The belief of the brand
Last week, investors learned MidAmerican Energy -- the energy arm of Berkshire Hathaway -- would be changing its name to Berkshire Hathaway Energy.
The release highlighted the changed name "more accurately reflects our growing, diversified mix of businesses and the customers they serve." Greg Abel, the oft-praised CEO of what is now Berkshire Hathaway Energy, also added:
Our new name reflects the benefits we gain from Berkshire Hathaway's ownership, particularly our ability to reinvest in our businesses and take a long-term view of our customers' needs, which have helped us become a leader in the global energy industry.
Buffett also recently revealed its real-estate brokerage, HomeServices, which has more than 22,000 agents, would begin rebranding its Prudential and Real Living franchises to now be called Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.
Of the efforts, Buffett said simply, "[I]f you haven't yet, many of you will soon be seeing our name on 'for sale' signs."
Although they're two very different businesses, there is also one very distinct thing in common between Berkshire Hathaway Energy and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices: the name of Berkshire Hathaway.
The value of the brand
In 2007, Buffett spoke to how he and Charlie Munger evaluate decisions to buy businesses:
A truly great business must have an enduring "moat" that protects excellent returns on invested capital. ... [T]herefore a formidable barrier such as ... possessing a powerful worldwide brand (Coca-Cola, Gillette, American Express) is essential for sustained success.
Of course this wasn't the only key -- he noted being a low-cost producer like GEICO is critical also -- but Buffett believes in both the value and power of brands.
According to Interbrand, Buffett's well-known investments of Coca-Cola and IBM each have brand names alone that are valued at a staggering $79 million, making them the third and fourth most valuable in the world. And American Express comes in first in the financial services sector, and 23rd overall at $17.6 million, which actually placed it ahead of Nike.
All of this is to say, Buffett embraces the difficult-to-quantify but distinctly important value of a brand.
What we can learn from it
In March, Harris Interactive polled more than 41,000 individuals and ranked Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices as the real estate agency "brand of the year."
Perhaps this was the last piece of evidence Buffett needed to embrace how valuable the Berkshire Hathaway name -- to say nothing of its operations -- had become.
Considering the decades of success he's had in recognizing how the value of a brand can deliver value to shareholders, one has to believe he now sees he can use the name of the textile mill he bought decades ago to only continue to add to his historically great returns.
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