Buffett successor?

March 2, 2015 09:09 AM

Warren Buffett, the billionaire chief executive officer and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, told CNBC on Monday that Berkshire executives Ajit Jain and Greg Abel were not angling for the top Berkshire job.

In Berkshire's annual report to shareholders on Saturday, Vice Chairman Charlie Munger hinted that Jain, a top insurance executive, and Abel, the head of Berkshire's energy companies, were top candidates to succeed Buffett.

"There's no jockeying position at all" between Jain and Abel, Buffett said on CNBC.

Speculation has mounted among Berkshire investors over who will eventually succeed the 84-year-old Buffett.

The field was narrowed in the annual Berkshire letter, when Buffett said he and the board had found his successor, and Munger wrote that Abel and Jain were "proven performers who would probably be under-described as 'world-class.'"

"'World-leading' would be the description I would choose," Munger said in a separate letter to shareholders, also on Saturday. "In some important ways, each is a better business executive than Buffett."

On Monday, Buffett said: "When Charlie's letter came in and it referenced Greg and Ajit, it was news to me that he was writing that."

"He's right. They're very, very, very good, each one of them."

Munger, whom Buffett describes as "my partner," is 91.

Asked if Abel, 52, and Jain, 63, were aware of who the next successor would be, Buffett said: "No."

"We have a precise plan in mind, very detailed, as to what happens later today if I pass out on this show or something of the sort," he said. "It's all in place, and it wouldn't take 24 hours to implement."

Neither Buffett's nor Munger's letters referred by name to Matthew Rose, 55, executive chairman of the BNSF railroad unit, who has also been mentioned by investors as a possible successor.

Buffett told CNBC that Rose was not out of the race for potential chief executive officer.

In his letter on Saturday, Buffett said age would also be a factor and that Berkshire might be better off if his successor were to stay on for at least a decade.

On investing, Buffett said Berkshire was continuing to stick with IBM shares, the Dow Jones industrial average's worst performer in 2014, "because I like it." As of Dec. 31, Berkshire held a 7.79 percent stake in IBM.

"There have been no surprises at IBM since we started buying it a few years ago," Buffett said. "We expected revenue to come down. We expected a year like this where foreign exchange would take a whack off revenues."

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