Sunday , August 7 2022

Oracle Edmonton: Is Greg Abel the next Warren Buffett?



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The story of Greg Abel likes to say. Many years ago, when he was president of MidAmerican Energy Holdings, Iowa, he held the wind that George H.W. Bush came to town. Des Moines needed a trip to the older Bush, where his son intended to announce that he was president. Mr Abel moved to ensure transport on behalf of MidAmerican. The company's headquarters were Des Moines, all of which was an energy issue that he wanted to discuss.

It was supposed to raise Mr Bush in Las Vegas. Mr Abel arrived at the front and ate lunch in his hotel room only. He had had a tooth problem. A crown, as a result of an old hockey injury, had come away a few weeks earlier, and had a false tooth in place. That tooth moved before he ate and set it on the dinner tray. When he finished, he went with the tray out into the hallway. Brushing his teeth that night, he looked at the black space between two white lambs. He broke through the hallway to look for his tooth and charged the hotel staff for help, but nobody could find him.

Look closer, and there is a lot to like in Berkshire Hathaway and the Warren Buffett's aging t

The next morning, he contacted the former president from an angle, without wanting to attack him in his gap, and explained what had happened. Mr Bush understood and put him at ease. But from then on, he referred to him as Greg Abel, the Canadian who has no front teeth.

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The story is so disarming and self-depreciating, you could forget that this is a man who has access to US presidents. It's probably the goal, really. Mr Abel has an even more influential job today. Last year he was promoted to vice-chairman of non-insurance business operations in Berkshire Hathaway Inc., overseeing a stunning portfolio covering everything from a regional furniture storage chain to global brands such as Duracell, Fruit & # 39 and the Queen of Dairy, and won a place on the board of directors of Berkshire. He has spent a lot of his career in the company, and now he could be a promotion away from his legendary chairman and chief executive officer, Warren Buffett. As thousands of shareholders fall on Omaha, Nob., This weekend for Berkshire's annual meeting, the question of who could replace Mr Buffett's 88-year-old, usually, hangs in the air.

Mr Abel is not the only competitor. His colleague Ajit Jain was promoted last year to the vice chair of insurance operations. The dual promotions started a wave of speculation that Mr Buffett was a sign that his successor would be one man or the other. “Ajit and Greg have rare talents,” he wrote in his annual letter to shareholders this year, “and Berkshire's blood flows through their veins.” T

Mr Abel has achieved his success mainly under the radar in the stable world of regulated utilities. He was a key figure in rating Berkshire's energy department from virtually nothing to a business unit eliminating nearly US $ 20 billion of annual revenue. But it's far from home name. Even some of his friends and associates have a little trouble in nailed it down. It certainly has hobbies, they're saying – then it's getting it hard to name one. He has a sense of humor, but no one can remember him saying a joke. He certainly has a political opinion. They are only sure what they are.

It doesn't speak more to reporters than it has to, which in the last three decades has been infrequent. Its corporate headquarters date back to 2005. When a camera crew from Fox Business Network caught up with him at the Berkshire charity held in Omaha last year, he was lovable but offered tranquility only. “We usually have a business,” he says, looking absolutely obvious in a T-shirt and baseball hat. “It's great!”

However, Friends describe it as a manageable, efficient and efficient man whose work is in his life and conceals his talents behind a wall of humility. Mr Abel, of course, refused an interview. (The Globe and Mail offer a flight to Omaha to talk to. A spokesman said he would consider a 10 minute interview, but only if the record was unpleasant, and we refused.)

But it fits in with a view that I would ignore it undoubtedly, bringing a level of scrutiny that has never been proved from the front, let alone t for a huge challenge: It could take the lead of a company worth more than US $ 520-billion and follow in the footsteps of the world's most famous living investor. The successor, whoever it is, will be constantly stacked against Mr Buffett, each decision prompts the question: What would Oracle Omaha have to do? There are countless investors who have given money to Berkshire Hathaway just because of who Mr Buffett is and what he has to achieve. Few know much about anything about Greg Abel.

So we have to ask: Are people going to put their faith in Canada without any front teeth?

