Warren Buffett names his likely successor

Warren Buffett said Greg Abel, Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s vice chairman of non-insurance businesses, would be his likely successor if the billionaire were to step down.

Buffett told CNBC that the board agrees Abel, 58, would take over if anything were to happen to the 90-year-old chief executive officer of Berkshire, and that age was a determining factor in the selection. Abel had been seen as the most likely candidate.

Succession decisions had been a closely guarded secret at the conglomerate, even while the firm assured investors that it had a detailed plan in place. Ajit Jain, 69, was also often viewed as a potential pick given Buffett’s praise of the Berkshire vice chairman, who runs the insurance businesses.

“They’re both wonderful guys,” Buffett told CNBC. “The likelihood of someone having a 20-year runway, though, makes a real difference.”

The comments come after Saturday’s annual meeting, when Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, 97, made a remark that stoked speculation that Abel could be the chosen successor. Buffett was talking about how decentralization wouldn’t work everywhere because it requires a certain type of culture that businesses need to have.

“Yeah, but we do,” Munger said. “And Greg will keep the culture.”

Abel has long been seen as the most likely candidate to replace Buffett, given his age and his wide remit overseeing all the non-insurance businesses at Berkshire. But Buffett’s comment cements the view that he would probably take over for the CEO, who has spent more than five decades at the helm.

Succession remains a huge topic for Berkshire given the ages of Buffett and Munger and their long-time importance to building the company into the more than $630 billion conglomerate it is today. Any successor would take on a business overseeing a wide array of operations, from insurers to a railroad to energy companies and even retailers including Dairy Queen.

Abel and Jain were both named vice chairmen in 2018 in promotions that Buffett said at the time were part of the “movement toward succession.” Abel, who previously led Berkshire’s sprawling energy empire, was picked to oversee all the non-insurance businesses, while Jain ran the insurers.

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