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Warren Buffett promoted two of his top lieutenants to vice-chairman roles at Berkshire Hathaway on Wednesday, apparently endorsing the market’s view that one of them would eventually succeed him at the top of the sprawling conglomerate.

Gregory Abel, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, and Ajit Jain, the Omaha-based group’s reinsurance chief, were added to Berkshire’s board of directors.

Mr Abel was named vice-chairman of non-insurance business operations while Mr Jain was elevated to vice-chairman of Berkshire’s insurance group.

Mr Buffett, 87, the so-called Oracle of Omaha, will continue as chairman and chief executive of the $500bn company that he has led over the past 50-plus years. Charlie Munger, the 94-year-old vice-chairman of the company, will remain in his current role.

Shares in Berkshire, which owns the insurer Geico, apparel maker Fruit of the Loom, and the chemicals group Lubrizol, closed above $300,000 apiece for the first time last month and are up more than 25 per cent over the past year. After the announcement on Wednesday, they were up roughly 0.8 per cent at $306,819.

In an interview on CNBC, Mr Buffett said the decision was “part of a movement towards succession over time”. However he noted that there was “nothing magic” about the timing of the announcement.

Mr Munger said that while Mr Buffett still had more time to give to Berkshire, there were “not very many” more years he himself had left to offer the company.

“Three vice-chairman look peculiar, but Berkshire has always looked peculiar,” Mr Munger added.

They’ve both got Berkshire in their blood, they know the company

Warren Buffett
Debate over succession at the company, among the largest in the world, has intensified over the past few years.

Mr Buffett, a billionaire after his tenure at Berkshire, praised Mr Abel and Mr Jain, calling them “key figures” at the company. “They’ve both got Berkshire in their blood, they know the company . . . so it’s very good for Berkshire and even better for me.”

At the company’s most recent annual meeting, Mr Buffett said that “nobody could possibly replace Ajit”, adding that Mr Jain “has made more money for Berkshire than I have”.

Mr Buffett has in the past also lavished praise on Mr Abel and Matt Rose, the chief executive of the BNSF railroad business, in his annual letter to shareholders, which is often scrutinised for clues to which of his managers is in the running to succeed him.

The moves on Wednesday meant Mr Rose was “no longer in the mix”, said James Shanahan, analyst at Edward Jones. “It seems to me that Abel could be the frontrunner here now. Abel is a little bit younger [than Mr Jain], and he hasn’t avoided the public spotlight in that way I perceive Jain has.”

Courtesy: Financial Express

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