Warren Buffett’s analytical approach, which he’s applied to picking stocks and buying businesses, also benefits female leaders at his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/A), said one of the top-ranking women executives at the company.
“He’s said, ‘Well, why would anyone want to exclude 50 percent of the population,’” Cathy Baron Tamraz, chief executive officer of Berkshire’s Business Wire unit, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Betty Liu that aired today. “I mean, Mr. Rational, right? He just makes so much sense.”
Buffett, 82, highlighted the need to draw on women for leadership roles at events surrounding Berkshire’s May 4 annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, where the company is based. The billionaire chairman and CEO of Berkshire discussed women in top roles at an event at the University of Nebraska Omaha and wrote an essay titled “Warren Buffett is bullish... on women” on Fortune magazine’s website.
“For most of our history, women, whatever their abilities, have been relegated to the sidelines,” Buffett wrote. “Only in recent years have we begun to correct that.”
Berkshire was among the lowest-rated companies in the Standard & Poor’s 100 Index on diversity, according to a March report by Calvert Investments Inc. Buffett has said he doesn’t dictate policies to executives of Berkshire’s managed companies on topics such as diversity and flexible work hours.
“Change comes slowly,” Tamraz said. “He didn’t buy these other businesses because there were men running them. He bought these certain businesses, and that’s who’s in charge, and he always is looking for the best person for the job.”
At the May 4 meeting, Berkshire added Meryl Witmer, a general partner at Eagle Capital, to the board of directors. She’s the third woman on the 13-person panel.
“If it was a toss-up, I wanted to give it to a woman,” Buffett said at the university of adding a female director. “I like the idea of women of talent becoming recognized.”
Women held just 16.6 percent of board seats and 14.3 percent of executive-officer posts at Fortune 500 companies in 2012, according to a report from Catalyst, a nonprofit group that seeks to expand opportunities for women. Of the more than 70 heads of Berkshire’s business units, five are women.
Mary Rhinehart, who was named CEO of Berkshire’s Johns Manville building-products unit in November, told Liu that two of the first calls of congratulations she received were from Tamraz and Susan Jacques, who heads the Borsheims jewelry retailer for Berkshire. She also praised Buffett.
“Warren is very progressive,” Rhinehart said. “He’s going to select the best individual for the job.”
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