Buffett maps out hopes for Berkshire without him

Sat May 4, 2013 5:17pm EDT
 
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By Jonathan Stempel and Jennifer Ablan

OMAHA, Nebraska (Reuters) - Warren Buffett on Saturday gave the most extensive comments to date about the future of Berkshire Hathaway Inc after he is gone, saying he still expects the conglomerate to be a partner of choice for distressed companies.

Buffett, 82, also defended his plan to install his son, Howard, who has little investing experience, as nonexecutive chairman, saying the younger man's role would be to ensure that Berkshire had the right CEO in place.

During the financial crisis and its immediate aftermath, Berkshire helped prop up a number of companies, among them blue-chips such as General Electric and Goldman Sachs. Buffett's investments were viewed by many shareholders as a seal of approval from one of the world's most respected businessmen.

Short-seller Doug Kass, invited by Buffett to Berkshire's annual meeting on Saturday to offer contrarian points of view, asked whether a successor would have the same heft. Buffett said it would not matter.

"Berkshire is the 800 number when there is really some panic in the markets, and people really need significant capital," Buffett said.

"If you come to a day when the Dow has fallen 1,000 points a day for a few days and the tide has gone out and you find some naked swimmers, those naked swimmers ... will call Berkshire," he added.

Whoever ultimately takes over Berkshire will run a conglomerate that employs more than 280,000 people in dozens of businesses worldwide, covering everything from ice cream to insurance and retail to railroads.

Kass later asked what qualified Howard Buffett, a 58-year-old farmer and philanthropist, to step in as Berkshire's non-executive chairman when his father is gone. The elder Buffett insisted his son was ideal for the task at hand.   Continued...

 
A huge picture of Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett looks over shareholders swarming the exhibit floor where companies owned by Berkshire display and sell their products, at the company's annual meeting in Omaha May 4, 2013. Buffett and the board of his conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc are "solidly in agreement" on who should be the company's next chief executive, he said at Berkshire's annual shareholder meeting on Saturday. REUTERS/Rick Wilking