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There is no other company like Berkshire Hathaway. Primarily, one man's vision has an incredible set of principles. Warren Buffett never, never wanted to sell a company, even the laggers. There are dividends our acceptance of failure. Stock division? Blasphemy. (Part one class of Berkshire Hathaway crafts for more than US $ 325,000.) It sits on top of an organization with nearly 400,000 employees (although only a handful in the head office) has it and yet; n see her job with monastic simplicity: We fight on where to spend money to maximize earnings. Someone who worked for Mr Buffett for years like Berkshire Hathaway to a museum, a collection of collective businesses supervised by a discerning curator who ensures that the collection is cared for but not otherwise interrupted. Mr Buffett is mostly eaten with his next addition.

It has sufficient resources to do so. A key element of its strategy has been the purchase of insurance companies, so that it can use the premiums paid by customers to make investments elsewhere, often buying companies outright. Some of her best scores have been family businesses bought with a pledge to continue in the long term.

Thus, Berkshire Hathaway has become an eclectic and complex mix of companies and investments. A dozen major insurance subsidiaries, including Geico and General Re. There is a huge equity portfolio, with poles at Apple Inc., the Coca-Cola Co and Goldman Sachs. Finally, there is a confusing set of 50 non-insurance companies. In any particular order, Mr. Buffett is in the business of underwear, bricks, jewelery, shipping containers, candy, batteries, specialized chemicals, mattresses, air fur castings, ice cream, military uniforms, electronic sowing feeding systems, small babies, party supplies, pontoon boats, shoes and news for Buffalo-Niagara region.

Somehow, we manage to keep the details of this elaborate venture in its head. At Berkshire's annual meetings, where pupils gather on his feet, he is likely to give companies a glimpse of almost one. And since we were promoted last year, Greg Abel has also been getting to know this range of non-insurance subsidiaries. That means meeting the Chief Executives, understanding their capital needs and addressing smaller, additional acquisitions. His job on the Berkshire board also gives him an input on how the company will spend its money – although Mr Buffett and vice-chairman Charlie Munger, 95, are still authorities on that.

For executives, there is a prestige associated with reporting directly to the Oracle itself. Now, all non-insurance Chief Executives have to go through Mr Abel. “I still see Greg running the Warren-like business,” said Mary Rhinehart, CEO of Berkshire who holds Johns Manvillle, insulation, roofing and other construction products. “It is based on need. If I phone it or email it, I get a quick response. ”She sends a monthly report to Berkshire Hathaway (Mr Buffett had never asked for it), and there was no change under Mr. Abel. “We understand very quickly very quickly,” said Ms Rhinehart. “I might talk to him one time, and several months later, he will remember everything we talked about.” (Dozens of Berkshire Chief Executives did not respond or rejected interviews, saying they had not had enough interaction). with their new head again.)

If his past is a sign, Mr Abel has been approaching the job with a typical intensity. “It's a whole worker,” said Dawn Farrell, CEO of TransAlta Corp Calgary, who has worked in partnership with MidAmerican. “We do more in every hour of every day than anyone I have ever met.” Mr Abel has given his mother credit for nurturing that work ethic; as early as a nursery, she would sit down after school to review what she learned that day.

He was born in 1962, and was brought up in Edmonton, where his father worked for a fire and environmental equipment provider called Levitt Safety, eventually leading to the western region. . His mother was a home worker. He worked a series of different jobs – handing out leaflets, returning bottles for cash. Throughout the secondary school and university, he worked in Levitt Safety, filling firefighters.

Abel High School, Bonnie Doon's Composite, had a reputation for being a rough place where students struggled out. In a video produced by the University of Alberta to coincide with the award of alumni he gave to Mr Abel in 2013 (a ceremony where he told the story missing), his younger sister, Heather MacBeath, remembered a small party who threw this into eviction control when some revelers vandalized a washer and dryer of her parents. “One call to my brother, and within five minutes he and a group of friends are there. If that house had cleared so quickly, ”he said.

Mr Abel's high school year book of 1980 reveals that he had not taken part in many exporters, other than playing football. He was not voted the most likely to succeed. Compared with some of the goals set by his classmates who graduated (“Stay out of the prison,” “Get out of this hole”) t and “Become rich”, his plans were absolutely practical, if they were less comic. All he wrote was, “U of A.”

