Berkshire identifies Buffett successor, not by name

Sat Feb 25, 2012 4:00pm EST
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By Ben Berkowitz

(Reuters) - Warren Buffett told investors on Saturday the Berkshire Hathaway board has identified his successor, easing some shareholder concern about the future of the company once the famed 81-year-old investor steps down as chief executive.

Buffett did not disclose who the next CEO will be in his annual letter to Berkshire shareholders. But he began the dispatch with the succession topic, one that's been a huge issue for shareholders for years.

He then delved into familiar Buffett themes - namely his continued appetite for deals, his preference for stocks over treasuries and gold, and his bullish view on the U.S. economy.

The Omaha, Nebraska, company has said little about who would step in for the "Oracle of Omaha" and the letter contained the most information to date: Buffett made clear there is a chosen replacement for him now rather than a list from which the board could pick.

"Your Board is equally enthusiastic about my successor as CEO, an individual to whom they have had a great deal of exposure and whose managerial and human qualities they admire," he said, adding there were two backup candidates as well.

One Berkshire investor said the nugget of extra clarity was a huge relief, adding he was particularly pleased the issue was addressed at the outset of the letter.

"I think the succession issue is a very big box to be checked off for Berkshire shareholders and maybe even future holders," said David Rolfe, chief investment officer of Wedgewood Partners and manager of the RiverPark/Wedgewood Fund.

While Buffett is in his 80s, he is known to be in good health and has made clear he does not plan to step down from running the company any time soon. But another shareholder said he thinks the level of detail in Saturday's letter signals a change could be coming.   Continued...

Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett speaks at a news conference after the opening ceremony of Tungaloy Corp's new plant in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture November 21, 2011. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon