Warren Buffett Chooses His Likely Successor

At age 75, mega-billionaire and Chairman of Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., Warren Biffett has likely selected the person who will succeed him when he eventually retires.  The chosen one – who will head a holding company that owns such diverse businesses as Geico and Dairy Queen — is said to be 39-year-old Todd Combs, currently a hedge fund manager with Castle Point Capital in Greenwich, CT.

According to Carol Loomis, a writer for Fortune magazine and a friend of Buffett, “The word ‘investment’ is key to that last sentence.  As chairman of Berkshire, Buffett has two jobs: He runs the business as CEO, and he manages Berkshire’s huge investments in securities.  It is the investment job for which Combs is the leading contender.  Buffett’s hiring of Combs at least partially satisfies a commitment Buffett made to Berkshire’s shareholders more than three years ago in his 2007 annual letter.  Buffett said were he to die ‘tonight,’ the company would have three outstanding candidates for the CEO half of his job.  On the investment side, however, he conceded that good candidates were not lined up in the wings.”

Berkshire Hathaway recently said its net worth grew by $5.6 billion in 2005, a 6.4 percent rise in book value. That compares with a 4.9 percent growth projection in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, marking the first year since 2002 that Berkshire beat the S&P.  Since 1965, Berkshire’ average yearly gain has been 21.5 percent, more than twice that of the S&P.

In his letter to shareholders, Buffett wryly noted that death wasn’t the only circumstance in which he would have to be replaced.  He said he is relying on his board to show him the door if his cognitive abilities ebb as he ages, “particularly if this decay is accompanied by my delusionally thinking that I am reaching new peaks of managerial brilliance.”