TEXT OF INTERVIEW
BOB MOON: Warren Buffett is the very definition of “a tough act to follow.” But now that he’s 76 years old, the most successful investment mastermind of our times is thinking about his mortality.
It was back in 1965 Warren Buffett bought control of a floundering textile manufacturer called Berkshire Hathaway. The firm now owns more than 60 companies, including insurance, furniture and even candy companies. And it has major stakes in such names as Anheuser-Busch and Wells Fargo. Berkshire Hathaway stock has gone from 12 bucks four decades ago, to more than $107,000 for a single share today.
Interviewed a while back for the documentary, “Oracle of Omaha,” Buffett sounded reluctant to give up control.
strong class=”name”>WARREN BUFFETT: I would like to see how far the company can be taken in terms of a collection of fine businesses run by the best managers in the world. It’s a lot of fun doing that, and it never ends.
Now, in his annual letter to shareholders, Buffett is hinting that all good things eventually do come to an end.
Berkshire Hathaway owns Geico — and contrary to those TV ads, that insurance firm is not run by a lizard. It’s headed by Lou Simpson, who’s long been Buffett’s heir-apparent. But now Buffett concedes Simpson is too close to his own age to run things very long.
Stockbroker Andy Kilpatrick wrote the Buffett biography, “Of Permanent Value.” He’s followed Buffett’s rise for many years. Appreciate you joining us.
ANDY KILPATRICK: Glad to.
MOON: Why has it taken Warren Buffett so long to really address this question of his successor? He’s 76 years old, he’s running a company with total assets of more than $248 billion. It can’t be very comforting to investors to learn that he’s still looking for the right candidate to become the investment guru who’s gonna replace him.
KILPATRICK: Well Bob, I think, you know . . . if you go back the years he was younger, and Lou Simpson, who had taken over, was younger. And now Simpson’s 70. And I think Simpson can go a long time, but I just think that Buffett is, you know, [a] long-term planner and wants to get somebody there in case of a crisis. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a worry. But I think he admits it’s time to do it.
MOON: Yeah, he’s been pretty reluctant to give up the reins. He likes doing what he’s doing, right?
KILPATRICK: Right, right. That’s absolutely correct. He may joke about living forever, but it doesn’t hurt to get somebody younger in there to get to know those people and show their stuff a little bit. And plan for the next generation sorta thing.
MOON: You own Berkshire Hathaway stock yourself. Do you feel confident they’re gonna find the right guy to become this investment guru?
KILPATRICK: You know, if you look over Buffett’s history, he’s hired however many CEOs of all these companies, no one’s ever left him, and I think he has rarely made a poor decision. His real credit is probably understanding human nature and reading people as well as it is the stock market. And he’s alwasy come up with great people. And I think they’ll find somebody great — but can you find a 500 hitter instead of a 350 hitter?
MOON: Buffett has said for a long time that he has left instructions should he go. Is that correct?
KILPATRICK: He’s left instructions as to who is the CEO. The board has decided . . . and as I understand it, the slip of paper or whatever it is is in his assistant’s drawer. You might open it up and it might be Person X, but he can change that. If something happened to him tonight, there would be somebody at his desk in the morning.
MOON: And he’s joked about this for awhile, hasn’t he?
KILPATRICK: Oh yeah, he jokes about it. And I think it’s . . . sense of humor sort of shows his good spirits and good health.
MOON: What has he said about it?
KILPATRICK: Well, he says he’s not going. (Laughs) You know. And that if he does die, to check his pulse — that he’s coming back, and . . . or says that I’m doing seances for 10 years. He jokes about his own mortality, but he’s planning very realistic cause he knows it will happen, no question.
MOON: Andy Kilpatrick, thank you very much for joining us.
KILPATRICK: You’re welcome, Bob. Good to talk to you. Enjoyed it.
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