January 21, 2011

Berkshire’s Buffett to Step Down From Washington Post Board

Latest move is another step back from active career

The Washington Post announced Thursday that Warren Buffett, who had served on its board for 37 years, would be stepping down after the end of his current term in May. The move signaled the latest in a series of actions in which Buffett has been retreating from his long career; he cited time constraints as the reason.

Buffett (left) will remain accessible to the company; Donald E. Graham, chairman of the Post Co., said in a statement, “Warren has encouraged us to continue to consult him on company matters, and with the encouragement of our board, calls to the 402 area code [the area code for Omaha, Neb.] will not be decreasing.”

In 2006, Buffett left the board of Coca-Cola, and in October of last year he named Todd Combs to manage investments at Berkshire Hathaway. So far no one person has been named to succeed him as CEO, although according to a January article in Vanity Fair, there are four possible successors on a short list.

Berkshire Hathaway is The Washington Post’slargest stockholder, owning 1.7 million publicly traded shares; that amounts to approximately 21% of the company.

While he said he had no plans to sell the stock, Buffett has in recent years been pessimistic about the future of print newspapers. His annual shareholder letter in 2007 said that “fundamentals are definitely eroding in the newspaper industry” and that “the skid will almost certainly continue.” Although he plans to continue to hold Washington Post shares, he said, “the newspaper business will be tougher and tougher and tougher, and it is already plenty tough.” He added that although the newspaper is “the centerpiece of The Post Co., that doesn't mean that it will earn the most money.”

Buffett is not the only high-profile board member to depart. In November, Melinda Gates, wife of Bill Gates, also stepped down; she also cited time constraints as the reason.

Upon the news of his impending departure, Buffett made a statement, which said in part, “I’ve loved The Washington Post since I delivered almost 500,000 copies of it as a youth in Washington,” Buffett said. “That love for the product, the company and the management continues unabated today. I will always be available to help management in any way they request. It’s been a great 37 years.”

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