Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, after an annual shareholder meeting in Omaha, Nebraska in 2015. Buffett has never publicly mentioned stepping down from his role. Editorial credit: Kent Sievers / Shutterstock.com
"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 told CNBC on Monday. Buffet’s statement followed an off-handed comment that Berkshire’s vice chairman Charles Munger made during the company’s annual meeting last weekend that “Greg will keep the culture.”
Abel has been vice-chairman of the multinational holding company since 2018 and currently oversees its non-insurance business. His majority stake in Berkshire’s energy subsidiary makes up the vast majority of his multi-million dollar net worth.
Buffett, who is 90, has never announced plans to step down, but his successor has always been a topic of intrigue. Buffett built his fortune resurrecting Berkshire Hathaway from a dying textile business in the ‘60s to a $628 billion dollar conglomerate that includes companies such as Geico, BNSF Railroad and Dairy Queen.
There has been speculation from investors and analysts alike that Abel would be the most likely candidate for CEO. Ajit Jain, who oversees Berkshire’s insurance business, was also considered for the role, but Buffett shared with CNBC that it was Abel’s relative youth that “makes a real difference.” (Abel is 58, Jain is 69).
"It's not a surprise,” said James Armstrong, a longtime investor and president of Henry H. Armstrong Associates, Pittsburgh. “Greg is the right choice to run the overall company. Greg has a lot of experience dealing with regulators and making acquisitions, and a track record of managing many people. The board has had a lot of time to watch him in action."
Originally from Edmonton, Canada, Abel first joined Berkshire Hathaway Energy, then known as MidAmerican Energy, in 1992. In 2000, Berkshire Hathaway bought a majority stake in that company, and in 2008, Abel became MidAmerican’s CEO, replacing Buffett’s presumed-successor David Sokol, who resigned that year.
During his tenure as CEO, Abel bought several energy firms across the U.S. and Canada and brought them under Berkshire’s wing and has expanded into renewable energy. The unit also controls one of the biggest U.S. residential real estate brokerages.
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