Buffett's Berkshire Hathway lifts Gregory Abel and Ajit Jain to the board

Berkshire Hathaway Inc on Wednesday promoted two of its top executives, Gregory Abel and Ajit Jain, as members of its board of directors, bringing more clarity on the likely successor to Warren Buffett as head of his business empire.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc's board of directors on Tuesday voted to increase the number of directors on the board from 12 to 14. Gregory E Abel and Ajit Jain were then elected to serve as directors to fill the resulting vacancies on the board of directors.

Warren E Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway's chairman and CEO, appointed Abel to be Berkshire Hathaway's vice chairman – non-insurance business operations and Jain to be its vice chairman – insurance operations.

Abel, 55, joined Berkshire Hathaway Energy Company in 1992 and currently serves as its chairman and CEO. Jain, 66, joined the Berkshire Hathaway Insurance Group in 1986 and currently serves as executive vice president of National Indemnity Company with overall responsibility for leading Berkshire's reinsurance operations.

Buffett, 87, chairman and CEO and Charles T Munger,94, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway will continue in their existing positions, including being responsible for significant capital allocation decisions and investment activities for the Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire, though they have reduced their responsibilities in recent years as they have gotten older.

In an interview on CNBC's Squawk Box later in the day, Buffett said Abel and Jain are ''the two key figures'' at Berkshire and ''have Berkshire in their blood,'' and called the changes ''part of the movement toward succession over time.''

Many investors and analysts view Abel as the favourite to become CEO, citing his age and experience in acquisitions and operations.

Abel, who grew up in Alberta, Canada, joined Berkshire Hathaway Energy in 1992. His Iowa-based unit now runs several power companies in the United States, Canada and Britain, as well as natural gas pipelines and solar and wind farms.

Jain, who joined Berkshire in 1986, runs the reinsurance operations, providing coverage against major catastrophes and generating tens of billions of dollars of premiums for Berkshire to invest.

While Berkshire remains best known for insurance and reinsurance, the sector generates only about one-fourth of operating results as the company has diversified.

Nevertheless, Buffett, the world's third-richest person according to Forbes magazine, has long said Jain has probably made more money for Berkshire than he himself has.

In the CNBC interview, Buffett repeated that the board, whose members include Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates, can install a new CEO within a day when he steps down, dies or becomes incapacitated.

Speculation that Abel and Jain were the top candidates grew after Munger singled them out as ''world-leading'' performers in a 2015 letter to Berkshire shareholders.

Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, who are Buffett's investment deputies, are expected eventually to succeed Buffett as Berkshire's chief investment officer.

Buffett's eldest son, Howard, is expected to become Berkshire's non-executive chairman, to help preserve the company culture.

Berkshire Hathaway and its subsidiaries engage in diverse business activities including insurance and reinsurance, utilities and energy, freight rail transportation, finance, manufacturing, retailing and services. Common stock of the company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange,

Berkshire has more than 90 operating units, including the BNSF railroad, Geico auto insurance, the Dairy Queen ice cream chain, Fruit of the Loom underwear, See's Candies, and a variety of industrial and chemical operations.