For the millions of people who have adapted Berkshire Hathaway of the annual meeting, attentive viewers were rewarded with unexpected news: who will be the next CEO of the company.
In response to Saturday’s question about whether the company will end up being too complex to manage, Berkshire Vice President Charlie Munger gave a comment which, at least on the surface, was not all that surprising.
“Greg will keep the culture,” Munger, 97, simply said, explaining that the company’s decentralized nature will outlive him and Warren Buffett.
But that was enough to hint to some Berkshire observers, who were wondering about succession plans in the conglomerate, the once 90-year-old president and CEO Buffett is no longer in charge. To many, this has hinted that the main job will be given to Vice President Greg Abel, who leads all non-insurance operations.
The impression was correct, CNBC can confirm.
“The directors agree that if something happened to me tonight, Greg would be the one to take office tomorrow morning,” Buffett said. He praised Abel and Vice President Ajit Jain, who runs all Berkshire insurance business.
They both ran for the top spot since being promoted to vice presidents in 2018. “If, God forbid, anything happens to Greg tonight, it would be Ajit,” Buffett said, adding that age is the deciding factor for the board. Abel is 59 and Jain is 69. “They’re both wonderful guys. The probability of someone having a 20-year-old runway, though, makes a real difference.”
Greg Abel at the annual meeting of Berkshire Hathaway in Los Angeles, California. May 1, 2021
Gerard Miller | CNBC
The question of who will take over after Buffett has been a source of speculation for more than 15 years. For years, it was assumed that Buffett’s successor would be David Sokol, who ran MidAmerican Energy, now called Berkshire Hathaway Energy, and NetJets for Berkshire. But Sokol left Berkshire in 2011 after it was announced that he had taken a $ 10 million stake in the chemical company Lubrizol shortly before he recommended Berkshire to buy the company.
From Buffett’s perspective, Munger simply acknowledged what was common practice for the board. “We’ve always had a unanimous agreement in Berkshire on who should take over the next day,” Buffett said. “The world is paying more attention now.”