Here’s Berkshire Hathaway’s Next CEO

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In Berkshire Hathaway‘s (NYSE:BRK.A)(NYSE:BRK.B) most recent annual meeting, vice chairman Charlie Munger let slip who is set to take over the CEO role for Warren Buffett when he is no longer at the helm. And not surprisingly, it is fellow Berkshire vice chairman Greg Abel. In this Fool Live video clip, recorded on May 3, Fool.com contributor Matt Frankel, CFP, and Industry Focus host Jason Moser discuss the news and what it means for shareholders. 

Matt Frankel: One of the biggest ones is Charlie Munger let slip who is going to be the next CEO. The succession plan, obviously, has been a big focus for years.

Moser: Yeah.

Frankel: Warren Buffett is 90, Munger is 97. They’re human beings, they’re not going to be leading the company forever. I mean, Buffett has even said he might retire at some point so it has been highly speculated who is going to take his place.

We got some clarity a couple of years ago when they made Greg Abel and Ajit Jain the two co-chairmen or the vice chairmen of the company, to join Charlie Munger as vice chairman. We knew was going to be one of them and Munger said it’s going to be Greg Abel, he let it slip and then Warren Buffett confirmed that later on and it makes sense. One of Buffett’s biggest points of choosing a successor is someone who could potentially lead the company for a few decades. Greg Abel is 59 the other co-chairmen or the co-vice chairmen, are 69 and 97, if you include Munger in the equation. The 59-year-old is the one who is most likely to stay Berkshire CEO for a couple of decades if he get the job.

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I got to think that’s really what made the decision in that respect, both are doing great. Greg Abel, by the way, is currently in charge of all non-insurance operations at Berkshire so he presided over the railroad business, the utility business, Dairy Queen, Duracell, all the little adjacent businesses, pretty much everything but the insurance portfolio and the stock portfolio is currently what he is presiding over. Everyone pretty much assumed it would be him. But now we finally had some real confirmation about Berkshire’s succession plan.

Moser: I mean, I think you’re right. I mean, I don’t know to me, at least it felt like it was probably even money whether it would be Jain or Abel, I think there were enough people out there who thought it could be Jain given his experience with the business, given his familiarity with the insurance business in particular. But to that point, and that’s what struck me, was with Mr. Abel, given his bigger-picture focus for the company, it seemed like age notwithstanding, maybe he was the better choice given his bigger-picture view. Not just focused on really insurance, and he’s even said this, he tends to stay focused on the competitive threats for Berkshire Hathaway at large. As a conglomerate as this gathering of so many different businesses. He’s always focused on those competitive threats in that competitive landscape, whereas Ajit Jain is clearly very focused on the insurance operations for obvious reasons and that plays a very big role in Berkshire’s business. To me, it feels like they got this one right though.

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Frankel: I would agree with that. The age is a big thing and the other thing is that they want to preserve the corporate culture, which the culture is, have obvious conglomerates and don’t tell them what to do. Which Greg Abel is really the one that’s over that part of the business as you said. I mean, Ajit Jain I would even make the case that aside from his age, he’s the favorite of the two leaders. I mean, Buffett’s eyes just reading the praise he is gotten an annual letters over the years. But I mean, you can’t really make the case that there’s any one more connected to Berkshire’s corporate culture right now, aside from the two at the very top, whose succession plan we’re talking about, the Greg Abel.

Moser: Yeah, and I mean, that makes sense too. I mean, having a company but clearly Warren and Charlie feel like they’ve gotten this company to a good place. They like the potential. They like what the future holds. They want someone in place who they feel is in line with what matters most of them and so certainly it’d be tough to come up with the name other than Mr. Abel, perhaps Mr. Jain, but here we are. Whether it was an accident or not, we know a little bit more now than we did before and typically as investors, that’s a good thing.

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This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.



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