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This morning, Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B ) announced that it has hired a second investment manager to manage part of the equity portfolios of the company’s insurance subsidiaries. That puts Ted Weschler, a hedge fund manager from Charlottesville, Va., in line to become one of the people who will manage Berkshire's portfolio in the post-Warren Buffett era. He joins Todd Combs, whom Berkshire hired last year, leaving room for a potential third hire -- a bond specialist, perhaps, as Combs and Weschler are both focused on equities.
So, who is Ted Weschler?
Charlottesville vs. Manhattan
It's no coincidence that Buffett plucked Weschler from Charlottesville rather than the Upper East Side of Manhattan or Greenwich, Conn. -- the Mecca for hedge funds. The location suggests someone who is down-to-earth and does not need to be part of the rough-and-tumble of the big city. Buffett himself lived in New York for several years, as a student at Columbia and as an employee of Graham-Newman, Ben Graham's investment firm -- but he was impatient to return to Omaha.
When Buffett initially hired Combs, some commentators expressed surprise that he was not a "name" money manager. I think it would be much more surprising if he or Weschler had been. Combs was based in Darien, Conn. -- a tony address, to be sure, but much less conspicuous in terms of wealth than Greenwich.
Money isn't everything
First, it’s difficult to imagine that many of the high-profile investors that are widely known in finance and media circles would be excited to spend a lot of time in Omaha. It's tough to go from a table at Masa or Alain Ducasse to one at Gorat's (understandably, perhaps -- Gorat's steakhouse is a Buffett favorite, but it’s an absolutely awful restaurant). Second, the best-known hedge fund managers wouldn't make as much money at Berkshire as they do at their own firms. Money is extremely important in the hedge fund world – it's the ultimate measure of success for these alpha males, and they'reoverwhelmingly male.
As far as Weschler's investing style goes, it appears that he favors a highly concentrated portfolio; the roughly $2 billion in long-position investments he reported at June 30 are split among just nine holdings, including W.R. Grace (NYSE: GRA ) , which requires a high degree of confidence in every pick. That suggests he has deep knowledge of each stock he owns as a result of extensive fundamental research. That approach is entirely consistent with Buffett's value-investing style. In fact, Buffett's portfolio was much more concentrated when he was managing smaller sums as a hedge fund manager. It's been a very fruitful strategy for Weschler, who has generated a 1,236% total return on an early 2000 investment in his hedge fund.
A few points is all it takes
Will Weschler (or Combs) be as successful as Buffett at investing Berkshire's cash? That's highly unlikely, but it isn't required. Given the size of Berkshire's portfolio, Buffett's current objective is to beat the index by a few percentage points -- challenging, yet achievable. Both hires look like they're up to the job.
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