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Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Next Investment Chapter Begins

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Robert Tavares

May 4, 2024 - 21:25 pm

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Berkshire Hathaway's Post-Munger Era Raises Questions on Buffett's Legacy

The recent Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s annual meeting held on a Saturday provided shareholders with a poignant revelation on the future direction of the conglomerate without the sage presence of Charlie Munger, who passed away the previous year at the age of 99. The much-anticipated event also brought to the forefront an equally pressing concern: How will Berkshire Hathaway carry on after the eventual departure of Warren Buffett?

Warren Buffett, the nonagenarian billionaire investor, along with the late Munger, ingeniously metamorphosed Berkshire from a struggling textile manufacturer into an industrial juggernaut. The firm's expansive portfolio spans a spectrum of sectors, including insurance, energy, and railways, and has consistently generated multibillion-dollar earnings, exemplified by the $11.2 billion amassed in just the first quarter. Additionally, Berkshire has built an enormous cash reserve, reaching a record high of $189 billion at the culmination of March.

At a time when the economy is marred by soaring inflation and ambiguity surrounding interest rates, shareholders fixated on how Berkshire’s legacy of financial acumen can persist in Buffett's absence. With Buffett at the helm for over half a century, spectators at the Omaha meeting sought to comprehend the potential trajectory of Berkshire and its investment strategies post-Buffett.

The inquiry was posed as to the future of Berkshire's culture under the stewardship of Greg Abel, who was appointed vice chairman in charge of the company’s non-insurance business operations. Abel, alongside Buffett, tackled queries from the stage. One such question inquired if Abel would assume control of the stock portfolio that Buffett has meticulously curated over the years.

Buffett, delivering his response with his characteristic wit, noted that such decisions would be made in his absence, humorously suggesting that he may even haunt those who divert from his investment strategies. Despite this jest, Buffett expressed confidence in Abel's capabilities, entrusting him with the critical role of capital allocation upon his departure. According to Buffett, Abel's profound understanding of businesses inherently translates into a robust comprehension of common stocks.

Boasting a tenure of over two decades with Berkshire, Abel's résumé is decorated with notable deal-making acumen and the oversight of an array of non-insurance businesses ranging from the BNSF railroad to the iconic fast-food chain Dairy Queen. However, Buffett’s reputation as the ‘Oracle of Omaha’, enriched with his aphoristic wisdom and avuncular public demeanor, has secured him a cult-like following—an act that Abel may find challenging to follow.

Chris Bloomstran, the president of Semper Augustus Investments Group, preempted the meeting with optimism at the Gabelli Funds Annual Omaha Value Investor conference. Bloomstran endorsed Abel as an exceptional leader and one who will excel in capital allocation, much like Buffett did.

Despite the confidence placed in the board and Abel's leadership prowess, the absence of Munger was palpably felt during the shareholder meeting, a forum where his distinctive wit and often biting humor had entertained and enlightened many for decades. The void left by both Buffett and Munger is an undeniable truth; although their successors may be competent, the uniqueness and charm that the duo brought to the table are irreplaceable.

In a heartfelt tribute, Buffett underscored Munger’s insatiable love of knowledge, his aptitude to rise from failures, and his wisdom in investing. Buffett remarked on Munger’s intellectual vivacity at the age of 99 — a stage in life where one would peak with their cognitive faculties still buzzing with curiosity and the world reciprocating that interest.

During the discussions, moments of inadvertent references surfaced as Buffett mistakenly called Greg Abel "Charlie" while directing a question to him, an act that perhaps signified the immersive bond the two shared for many years. As succession questions loomed, Buffett referred to Apple Inc., one of Berkshire’s vaunted investments, even though he pared down its shares in the recent quarter. Buffett extolled the leadership of Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, and his seamless takeover from the iconic Steve Jobs.

Munger's departure in November, just shy of the centennial mark, elicited a cascade of tributes that celebrated his depth of knowledge-filled life, his memorable one-liners, and his prowess in investing. Many remember Munger not just for his legal acumen but also for shaping a long-term investment philosophy alongside Buffett, with Berkshire averaging an annual gain of 20% from 1965 through 2022, doubling that of the S&P 500 Index and shaping both Munger and Buffett into billionaires held in high esteem by their investors.

Adam Mead, author of “The Complete Financial History of Berkshire Hathaway,” reflected on Munger's influence, suggesting that if Berkshire were to falter following his departure, it would imply a failure in carrying forward his and Buffett's job.

It's clear that Berkshire Hathaway is entering a new era, one without the iconic duo of Buffett and Munger, whose wit, wisdom, and investment acumen have not only shaped the success of Berkshire but also significantly influenced the broader financial world.

Read More: Charles Munger, Who Built Berkshire With Buffett, Dies at 99

Read More: A Master of One-Liners: Munger on Politics, Life and Crypto

For further insights on Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett, or the legacy left by Charlie Munger, visit Bloomberg’s full coverage at Bloomberg.com.

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