The future of Berkshire post-Buffett

The future of Berkshire post-Buffett

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett gave the most-extensive comments to date about the future of Berkshire Hathaway after he is gone, at last Saturday's annual shareholders' meeting.

The company's 82-year-old chief executive said he still expects the conglomerate to be a partner of choice for distressed companies.

Mr Buffett also defended his plan to install his son, Howard, who has little investing experience, as non-executive chairman, saying the younger man's role would be to ensure that Berkshire had the right CEO in place.

During the financial crisis and its immediate aftermath, Berkshire helped prop up a number of companies, among them blue chips such as General Electric and Goldman Sachs.

Mr Buffett's investments were viewed by many shareholders as a seal of approval from one of the world's most-respected businessmen.

Short-seller Doug Kass, who was invited by Mr Buffett to the meeting to offer a contrarian point of view, asked whether a successor would have the same heft. The CEO said it would not matter.

"Berkshire is the 800 number when there is really some panic in the markets, and people really need significant capital," Mr Buffett said.

"If you come to a day when the Dow has fallen 1,000 points a day for a few days and the tide has gone out and you find some naked swimmers, those naked swimmers...will call Berkshire," he added.

Whoever ultimately takes over Berkshire will run a conglomerate that employs more than 280,000 people in dozens of businesses worldwide, covering everything from ice cream to insurance and retail to railroads.

Mr Kass later asked what qualified Howard, a 58-year-old farmer and philanthropist, to step in when his father is gone. The elder Buffett insisted his son was ideal for the task at hand.

"He has no illusions at all of running the business. He won't get paid for running the business," Mr Buffett said. "He'll have to think only about whether the board...needs to change the CEO."

As in the past, Mr Buffett talked about his successor without actually identifying him. Speculation usually focuses on a small group of top Berkshire executives, among them insurance boss Ajit Jain and railroad leader Matt Rose.

Last Saturday, Mr Buffett said he stands by the actions taken by the United States Federal Reserve to stimulate the economy, even as he cautioned that the programme could be "very inflationary".

"This is like watching a good movie, and I do not know the end," he said. "We have benefited significantly, and the country has benefited significantly, by what the Fed has done."

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