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Berkshire Board Would Support Ajit Jain for CEO, Buffett Says

Ajit Jain, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Assurance Corp. Photographer: Carol T. Powers/Bloomberg
Ajit Jain, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Assurance Corp. Photographer: Carol T. Powers/Bloomberg

March 23 (Bloomberg) -- Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Chief Executive Officer Warren Buffett said directors would support Ajit Jain as the company’s next head if the reinsurance executive decided to seek the post.

“He loves what he does, he’s not looking to take my job,” Buffett said yesterday at a news conference in Bangalore. “If he was, the board of directors would probably put him in there in a minute.”

Buffett, 80, is preparing Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire for his eventual departure. The company said in February it has four candidates to succeed Buffett as CEO, without publicly identifying them. In his annual letter on Feb. 26, Buffett praised Berkshire managers including Jain, energy executives David Sokol and Greg Abel, railroad CEO Matt Rose, and Geico car insurer CEO Tony Nicely.

“Ajit has probably made a lot more money for Berkshire Hathaway than I have,” Buffett said in his response to a question about whether Jain, 59, would succeed him. “I really feel about him like I would a brother or a son.” Jain didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment left with an assistant.

Berkshire has said it will split Buffett’s roles as CEO, chairman and head of investments after the billionaire’s death or retirement. Last year, Buffett announced the hiring of investment manager Todd Combs to help run the company’s portfolio. Buffett has said his son, Howard Buffett, a Berkshire director, would be an effective non-executive chairman.

‘Incredible Talent’

Berkshire’s next CEO will be handed oversight of a firm that posted $13 billion of profit last year and $30.7 billion of insurance premium revenue. Jain, who was born in India, joined Berkshire more than two decades ago. He runs a reinsurance business that specializes in large risks and collects the premiums that have provided funding for Buffett’s investments.

“He walked into the office, I think on a Saturday in 1985, and I knew I was looking at, and talking with, someone with incredible talent,” Buffett said. “Over a period of 25 or 26 years, he’s not only excelled at every single task he’s taken on in insurance, but he’s behaved in a way that’s been totally honorable, more than generous throughout that period.”

Buffett is visiting Asia to review Berkshire’s operations on the continent and scout opportunities. He was in South Korea earlier this week.

Buffett built Berkshire over four decades from a failing textile mill to a $210 billion provider of insurance, energy, luxury goods and shipping services. Buffett didn’t respond to a request for more information on Berkshire’s succession plans that was sent to an assistant after the press conference.

To contact the reporters on this story: Andrew Frye in New York at afrye@bloomberg.net; Pooja Thakur in Bangalore at pthakur@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Dan Kraut at dkraut2@bloomberg.net Arijit Ghosh at aghosh@bloomberg.net

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