After winning a small scholarship from Levitt Safety, he spent four years at Alberta University (living at home) and graduated in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in trade, working as an accountant for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Edmonton before transferring to San Francisco.

One of the company's clients was a small geothermal company called CalEnergy Co.. After some corporate reorganization, the company needed an internal accounting team, and Mr Abel was the natural person to approach. “Greg had a very easy way and he was never excited,” said John Sylvia, the former chief financial officer who employed him. “He had a talent for being able to see where there was something in the present, where he needed to be in the future and what needed to be done to get there.” T

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CalEnergy's Chief Executive, David Sokol, has a strong reputation as an intense and strong operator. Some workers were not last. “It's so difficult, so on top of things and moving through time that people are tired,” said Thomas Mason, who later became president of CalEnergy.

But those who were not easy to stunned a problem would not work for Mr Sokol. That was Greg Abel. Mr Sokol became one of the most important people in his career, and they remain friends. He acknowledged Mr Abel's ambition early and knew that he was not willing to remain a number man forever. He suggested that Mr Abel worked as a manager at one of the company's power stations to gain operational experience, taking a pay cut in the process. “He was one of the few people who recognized that he had to take a step back to move forward,” said Mr Sokol.

In 1996, the company bought utilities in the United Kingdom. Mr Sokol made Mr Abel his man on the right during that process and later asked him to run the company. A month after the agreement closed, Mr Abel moved to his first wife to England with their three children, all of whom were under the age of seven. The company owned by the former government was blowing and moving slowly, and Mr Abel cut costs and improved efficiency. It also quickly noticed opportunities, procured another UK power producer and switched off unnecessary assets.

By 1999, CalEnergy had rebranded as MidAmerican after purchasing the Iowa based utility, and Mr Abel was back in the US. serves as company president. Mr Sokol's personal disaster struck that year when his teenage son died of Hodgkin's disease. He wasn't sure he wanted to run the company anymore. He was already tired of operating publicly traded utilities, so he told the board that he could step down and let Mr Abel take the lead, or he could take the company privately. The board gave Mr Sokol the green light for a private purchase, but he weakened his enthusiasm when investment bankers wanted to cut only the conglomerate.

MidAmerican board member Walter Scott Jr suggested a meeting with Mr Buffett. Mr Scott was a childhood friend of a large investor, and also served on the board of Berkshire. Mr Sokol and Mr Buffett had breakfast, and Berkshire soon won a 75 percent share in a $ US-9 billion deal. (Mr Buffett has since increased his share to 90.9 per cent. Mr Abel is personally involved in the convertible energy section of our Berkshire stock worth more than US $ 400-million in total). 2017, according to regulatory filing.)

“Mr. Buffett was very fond of what we were doing, ”said Mr Sokol. MidAmerican's strategy was not far from Mr Buffett: looking for undervalued quality assets. Berkshire support gave MidAmerican access to capital for acquisitions without worrying about weak public markets. With Mr. Abel as president and Mr Sokol as CEO, both made dozens of deals over the next decade. MidAmerican asset values ​​voted from about US $ 3.8 billion to US $ 47.7 billion between 2000 and 2011.

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They kept a long list of possible targets and studied each to calculate how to integrate it, if it was for sale. “By getting those arguments ahead of time, you're really flushing,” said Mr Sokol. “When the opportunity came, we could step in and make a deal very quickly.” T

In his opinion, Mr Abel had a rare combination of skills. He had the vision to identify opportunities, patience to fade to detail and the ability to assemble, manage and motivate teams. His reading skills were invaluable. Mr Sokol recalls one purchase that MidAmerican scored at a reduced rate because Mr Abel had calculated that the company had cash held on his balance sheet. “Greg understood their balance sheet better than they were,” he said.

