- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 6, 2007


Berkshire Hathaway shareholders don’t like to think about the prospect of replacing legendary investor Warren Buffett at the helm of the company.

The 76-year-old says he has no plans to leave the holding company he built because he enjoys his work so much, but he might have lined up a new gig Saturday morning before the annual Berkshire meeting.

Mr. Buffett grabbed his ukulele and joined the Quebe Sisters Band for a performance in the Qwest Center exhibition hall, where some of Berkshire’s more than 60 companies showcased their products to 27,000 visitors.

Mr. Buffett previously told shareholders that he had made arrangements for one of Berkshire’s managers to succeed him, and he is still sorting through more than 600 applications for a new chief investment officer to manage the company’s investments.

So when he sat down on a stool among three fiddle players, he joked: “I may well be looking for another job soon. This is my first audition.”

Most shareholders would like Mr. Buffett to keep running the firm for many more years. They also think Mr. Buffett has done a good job planning for his eventual successor.

“I’m very comfortable with the change when it happens,” said shareholder John Lokie, who grew up in the same Omaha neighborhood as Mr. Buffett.

Shareholder David Miller of Topeka, Kan., said he thinks Berkshire has enough talented people within the company to take over after Mr. Buffett.

“I think he will have people groomed to come up behind him and finish it off,” Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Buffett said he expects to hire three or four persons as candidates for CIO. He said each of the investment managers he hires will be given a chunk of money — between $2 billion and $5 billion — to manage.

The search for Berkshire’s next chief investment officer, which Mr. Buffett announced in his annual letter, will pick up speed after the annual meeting.

Mr. Buffet also told shareholders that he thinks the sub-prime mortgage meltdown is a problem for the companies involved but is unlikely to spill into the overall economy.

“I think that’s dumb lending and it’s dumb borrowing,” he said.

But he said as long as unemployment and interest rates don’t rise considerably, it should not cause widespread problems.

During the meeting, shareholders overwhelmingly rejected a proposal that would have prohibited Berkshire from investing in foreign companies that engage in activities that U.S. corporations must avoid because of presidential executive orders.

Specifically, the proposal would have required the holding company to sell its 2.3 billion shares of PetroChina, which does business in Sudan. The United States has said Sudan uses its oil wealth to wage genocide against the people in the Darfur region.

Berkshire owns insurance, clothing, furniture, jewelry and candy companies, restaurants, natural-gas and corporate-jet firms, and has major investments in such companies as Coca-Cola Co., Anheuser-Busch Cos. and Wells Fargo & Co.

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