For years, perhaps the biggest question Warren E. Buffett has faced is who is about to replace him as CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate he has built into a colossus of $ 631 billion for more. for 50 years.
The answer finally came: Gregory Abel, a 59-year-old lieutenant who runs Berkshire’s non-insurance operations.
“The directors are unanimous that if something happens to me tonight, Greg will take over tomorrow morning,” Mr Buffett, 90, told CNBC in an interview Monday.
The reception comes at a time of new challenges for Berkshire. At the company̵
Mr Buffett has said for several years that he and his council have been considering who will take office when he resigns. Last year, for example, he wrote in his annual letter to investors: “Berkshire shareholders don’t have to worry: your company is 100 percent prepared” to leave.
But that opacity left corporate governance experts and growing shareholders unhappy: BlackRock, which owns a 5 percent stake in Berkshire, revealed this weekend that it had voted against re-electing Berkshire’s board of directors in part, “Limited disclosure of continuity planning. “
BlackRock declined to comment on Mr Buffett’s revelation on Monday.
For many, naming Mr Abel as Berkshire’s successor confirms what they already suspected.
Mr. Abel’s star began to rise in 2008 when he was appointed CEO of the so-called MidAmerican Energy, an energy business that Berkshire bought eight years ago. Mr. Abel helped lead a series of acquisitions that turned the division – after the renaming of Berkshire Hathaway Energy – into one of America’s largest utility companies.
“We have great comfort in Abel,” said James Shanahan, an analyst at Edward Jones. “He turned out to be a really effective leader at Berkshire Hathaway Energy.”
Mr. Abel was appointed Vice President of Berkshire in 2018, along with Ajit Jain, the longtime head of Mr. Buffett’s huge insurance operations. Analysts and investors have widely interpreted the move as a signal that they are both candidates to succeed Mr Buffett as CEO one day.
Charles T. Munger, Mr Buffett’s longtime business partner, hinted at Berkshire’s annual shareholders’ meeting on Saturday that Mr Abel could be Berkshire’s next boss. Asked if the company could become too complex to run, Mr Munger said: “Greg will preserve the culture” – a task that Mr Buffett has long emphasized will be important for the future leader of Berkshire.