Anyone who has worked with Mr Abel is bored. “Greg can turn a discussion from a very strategic level into a detailed discussion about a particular issue in a particular factory,” said Steve Snyder, former CEO of TransAlta. Mr Snyder remembers Mr Abel talking about some concerns he had about running additional transmission lines for a project in California. Mr Abel did not see why landowners on the route would sell their property. “This would have been a very small part of MidAmerican at the time,” said Mr Snyder, “and a man who is worried about the landowner on a piece of property in California.” T

It's not ficromanager, however. Richard Walje, former president of the MidAmerican subsidiary, once suggested to Mr Abel that he was changing the name of a new holding. “He said,“ That sounds good enough for me, ”said Mr Walje. “That sort of decision would never have been made by any of the other executives I have worked for.” T

By 2007, Mr Sokol wanted to step back from MidAmerican and allow Mr Abel to take over as CEO. Mr Buffett was not delighted with the idea, but not because he had doubts about Mr Abel. “Only the nature of Warren. It's not like changing, ”said Mr Sokol. About six months later, he went back to Mr Buffett. Mr Abel already carried out the work of the Chief Executive, without the title. Mr Buffett still wanted to defer the discussion. Then Mr Sokol came with the issue to all the Berkshire Hathaway board. It is remembered that Mr Buffett had flashed his sight, but he did not object. From 2008, MidAmerican was essentially Mr Abel's company.

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The alarming hours needed to supervise a multi-million-dollar energy company have not left Mr Abel a lot of free time. Friends say that he has spent little time with his family. He has three grown up children from his first marriage and a second son. One of his friends in Des Moines was surprised to see him out on his son's one-day field team. He also trains hockey. It is not surprising that Mr Abel is obsessed with hockey and has a family connection that most other people do not. His uncle was Sid Abel, Hall of Famer who played for the Detroit Red Wings starting in 1938 and later provided a television commentary.

Despite its low profile, it is our social man. He will often invite friends to professional hockey and football games, and he and his wife hold an annual Thanksgiving event with an open door policy. There's a regular at Iowa State Fair – t y an event for Iowa power brokers – and organized a quartz hunting trip to Georgia every year with a close group of friends.

It's not flashing for its wealth (though it owns a share of a private plane through Berkshire holding NetJets), and its humanitarian efforts under the radar are so almost impossible to verify. His friends insist that he has helped a number of workers who have gone into serious health problems, for example. Mr Sokol says that Mr Abel even gave the two children from one worker through the college after a death in the family. “He didn't want anyone to know about him,” he said.

When Mr Abel settled in Des Moines after the MidAmerican acquisition, he made an appointment to see the governor, then Democrat named Tom Vilsack. The governor recommended that he met two local players at the other end of the political spectrum to learn the land area – real estate mogul of the name of William Knapp and an entrepreneur of the name Jim Cownie. Mr Abel followed the council and he remained close friends with both of them.

But his own politics is a mystery. “There's something that he holds quite close to his chest,” said Mr Knapp. Mr Abel has given substantial sums of money at state and federal level over the years, but without a strong association with a party. Working in a regulated industry requires him to come together with politicians from all stripes.

One of the points is Mr Vilsack, who was a governor between 1999 and 2007. Early in his time, he considered deregulation of the electricity industry to encourage the development of renewable energy. Mr Abel, working for a prominent incumbent, was not in favor. But he spoke extensively to Mr Vilsack about the governor's goals, which are rare for business leaders who are used to giving orders. “Greg is good at listening because he wants to avoid the circumstances where there is a winner and someone missing,” said Mr Vilsack.

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He supported the deregulation plans, while MidAmerican agreed to replace an aging coal facility with a modern facility and wind power construction. MidAmerican now has more than 4,400 megawatts of wind power, helping to make Iowa the largest producer of that type of energy in the UK.

Mr Abel's connection with renewable energy makes a neat narrative, given that he has started in CalEnergy, a geothermal producer. Berkshire's energy department has also spent US $ 25 billion on clean power. “Mr. Abel has a long-standing passion for renewable energy, ”said a spokesman. But it may have more functionality to do with it. “More than being renewable energy evangelists or enthusiasts, we were independent power producers trying to find a way of making a living,” said Mr Mason from CalEnergy. Mr Sokol acknowledges Mr Abel for getting the company deep into renewable energy, but he said, “I don't think he did that because of some idea of ​​saving the planet or anything. You need to work with the customers and the regulators and understand what they want to achieve. "

Mr Abel is not praised by some in the environmental community. “Your leadership on promoting a clean energy economy is not something that you think it is,” says Elizabeth Katt Reinders, deputy director for Operation Beyond Coal Sierra Club. MidAmerican retired four coal production units in the last four years but there are still five plants in Iowa and it has no plans to abolish it. According to data created by the Sierra Club, MidAmerican is among the top 20 coal power producers in the UK. “They are still responsible for massive carbon emissions,” said Ms Reinders.

