List Topped by Four: Vanity Fair

CEO list focuses on four candidates; CIO replacement is tougher

According to a story in the new issue of Vanity Fair, the succession list of candidates to replace Warren Buffett at the helm of Berkshire Hathaway as CEO has four names at the top that are getting a lot of talk. They are David Sokol, chairman of two Berkshire businesses, MidAmerican Energy Holdings and NetJets; Gregory Abel, CEO of MidAmerican; Ajit Jain, Berkshire’s reinsurance chief; and Matthew Rose, who heads up Burlington Northern.

In the Wednesday article, Buffett (left), who has no plans to retire but intends to work until his death, said, “There is no end point for Berkshire Hathaway. The important thing is not this year or next year, but where Berkshire is 20 years after I die. Not taking care of Berkshire would be like not having a will—cubed.” To that end, he intends for his current spot at the top of the company to be divided into at least two positions: CEO and CIO.

While the field seems to be narrowing in choosing a candidate for the former slot, finding a successor to his personal investing style is proving something of a challenge. He approaches those candidates warily, as evidenced by this statement: “Take all the people with a great track record [in investing] over the past five years. I wouldn’t consider 95 percent of them.”

One candidate he did consider, Li Lu, a 1989 Tiananmen Square protest leader turned hedge fund manager, apparently found his own business more alluring than the post at Berkshire. Buffett would only say that Li, who runs LL Capital, wanted to stay where he was.

Last October Buffett brought in Todd Combs to take on a portfolio that the little-known fund manager would handle. In the beginning, at least, that portfolio will be limited. Buffett discusses Combs in his letter to investors, which Vanity Fair was allowed to see in advance of its release in March.

In part, the letter says of Combs, “Our goal was a two-year-old Secretariat, not a 10-year-old Seabiscuit.” The letter also talks about a letter from his grandfather, Earnest Buffett, who said, “For your information, I might mention that there has never been a Buffett who ever left a very large estate, but there has never been one that did not leave something. They never spent all they made.”

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