Buffett Takes a Step Toward Succession

The “Oracle of Omaha” paves the way by appointing new directors.

By April Hall

Berkshire Hathaway Wednesday installed two new vice chairmen to its board, one of which is the heir apparent to the company’s CEO Warren Buffett.

While Warren Buffett doesn’t see retirement in his near future, the board additions – bringing the total number to 14 – he said in a cable news interview following the board announced were “a movement toward succession.”

“I am in remarkably good health,” Buffet assured in an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “If there was anything about my health, I would tell the shareholders immediately.”

The “Oracle of Omaha,” as Buffett has become to be known, confirmed the board appointments of Greg Abel (non-insurance) and Ajit Jain (insurance) would start the ball rolling on a succession plan for the Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate. The two men will also be taking on bigger roles at the company.

Rather than a quick leadership transition, Buffett said, the move was to give Abel and Jain an opportunity to get familiar with the businesses they now head while Buffett and fellow vice chairman Charles T. Munger are still active in the business.

Buffett said he spoke to each of the company’s directors individually about appointing the two men and “they jumped at it immediately.”

Abel joined Berkshire Hathaway Energy Company in 1992, most recently as its chairman and CEO. Jain joined the Berkshire Hathaway Insurance Group in 1986 and served as executive vice president of National Indemnity Company, leading Berkshire’s reinsurance operations.

Buffett said that it was Munger’s suggestion the men have the same title he does, vice chairman, adding that there will be no change in operations as Munger is headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa; Abel is in New York City; and Jain lives in Connecticut.

It’s undecided which of the men will get the CEO job when it opens up. In the interview Buffett said his board knows which would get the job today (he didn’t disclose who), but “in five years, who knows.”

Buffett and Munger will continue to oversee Berkshire Hathaway’s investments, though Buffett said the new vice chairmen will oversee mergers and acquisitions in their respective departments.

“I love it, I love Berkshire Hathaway,” Buffett said. He won’t be any less interested in the company because, “I couldn’t have a better job -- I just made it better one notch.” 

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