Warren Buffett has been celebrated for his long-term, buy-and-hold approach to investing. So when does the Berkshire Hathaway
Mac Greer: In 1998, Buffett buys a little over 14 million shares of Coca-Cola
Prem Jain: Buffett has strictly followed the principle of holding a company forever for wholly owned subsidiaries. These include GEICO, Dairy Queen, Nebraska Furniture Mart, and many dozens more. To the best of my knowledge, he has never sold a 100% owned subsidiary.
Even for common stock investments such as those in Coca-Cola or American Express
Overall, it appears that whenever Buffett decides that a company's management is no longer outstanding, he loses interest in that company. As I discuss in my book, Buffett-style investing is more about people and less about products. Once you find good people, you hold onto them forever.
Greer: What would Buffett regard as his biggest investing mistake and why would he consider it a mistake?
Jain: Buffett discusses two types of investing mistakes: mistakes of omission and mistakes of commission. Mistakes of omission are the mistakes of not buying certain investments when one should. At one time, Buffett mentioned that he should have invested in Wal-Mart
I consider his acquisition of General Re for $22 billion in 1998 to be his biggest mistake of commission. My calculations in Buffett Beyond Value show that over the ensuing 10 years, General Re lost more than $6 billion in operating profits. Including other gains, the annualized 10-year return from the General Re investment has been only in low single digits. In addition, General Re was investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice, and its former CEO Ron Ferguson was sentenced to two years in prison. Buffett thinks that General Re has now righted the ship, but it clearly has been a difficult journey.
Jain: Who do you think will succeed Warren Buffett? Who do you think should succeed Warren Buffett?
Greer: Buffett holds three managerial positions. He is the Chairman of the Berkshire board, he is also the CEO; and he is responsible for about $100 billion of stocks and bonds held by Berkshire. I believe that Warren Buffett's son Howard Buffett, a current director, will become the Chairman of the board. Howard Buffett will be the most effective person in terms of keeping the culture at Berkshire intact.
In terms of CEO, Ajit Jain is the most eligible candidate. He is an insurance man, and Berkshire is largely an insurance company. Buffett talks to Ajit Jain every day and has praised him lavishly in almost every annual report for many years. Buffett has even suggested that Ajit Jain is more important to Berkshire than Buffett and Charlie Munger.
In terms of managing the stock and bond portfolio, Buffett's role is likely to be divided among a few people. It is important to realize that because Berkshire is fully invested at this time, it is not critical to find new fund managers in short order. However, two additional names that come to my mind are Seth Klarman and Li Lu.