Not all of their political donations are environmental innovative executive contributions, either. Between 2015 and 2018, US $ 55,800 fell on campaigning and political action committees associated with Joni Ernst, the Republican Senator, who has made many bad comments about climate change, casting doubt on the consensus that it is being driven. by people. “Our climate is always changing,” he told CNN last year following the release of the US government report on the consequences of global warming. “We see those that are emitting and flowing over time.” T

A spokesman for Berkshire Hathaway Energy (BHE) refused to answer a question directly about Mr Abel's view of climate change or why he supported Ms Ernst – quite a strange thing for someone passionate about renewable energy. But Mr Abel's opposition to saying anything controversial (or anything really) is a powerful force. “Under the leadership of Mr Abel, Berkshire Hathaway Energy has been working for more than a decade to reduce the impact of our operations on the environment,” the company said in its response. Ms Ernst, the spokesman, also added a childhood friend to Mr Abel's wife Andrea.

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Guessing about Mr Buffett's successor has been a kind of parlor game for years. It was once said that Mr Sokol was a major competitor, although he said he had never wanted the job. (Mr Buffett did not float the idea with him.) His departure was one of those events that could have proved his friendship with Mr Abel, if Mr Abel was a different person.

Mr Sokol left Berkshire Hathaway voluntarily in 2011 after running NetJets, but there was a rare scandal. Later it was revealed that he had bought shares in the chemical producer Lubrizol Corp two months before Berkshire was bought for US $ 9 billion. The Berkshire board accused Mr Sokol of misleading his interest in Lubrizol and cutting company standards, and he denied. (The SEC investigated but did not follow the charges.) “Warren eventually hit me back,” said Mr Sokol. “None of us expected [that]. ”He has not spoken to Mr Buffett since then.

For Mr. Abel, his bosses had lambed one of his closest friends on ethical grounds (Mr Buffett claimed that Mr Sokol's actions were “unforgivable,” and Mr Munger said “hubris” was playing, putting him in an awkward position of possible. wait for the place. But he did one of the first phone calls to Mr Sokol after the news broke. “He knew it wasn't true,” said Mr Sokol. “He said, yn I don't understand this, but we are friends and we will always be friends. '' (This jump is “cannot be confirmed and cannot be verified,” according to a BHE spokesperson.)

The event probably didn't shake his faith in Mr Buffett, either, as Mr Abel has continued to thrive as president and MidAmerican CEO. The company's geographical footprint expanded, taking advantage of NV Energy Las Vegas producer in 2013 in a US $ 10 billion deal. He ventured back into Alberta, too, with the electricity purchase provider of $ 2.7-billion US AltaLink LP in 2014. (Berkshire rebranded the department as Berkshire Hathaway Energy the same year, and Mr Abel is & The executive chairman is still.)

Under his surveillance, the division now has around US $ 92 billion in assets and contributes around 8 per cent of Berkshire Hathaway's revenue gains and profits. His history of acquisitions is envy. Around 40 per cent to 60 per cent of purchases fail, but Mr Abel has not yet had one shot in his face. “MidAmerican was a rare exception,” said Mr Snyder. “And Abel is in the power industry. It is one of the slowest, most derelict, conservative businesses in the world. The division produces power and operates natural gas pipelines throughout the United States, distributes electricity in the UK and Alberta and operates a variety of renewable energy projects in multiple states, along with the Philippines. . Since 2012, the unit's earnings have more or less doubled, and it has benefited from Mr Abel's effort to secure renewable energy, thanks to preferential tax treatment in the US. Last year, BHE received an income tax benefit of US $ 452 million.

