If Warren Buffett wanted to forget about his mortality for a while, he might want to avoid going to his company’s own annual general meeting.
The 81-year-old was peppered this weekend at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting in Omaha with repeated questions about succession planning at Berkshire Hathaway and his recent revelation that he has prostate cancer.
“I’m feeling terrific, I always feel terrific. I love what I do and I work with people I love. I seem to have a great immune system. As any fool can see, I’m eating properly,” he says, taking a bite of his fudge and a sip of his Cherry Coke.
“I may have a little less energy (so) I may do fewer dumb things.”
While Buffett admits the company’s brain trust spends more time on succession than any other issue, the name of his successor remains a closely-guarded secret but the sex of Buffett’s heir-apparent apparently isn’t. Revealing his successor’s identity before he needs to step into the role would serve no purpose, Buffett said.
“In many ways, he will be better than I am,” he says.
Buffett reiterated his intention to split his duties once he steps down and have a CEO and at least two people handling investments. Todd Combs and Ted Weschler have already been tapped for the latter.
“I am the chief risk officer at Berkshire. My successor will have the same responsibility. We would not select anybody for that job that didn’t have those skills. We’re not going to have an arts major in charge of Berkshire,” he says.
Buffett says both he and Charlie Munger, the company’s 88-year-old vice-chair, were struck by the intellect and character of both Combs and Weschler. The two earn a salary of $1 million and 10% of the amount by which their portfolios beat the S&P on a three-year rolling basis.
“They’re also incentivized to work together since a portion of each of their individual salary is tied to the other’s portfolio performance,” he says.
When Munger interjected that they could both make more money running a hedge fund, Buffett replied with a smile, “but we have a free Coke machine in our office.”
Buffett has four doctors who have assured him that the treatment of his cancer will not require any hospitalization or having to miss any days at work.
“Maybe I’ll get shot by a jealous husband, but this is a really minor thing,” he says.
He then joked that he made the announcement about his diagnosis to turn the spotlight on himself because his secretary, Debbie Bosanek, was getting too much attention for her higher income tax rate.
Munger then jumped in, saying he resents all the attention Buffett is getting.
“I probably have more prostate cancer than he does. But I don’t know because I don’t let them test for it,” he said.