The big news at Berkshire Hathaway
Aside from an overriding sense of curiosity about the man himself (assuming it is a man), shouldn't we also be asking why his name hasn't been disclosed? As a notable voice for improved corporate governance, wouldn't Warren Buffett demand the same of a company he wanted to buy or invest in? In short, if you have your money invested in Berkshire Hathaway, or are thinking of doing so, shouldn't you demand to know who will be running the show after Buffett is gone?
The fate of Berkshire Hathaway should anything befall Buffett has prompted a lot of investor anxiety over the years. The man is truly an investing genius, exhibiting skills far beyond us mere mortals. Buffett and Charlie Munger have transformed the former textile mill into a corporate behemoth, with far-flung operations that seem as tightly knit as the fabrics once produced at the bygone plant. No one else at Berkshire Hathaway has exhibited enough foresight and knowledge -- publicly, anyway -- to suggest that he could easily step into those shoes. If there's a Cinderella CEO waiting within Berkshire's ranks, why not reveal his identity?
While some commentators have suggested that Buffett and the Berkshire board are running afoul of Regulation FD -- that they have material, non-public information that they are not disclosing -- that regulation really only deals with the selective dissemination of the information. It's not that Buffett has told only a few people who his successor is. He hasn't told anyone.
To a certain degree, I can understand Buffett's reticence. Even at age 75, he's not ready to step down just yet; he seems to enjoy what he's doing too much to quit. I imagine that if running Berkshire Hathaway became more of a chore than an enjoyment, Buffett would leave. Until then, it may be wisest to hedge his bets; while he clearly has a successor in mind, Buffett also noted that "new managerial stars may emerge and present ones will age." In other words, a lot could happen between now and Buffett's departure. Actually naming the successor now could create more problems than it resolves, should that person move on in the interim.
The announcement was at least partly intended to calm investors who were worried that, should Buffett drop dead tomorrow, there would be no one to take his place -- or worse, an internal struggle for control of the company. Still, there is a level of uncertainty surrounding this secret nomination. Naming Buffett's successor now would allow the markets and investors to acclimate themselves to his choice, rather than waiting for a calamity to strike.