Warren Buffett-led Berkshire Hathaway dropped one of the biggest hints about a possible successor to the billionaire investor, describing India-born Ajit Jain and Greg Abel as “world-leading” performers who are “better” business executives than the octogenarian.
In his much-anticipated annual letter to shareholders, Mr Buffet praised Mr Jain, who manages the Berkshire Reinsurance Group, for the way he has grown the business over the years.
While Mr Buffet stopped short of naming his successor, company Vice Chairman Charles Munger named Mr Jain and Mr Abel, who heads Berkshire’s energy business, while talking about possible successors to Mr Buffett.
“But, under this Buffett-soon-leaves assumption, his successors would not be ‘of only moderate ability’. For instance, Ajit Jain and Greg Abel are proven performers who would probably be under-described as ‘world-class’. ‘World-leading’ would be the description I would choose. In some important ways, each is a better business executive than Mr Buffett,” Mr Munger said in his letter to the shareholders.
He added that he believes that neither Mr Jain nor Mr Abel would leave Berkshire, “no matter what someone else offered” or desire much change in the Berkshire system.
Mr Munger said 63-year-old Mr Jain “created: an immense reinsurance business out of nothing” that produced both a huge “float” and a large underwriting gain.
Mr Buffett also lauded Mr Jain’s “unmatched” underwriting skills, saying he insures risks that no one else has the desire or the capital to take on.
“His operation combines capacity, speed, decisiveness and, most important, brains in a manner unique in the insurance business. Yet he never exposes Berkshire to risks that are inappropriate in relation to our resources,” he said.
Mr Jain’s “mind, moreover, is an idea factory that is always looking for more lines of business he can add to his current assortment,” Mr Buffett said.
Mr Jain was born in Odisha and is an alumnus of IIT and Harvard.
Mr Jain has been associated with Buffett for nearly three decades. The 84-year old investor and philanthropist said Berkshire is “ideally positioned” for life after he and Mr Munger leave the scene.
“We have the right people in place – the right directors, managers and prospective successors to those managers. Our culture, furthermore, is embedded throughout their ranks,” he said.
Mr Buffett has suggested that his son, Howard, succeed him as a non- executive Chairman to further ensure continuation of the company culture.
Mr Buffett also made clear that if elected, his son would receive no pay and would spend no time at the job other than that required of all directors.