Warren Buffett reassures shareholders he’s ‘100% comfortable’ with his successor as Berkshire CEO: ‘Greg understands capital allocation as well as I do’

May 8, 2023, 8:49 AM UTC
Greg Abel (right) poses for a selfie with three attendees at Berkshire Hathaway's annual meeting
Attendees at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting tried to catch a glimpse of Greg Abel (far right), the designated successor to Warren Buffett.
David Williams—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Shareholders attend Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholders meeting in Omaha to get insights on business, economic, and investment matters from Warren Buffett and his longtime business partner Charlie Munger.

Yet this year, attendees also angled to get a glimpse of another Berkshire executive: Greg Abel, the conglomerate’s vice-chairman for its noninsurance operations and Buffett’s designated successor as CEO. Shareholders and visitors mobbed the Berkshire executive for photos and selfies as Abel walked the floor on Saturday. 

Succession questions are top-of-mind for Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholders, after the 92-year-old Buffett’s over-50-year tenure as the conglomerate’s CEO and chairman. 

Buffett told AGM attendees on Saturday that he was “100% comfortable” with Abel as his CEO-in-waiting. Berkshire’s CEO said the company was “lucky” to have Abel, who would make decisions “very much in the same framework as I would make them.” 

“Greg understands capital allocation as well as I do,” Buffett said. 

Abel, too, said on Saturday that he would follow the philosophy set down by both Buffett and Munger. “The framework has been laid out,” he noted. 

Who is Greg Abel?

Berkshire Hathaway appointed Greg Abel as CEO of Berkshire-owned MidAmerican Energy in 2008, and the division was later renamed Berkshire Hathaway Energy in 2014.

Abel has been in the running for CEO of Berkshire Hathaway since 2018, when the company elevated him to the vice-chair position alongside fellow executive Ajit Jain. 

The company publicly confirmed Abel as Buffett’s successor in 2021, when Munger let slip during that year’s shareholders meeting that the executive would “keep the culture” of Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett confirmed later that day that Abel would “take over tomorrow morning” if anything happened to the Berkshire Hathaway CEO. 

Abel joined Buffett on his trip to Japan in April, where the current CEO sang his praises. Abel “does all the work, and I take the bows—it’s exactly what I wanted,” Buffett told CNBC at the time. 

“We think alike on acquisitions. We think alike on capital allocation,” he said. “[Abel’s] a big improvement on me.”

Berkshire Hathaway invested more in energy last year, buying shares in oil and gas companies Occidental Petroleum and Chevron. Yet the company also plans to direct $70 billion toward renewable energy projects over the next decade, though Abel admitted Saturday that “it will be a long journey” before the conglomerate sees a “return on equity.”

When will Abel take over as CEO?

There’s no indication that Buffett is stepping down anytime soon. Ronald Olson, one of Berkshire Hathaway’s directors, told an investment conference on Thursday, before the company’s annual meeting, that a transition is still “a good number of years off,” according to Reuters.

“Don’t count on Greg to take [Berkshire Hathaway] over tomorrow,” he said, noting that Munger’s mind is “as good as it ever was,” as is Buffett’s. 

But Buffett was clear on Saturday that whenever he decides to step down, Abel would take over the conglomerate. 

There’s no “second choice” for Berkshire CEO, Buffett said on Saturday. “If something happened to Greg, I would tell the directors they have a problem.”

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