Howard Buffett Says Don’t Expect Third Generation at Berkshire

Howard Buffett Says Don't Expect 3rd Generation at Berkshire
Buffett Farms Inc. President Howard Buffett speaking in New York. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Howard Buffett, the Berkshire Hathaway Inc. director and potential successor to his father Warren Buffett as chairman, said he doesn’t expect a third generation of the family to lead the firm.

“We all go out and do the things that we want to do and the things we think we can do best,” Howard Buffett, 55, said yesterday in an interview at a World Food Prize conference in Des Moines, Iowa. “It’s very unusual to have a second or third generation that really are the best to fit into something that you’ve created much earlier.”

Warren Buffett, after building Berkshire through four decades as chairman and chief executive officer, has made succession plans for after his retirement or death. The company board will split Buffett’s duties among more than one manager. Warren Buffett said in 2006 that his son Howard, a farmer and author, would safeguard Berkshire as non-executive chairman.

“My dad has said to me what he would expect, and I think I can do it,” Howard Buffett said. “My job is to make sure Berkshire doesn’t change. And that’s about all he’s said to me.”

Howard is the second of Warren Buffett’s three children and the only one on Berkshire’s board. Asked if the family’s next generation had a place at Berkshire, Howard Buffett said, “probably not.” His son, Howard W. Buffett, has an agriculture-related job for the U.S. Department of Defense.

‘Lack of Clarity’

Successors will take charge of a company whose composition and culture is largely the expression of just one person. Warren Buffett, 80, plans takeovers, selects investments and oversees CEOs who run the Omaha, Nebraska-based company’s more than 70 subsidiaries. Berkshire, valued at more than $200 billion, hasn’t publicly said who will fill the role of CEO and manage investments.

“We remain concerned about a lack of clarity around Warren Buffett’s succession plans because we believe he is synonymous with Berkshire Hathaway,” Jay Gelb, an analyst at Barclays Plc, said in an Oct. 1 research note.

Buffett hasn’t announced plans to step down, and Howard Buffett said, “He’ll be around a long time.”

Buffett, the world’s third-richest person, relied on advice from his son when weighing Berkshire’s 2002 purchase of agricultural-products firm CTB Inc. Howard Buffett endorsed the company, which has grown under Berkshire through acquisitions.

“I checked with Howie; he told me CTB was an absolute first-class company,” Buffett said in remarks posted on CTB’s website. “Howie would rather spend an evening on a tractor in the field than a date with Angelina Jolie, which is not true of all members of the family, but that’s true of Howie.”

Angelina Jolie, Shakira

“Angelina never forgot that,” said Howard Buffett, whose book, “Fragile: The Human Condition,” includes testimonials from Irish rocker Bono and pop singer and friend Shakira.

Howard Buffett, a Berkshire director since 1993, is an ambassador against hunger for the United Nations World Food Program and runs the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which aids subsistence farming. Buffett spoke at the conference yesterday, and his foundation announced $13 million in grants over four years to small farmers in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Africans who farm plots of less than 3 acres (1.2 hectares) will need tailored solutions that may be different from the “Green Revolution” that boosted crop yields in Asia, Buffett said in his speech. A “Brown Revolution” to improve soil quality is more important to the region’s agriculture than new seeds and fertilizers, Buffett said.

‘Food Security’

“Food security is complicated, agriculture is complicated,” said Buffett, whose presentation included anecdotes and photographs from interviews with African farmers.

Howard Buffett said he refrains from proposing that his father invest in farming. Berkshire, which owns units selling insurance, energy and consumer goods, can make more money by distributing agriculture-related products, he said.

“I learned a long time ago never to talk to my dad about agricultural acquisitions,” Buffett said. “He used to always say, you know, that farming is about the worst business in the world. And it is, it’s very volatile, very difficult, it changes all the time. And you can’t control Mother Nature.”

Warren Buffett has committed more than 99 percent of his wealth to charity and in June publicly challenged billionaires to give away half their money. Most of Buffett’s fortune, estimated by Forbes magazine at about $45 billion, will go to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The billionaire also funds charities run by his children and one named after his deceased first wife.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE