Given the legendary status of Warren Buffett, investors, traders, analysts and many who are interested in stock market investing across the world have been speculating on possible successors to Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway. The list of such possible replacements included even Microsoft founder Bill Gates, also a director of Berkshire and a close friend of Buffett.
In his latest letter to Berkshire shareholders, Buffett has stated that he has identified three Berkshire executives who could succeed him. He has stated that one among the three would succeed him in case of any emergency.
However, the identities of these three possible candidates have not been revealed. As he has clearly stated that all three are internal candidates, focus has now shifted to the senior executives who head key operations at Berkshire.
One of the key members of the senior management team at Berkshire is Ajit Jain, a person of Indian origin. He heads National Indemnity Companies, one of the reinsurance subsidiaries of Berkshire. He has been singled out for praise by Buffett many times in his annual letters.
"At reinsurance operations, Ajit Jain continues to successfully underwrite huge risk that no other reinsurer is willing or able to accept. Ajit's value to Berkshire is enormous", he stated in the 2004 letter.
The 2003 letter says, "Ajit runs one of the world's largest reinsurance operations, specialising in mammoth and unusual risks. Often, these involve assuming catastrophe risks of a size far greater than any other re-insurer will accept. This means Ajit's results (and Berkshire's) will be lumpy. Over time, however, you can be confident of a terrific result from this one-of-a-kind manager".
The highest praise for Ajit Jain came in the 2002 letter when Buffett said, "If we ever put a photo in a Berkshire annual report, it will be of Ajit. In colour! If you see Ajit at our annual meeting, bow deeply".
However, some analysts see Ajit Jain as a low profile executive heading a niche business. They have raised doubts whether he can handle the conglomerate that is Berkshire.
Other potential candidates to succeed the legend include Joseph Brandon of re-insurance company General Re, Tony Nicely of insurance company GEICO, Richard Santulli of Net Jets and David Sokol of Mid American Energy Holdings.
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reports by Rex Mathew