What Do Buffett's 4 New AIG Hires Mean for Berkshire Investors?

On Friday, Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B  ) (NYSE: BRK-A  ) announced it has hired four senior executives from American International Group (NYSE: AIG  ) .

So who, exactly, did Buffett snag from the notorious insurance giant?

First, there's Peter Eastwood, a 22-year AIG veteran who most recently headed up the company's domestic property-casualty operations. Next, David Bresnahan served as president of AIG's Lexington unit since June, 2011. Then there's Sanjay Godhwani, who was president of AIG's property-casualty operations in Latin America and the Caribbean. Finally, Berkshire also hired David Fields, who formerly worked as AIG's president of risk finance.

Heads I win, tails you lose
Should the folks at AIG take this as a compliment? Maybe they should. After all, Buffett's world-class management team was the first of three reasons I suggested buying shares of Berkshire just last month, so the fact that Berkshire is willing to poach leaders from AIG at all may be a testament to AIG's self-described "deep-bench" --  especially when we consider this is by no means AIG's first brain drain.

Then again, as fellow Fool Jessica Alling wrote yesterday, as much as AIG might want to draw attention to all the great folks who remain, you can bet they'd much rather not have to replace their current leaders in the first place. Even worse, losing key executives doesn't exactly do much to boost investor sentiment for a company with a storied history like AIG's.

Is the grass really greener?
So here's what we do know: Based on the old roles of its new hires, Berkshire is obviously looking to take market share by growing its property-casualty operations. In fact, Eastwood already stated its first task is to grow the company's domestic excess and surplus market -- a $25 billion market of which Berkshire currently controls just 1.6%, compared with AIG's share at 20%. 

Of course, few expect that task to be a walk in the park; in a research note Friday, Credit Suisse kindly pointed out it will still take "time for Berkshire to successfully underwrite and win over material amounts of E&S market share." 

Luckily for Berkshire investors, making decisions with a long-term focus is nothing new at the company, so time isn't exactly a concern. Remember, it took Berkshire a full 18 years to grow GEICO's share of the personal-auto insurance market from 2.5% in 1995 to 9.7% at the end of 2012. Even better, GEICO's premiums increased during that period from $2.8 billion to $16.7 billion.

Foolish final thoughts
What's more, it sounds like the new execs have happily climbed on board with Berkshire's philosophy; Eastwood later went on to elaborate, "We start with a clean slate, with the objective of building a large, diverse, profitable commercial property-casualty insurance business with a long-term focus."

When the rubber hits the road, I'm convinced nobody could ask for a better place to do so than with the company Buffett built. As Buffett himself wrote in his most recent shareholder letter, "Insurance, moreover, will always be essential for both businesses and individuals -- and no company brings greater resources to that arena than Berkshire."


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