Another Berkshire Hathaway Inc. annual meeting is in the books. The masters of ceremony, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, were as sage, humorous and optimistic about America’s future as ever.
But seeing them up there in front of shareholders, it was hard not to be reminded of the fact that the beloved investors are 87 and 94 years old, respectively. Their combined age is older than Berkshire Hathaway itself, a company that traces its roots to the Industrial Revolution.
On Saturday, Buffett and Munger held their annual question-and-answer session with stockholders, always the most anticipated part of Berkshire’s weekend-long extravaganza in Omaha, Nebraska. It’s remarkable that they’re able to host such a massive event so enthusiastically year after year. With a little help from some Coca-Cola and peanut brittle, the duo sits through hours of questions on topics spanning global trade, investing strategy and even small business details such as the pricing decisions made for See’s Candies products. Mentally, they’re sharper than any of us. But they aren’t immortal.
It’s at least part of the reason Buffett stepped down last month from the board of Kraft Heinz Co., lightening his travel commitments. More important, it’s why he elevated younger Berkshire executives Greg Abel and Ajit Jain to vice chairmen in January, giving them expanded oversight of the $482 billion conglomerate. Abel, who runs the Berkshire Hathaway Energy division, now also presides over Berkshire’s non-insurance businesses, while Jain oversees everything insurance-related. Buffett is still chairman and CEO, while Munger remains vice chairman of the board.
It seems clear that Abel, Jain or both are likely to take over for Buffett when he’s gone. Why, then, didn’t they have a seat at the table Saturday?
It’s because Buffett doesn’t seem ready to share the stage—literally and figuratively—with anyone but Munger. He may never be. For years he’s been trying to make investors more comfortable with the idea of someone else at the helm, but he’s always stopped short of publicly identifying that someone and really giving them the pulpit.