Mr Abel regularly won praise from Mr Buffett in his annual stakeholder letters, with the Oracle of Omaha amazed that he was an “outstanding” CEO and an “outstanding” manager. In January 2018, Mr Buffett promoted Mr Abel and Mr Abel. Jain is vice-chairs. (All won US $ 18-million compensation in 2018.) t

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India-born Harvard Business School graduate Mr Jain joined Berkshire in 1986. “I didn't know how to spell insurance & insurance; or 'restate,'; he said in 2003. But it was a quick study and the development of a reputation as a mathematical genius. (Mr Buffett even wrote to his parents in New Delhi asking whether they had another one like him at home.) Before that he had supervised the company's restatement, paying damages claims from natural disasters. Mr Buffett has been inappropriate in praising him, writing that Mr Jain's mind is “an idea factory that is always looking for more lines of business that he can add.” T

Despite his admiration for both men, Mr Buffett has acknowledged that one person cannot complete his shoes completely. He has written when he leaves one CEO will be responsible for operations, whilst responsibility for the investment portfolio goes to “one or more” operators. Together this select group will make decisions about new acquisitions, subject to board approval.

Mr Abel is looking to get the edge from the Chief Executive. It is about 10 years younger than Mr Jain, for beginners, and Mr Buffett wants someone who will be there for the long term. Personalities are another factor. “I don't think Ajit would either try or want the role of CEO where he has to be a public face in Berkshire,” said Paul Lountzis, founder of Lountzis Asset Management in Pennsylvania, t which owns Berkshire shares. “He just wants to make insurance.”

The insurance portfolio is still central to Berkshire Hathaway, which accounts for a quarter of the $ US7.7 billion of revenue generated in 2018 and throws billions in the float that is Mr Buffett has relied on them to make investments. The department is so important that Mr Buffett could tend to leave Mr Jain running it, given his opposition to unnecessary change.

After listening to Mr.'s friends and colleagues. Abel over the man, his suitability for the job becomes obvious. He has a track record of making insightful agreements and awards on where to allocate capital. We can absorb a great deal of information and understand details easily, but also know when to step back and let others cope. And as someone who has worked in Berkshire for two decades, he has embraced the company's culture.

But is anyone in a real situation to run a company like this? One of the biggest challenges facing Berkshire is how to spend its $ 112-billion cash stack. Berkshire is already so huge that finding meaningful investments becomes almost impossible. “How many companies would make a difference?” T Lountzis. “If a business bought US $ 3-billion now and it's to be doubled, who's worried?” The last major purchase was the acquisition of US industrial components Precision Castparts US $ 32 billion, and that was almost four years ago.

These challenges could force the next CEO to do things that Mr Buffett would never dream of. That is not necessarily a bad thing. A fresh face is an opportunity to reconsider some elements of Berkshire's orthodox. Mr Buffett has long opposed a dividend offer, arguing that the company can use its cash more effectively through investments rather than giving it back to shareholders directly. But the longer Berkshire is without a big asset, the more investors will grow antsy, especially with an untested CEO in the seat. “Investors can be more supportive of that if Buffett is not around,” said James Shanahan, an analyst with Edward Jones.

The successor may even have considered considering selling a business. Mae Mr Buffett bron byth yn gwneud hynny – un eithriad oedd daliad tecstilau yn yr 1980au – hyd yn oed pan fo cwmni'n tanberfformio. Gallai hynny frifo perfformiad ariannol Berkshire, ond mae'n taflu cwmnďau o'r neilltu fel “ymddygiad ryfeddol.” Heblaw, rhan o'r addewid y mae wedi'i wneud wrth gaffael cwmnïau yw y bydd yn eu dal yn y tymor hir. Ar gyfer cwmnïau teuluol, mae gan ei air lawer o bwysau. (Mae'r cwmni'n gwerthu stociau a fasnachir yn gyhoeddus y mae'n berchen arnynt weithiau.)

Efallai na fydd cyfranddalwyr sy'n chwilio am ffurflenni mor sentimental a gallent groesawu rhywfaint o docio'r portffolio. “Er y byddai hynny braidd yn groes i ymddiriedaeth, a dweud y gwir, rwy'n credu bod rhai o'r penderfyniadau hyn yn hwyr,” meddai Mr Shanahan. Mae'n cyfeirio at McLane Co. Inc., cwmni gwasanaethau cadwyn gyflenwi ar gyfer y diwydiant groser a siopau cyfleustra. “Mae ganddynt werthiannau enfawr, ond prin eu bod yn broffidiol.” Nid yw enillion y cwmni o $ 246-miliwn y llynedd y llynedd yn edrych mor ddrwg nes i chi sylweddoli bod hynny ar gefn oddeutu US $ 50 biliwn mewn refeniw, llai nag 1 y cant. Mae'r daliadau cyfryngau, sy'n cynnwys y Buffalo News a'r Omaha World-Herald, yn edrych yn ddisymwth hefyd. Mae Mr Buffett ei hun yn besimistaidd am ddyfodol papurau newydd, gan ddweud yn ddiweddar bod y rhan fwyaf ohonynt yn “dost.”

