Buffett Throws Cold Water on Ajit Jain Rumors

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Two weeks ago rumors began flying that perhaps Warren Buffett had just signaled that Ajit Jain would be his successor as CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

The rumors started when General Reinsurance Corp. Chairman and CEO Tad Montross announced that he would step down near the end of 2016.

Berkshire quickly announced that Ajit Jain, who already runs a large part of Berkshire’s reinsurance business, would add General Reinsurance to his portfolio.

Buffett watchers jumped on the news, speculating that the odds that Jain would someday take over Berkshire Hathaway had dramatically improved.

Not So Fast Says Buffett

Speaking at the 2016 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, Buffett threw cold water on the rumors. Buffett watchers, who hoped to divine the future of Berkshire’s leadership, got no help on their visit to the Oracle of Omaha.

Buffett noted that there are “no tea leaves to read in the fact that Ajit is supervising Gen Re from this time forward.”

While Buffett continues to emphasize that the conglomerate has a succession plan, and the Board is fully behind it, he is not going to reveal it to the public.

From his perspective, to do so would be to risk announcing a successor who might not take the job if a personal “situation” comes into play in the interim period. Buffett didn’t define that situation, but health is just one possible factor.

Speaking of health, Buffett, who at age 85 has no problem parrying five hours of questions at the annual meeting, also noted that the exact timing of succession is also an unknown. He doesn’t look to be interested in stepping down as he clearly loves what he is doing, and his recent $32.3 billion acquisition of aerospace manufacturer Precision Castparts shows he can still do it better than anyone else.

Buffett appeared to be in excellent health and spirits, and when asked if he had regrets for anything he wishes he could do over in life, he chuckled.

“I don’t think I would have started with a textile company,” he joked, referring to Berkshire Hathaway’s origins as a failing New England textile mill.

© 2016 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.