Buffett: My successor is in the dark too

Mon Feb 27, 2012 12:47pm EST
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(Reuters) - Warren Buffett resisted pressure on Monday to identify his successor as chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway, saying the person who has been chosen does not even know it himself.

In his annual investor letter on Saturday, Buffett said Berkshire's board had identified someone who will replace him as CEO when the 81-year-old investor eventually leaves the post.

But he did not identify that person in the letter, and in a CNBC interview on Monday, he rejected suggestions that he should. The public does not know who will be the next CEO of other major corporations, he said, and there is a disadvantage to having a "crown prince" in place.

"Well, we have four stocks that we have $45 billion invested in: American Express, Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo and IBM. Every one of those four companies ... has changed management since we bought our shares. I didn't have the faintest idea who the successor of management would be in any of those four, but we've put billions and billions of billions of dollars in there," Buffett said in an interview from the printing plant of the Omaha World-Herald, the hometown newspaper he bought late last year.

Buffett would say very little about the successor, other than that he is someone the board has had in mind for years and that the person does not know. He also said the heir apparent was likely to come from the ranks of dozens of chief executive officers at Berkshire operating companies.

One person not on the list, though, is David Sokol. Once one of Buffett's top lieutenants, and often assumed to be his heir apparent, Sokol left Berkshire last year amid a scandal over his stock trading while at the company.

The Sokol matter largely dropped from public attention in recent months, but Buffett said Monday that he assumed there is an ongoing investigation, as Berkshire has already paid more than $1.4 million in legal bills for Sokol.

Buffett added that securities regulators had not contacted him about the matter since last summer.

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Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO Warren Buffett attends the second day of the Allen and Company Sun Valley Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho July 7, 2011.   REUTERS/Anthony Bolante