Mae yna hefyd gyfle y bydd Berkshire Hathaway dan bwysau i wella ei arferion datgelu o dan Brif Swyddog Gweithredol newydd. “Mae eu datgeliad yn eithaf drwg,” meddai Meyer Shields, dadansoddwr yn Keefer, Bruyette a Woods. Gall casglu dealltwriaeth am y cwmnïau gweithredu o fyfyrdodau Mr. Buffett fod yn dasg ddi-fai. While investors flock to Omaha each year for Berkshire’s annual meeting, where Mr. Buffett holds court and dispenses investing wisdom, it’s really the Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger Show. The operating-company CEOs might make an appearance, but they’re not on stage answering questions.

“Warren Buffett is a unique animal,” Mr. Shields says. Investors own the stock not because they’re enamoured with the operating companies but because they trust Mr. Buffett. He doesn’t get the same level of scrutiny as other CEOs, and his successor may not be so lucky. When he leaves, long-time shareholders could cash out, believing the best days are over. Between 1964 and 2018, the per-share value of Berkshire Hathaway gained more than 2,400,000 per cent, compared with 15,000 per cent for the S&P 500. It would be hard to blame long-term investors who decide to take some cash off the table.

“I assume there will be a stampede for the door,” Mr. Shields says. “If he’s not there any more, then you actually have to make a case for why these businesses are worth owning.” Berkshire Hathaway will no longer be able to trade on the cult of Buffett. It will have to rely on results, like every other company.

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When the day of Mr. Buffett’s inevitable departure comes is anyone’s guess. He hasn’t given any indication and he probably won’t go willingly. “I don’t think he’ll ever step away,” says Mr. Sokol. He’ll have to be dead or otherwise incapacitated.

And while Mr. Abel looks like a very strong contender, his ascendancy is not a guarantee. It’s not even clear that he wants the position. Friends describe him as a private person, and following Mr. Buffett would make him one of the most prominent executives in North America.

Asked if Mr. Abel enjoys the spotlight, Mr. Sokol says, “I don’t think ‘enjoy’ would be the right term.” Most of his career has been effectively spent within a privately held firm. He’s had comparatively little exposure to analysts, investors and the media, and the unrelenting quarterly grind. It will take someone supremely confident, maybe even a little egotistical, to pen that sacred Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letter every year and to assume Mr. Buffett’s seat at the AGM to get grilled by investors for hours on end.

Mr. Sokol adds, though, that Mr. Abel doesn’t hide from attention. He’s personable, not shy; there just hasn’t been a need for him to be out front. “He will be different than Warren, but that would be true of any choice,” he says. Shareholders should not expect a ukulele serenade, in other words.

His friends say Mr. Abel has to be prodded into talking about the potential of becoming CEO. Mr. Knapp has been bold enough to ask. “He says, ‘You know, if it was offered to me, I would take it. But I wouldn’t lobby one minute for it.’ ” Mr. Abel’s view, according to Mr. Knapp, is that he has to earn it. The official response from BHE, by the way, is that Mr. Abel “has never and will never comment on succession speculation.” Mr. Knapp’s characterization, meanwhile, “should not be attributed to Mr. Abel in any way.”

More than one friend insists that if Mr. Abel doesn’t get the nod, he would be perfectly content to stay in his current role, saying he’s not the type to turn bitter. It’s a little hard to believe. A guy spends his life climbing the ranks at Berkshire Hathaway, comes within spitting distance of becoming the next Warren Buffett and takes getting passed over with a shrug? But the one trait many who know Mr. Abel emphasize is his humility. “You kind of want to shake him and say, ‘You’re one of the most successful business people in North America,’” Mr. Vilsack says. “Take a victory lap.”

If Mr. Abel ever allows himself that moment, rest assured, you’ll never hear about it.

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