Warren Buffett, the leader of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/A) since the 1960s, said the company’s next chief executive officer will bolster the company’s reputation as a source of stability in times of crisis.
“Berkshire is the 800-number when there’s really sort of panic in markets,” Buffett said today at the company’s annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, referring to first digits used for toll-free telephone calls in the U.S.
Buffett, 82, injected $5 billion into Goldman Sachs Group Inc. during the financial crisis of 2008 and made a $5 billion bet on Bank of America Corp. in 2011 after the lenders’ stock slumped. The deals gave Berkshire fixed returns on preferred shares along with warrants that allowed Buffett to benefit from rebounds in the banks’ stocks.
SPECIAL REPORT: Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting 2013
Doug Kass, the investor betting on a decline of Berkshire’s stock, said Buffett’s reputation helped him arrange the deals with companies seeking to restore market confidence. He asked today if the next CEO will be able to strike similar agreements.
Buffett said his successor will have access to even more capital as Berkshire grows. There will probably be times of turbulence when there are limited alternative sources of liquidity, giving a future Berkshire leader the chance to make investments on favorable terms, Buffett said.
“When that happens when I’m not around, it becomes even more attached to the Berkshire brand,” Buffett said.
Investors have speculated about who might replace Buffett atop of the firm he and Vice Chairman Charles Munger, 89, built into a business valued at more than $260 billion. The CEO, who’s also Berkshire’s chairman and largest shareholder, has said his roles will be divided once he’s no longer leading the company.
Buffett said today that Berkshire’s board is “solidly in agreement” as to who should be the next CEO. He didn’t identify the individual.
Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, former hedge-fund managers who were hired in the last three years, will oversee Berkshire’s investments, Buffett has said. The portfolio includes the largest equity stakes in Coca-Cola Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.
The billionaire has also said his son Howard, 58, a Berkshire director since 1993, could be non-executive chairman of a board that also includes Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates. The younger Buffett has said he would protect Berkshire’s culture of giving managers autonomy to run their businesses.
“You don’t want a CEO who’s going to change that and drive managers away,” Howard Buffett told Bloomberg Television’s Betty Liu in an interview that aired Feb. 8. “That’s probably one of the key parts of it, is just making sure that part of the culture remains intact. And people that are best suited to run the business run the business.”
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