Warren Buffett said Monday that Greg Abel, the head of Berkshire Hathaway’s non-insurance business, will be his successor – although Buffett gave no indication that he will give up the top job at the conglomerate anytime soon.
Abel has long been considered one of the two men likely to follow Buffett, along with Ajit Jain, who heads Berkshire’s insurance business. Both are vice chairmen of the company, along with 97-year old Charlie Munger. Speaking to CNBC Monday morning, the 90-year old Buffett said that Abel is the next in line to follow him, followed by Jain.
“The directors are in agreement that if something were to happen to me tonight it would be Greg who’d take over tomorrow morning,” Buffett said. “If, heaven forbid, anything happened to Greg tonight then it would be Ajit.”
He praised both men, saying, “They’re both wonderful guys.”
Munger had appeared to signal that Abel would be the the successor in remarks Saturday at Berkshire’s virtual annual meeting. When asked about whether Berkshire had become too complicated to manage as a single company, Munger suggested that the company’s decentralized company worked fine, and that “Greg will keep the culture.”
Berkshire owns Geico insurance as well as Dairy Queen, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company, Duracell batteries and many other consumer, financial, industrial and energy companies.
Buffett turns 91 in August. Given his age, and recent health history, including a bout with prostate cancer diagnosed in 2012, there has been much speculation about who will succeed him.
One advantage that Abel may have had on Jain is that, at age 59, he is 10 years younger than his rival.
“The likelihood of someone having a 20-year runway though makes a real difference,” Buffett told CNBC.
Buffett’s 66-year old son Howard Buffett, who has been a member of the Berkshire board since 1993, has been identified as the board member likely to succeed his father as non-executive chairman. Warren Buffett has holds both the CEO and chairman titles. But Howard Buffett, who runs a charitable foundation and worked as a farmer, was never seen as a contender to move into the CEO position.
There have been previous Berkshire executives who appeared poised to be Buffett’s successor. Most prominently was David Sokol, who resigned from the company in 2011, after it was disclosed he had made an invested in Lubrizol before he recommended that Berkshire purchase it for $9.7 billion – without disclosing the investment he had made in the company.