The Motley Fool's readers have spoken, and I have heeded your cries. After months of pointing out CEO gaffes and faux pas, I've decided to make it a weekly tradition to also point out corporate leaders who are putting the interests of shareholders and the public first and are generally deserving of praise from investors. For reference, here is last week's selection.
Kudos to you, Mr. Buffett
Warren Buffett probably needs little introduction as the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, a holding company that purchases what it feels are undervalued business in many different industries. There are 55 subsidiaries currently under Berkshire's umbrella, including railroad BNSF, confectioner See's Candies, and insurer Geico.
Insurance is what Berkshire is best known for, although its third-quarter results from this segment weren't very pretty because of multiple catastrophe losses from hurricanes striking the east coast. Berkshire still managed to turn a sizable insurance segment profit ($1.125 billion combining underwriting and investment income) when all was said and done. This has to do with Berkshire's top-down conservative investment approach that focuses on long-term gains and sticking with easy-to-understand businesses.
Where Berkshire has seen its biggest gains in recent years is in its energy and railroad business. BNSF was actually a genius purchase on Berkshire's part for two reasons. One, rail is becoming an important facilitator to move coal to ports for export to Asia and other coal-dominated emerging markets. Coal producers like Arch Coal (NYSE:ACI) are angling their production specifically toward doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling foreign exports, where demand remains strong. For Arch, it's signed multiple export contracts in the Gulf of Mexico and out on the west coast with a focus on Asian markets -- a perfect chance for BNSF to increase its carload capacity and boost its bottom line.
Second, rail is becoming an increasingly popular transportation choice for oil companies that are rich in liquid assets and want to receive a premium price for their oil. We've seen numerous Bakken shale-based drillers, like Continental Resources (NYSE:CLR), bypassing local sale routes and even Cushing, Okla., in order to receive the premium Brent crude price paid in Louisiana terminals. Continental is shipping almost two-thirds of its recovered Bakken oil by rail to Louisiana.This is great for BNSF and, ultimately, for its parent, Berkshire Hathaway.
A step above his peers
What's great about Berkshire Hathaway is that not only has the company been an incredible growth story for shareholders -- a 13.9% CAGR since 1990 – but Buffett has done so in one of the most unique ways imaginable: by being open and honest, and putting communities and shareholders first.
Let's start off with Buffett as a CEO. He may be one of the richest people in the world, but he continues to live in a home he purchased 55 years ago for $31,500. This modesty translates in many ways to Buffett's approach on giving and investing. As CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett nets just a $100,000 annual salary, and, in 2011, saw his total compensation drop 6% from the previous year to $491,925 -- most of which is from expenditures on home security.
In spite of his billions, Buffett hasn't forgotten about where he's been and the many people who've helped him along the way. Buffett has pledged to donate much of his life's fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, started by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. In July of last year, he donated 18.4 million class B shares totaling $1.52 billion to the foundation.
What makes Buffett's style of management so unique is that Buffett and his management team have almost no day-to-day interaction with how the underlying businesses they purchase operate. They've already done the legwork, and Buffett's track record, while not perfect, is better than most in purchasing undervalued companies.
Two thumbs up
Berkshire Hathaway may not pay a dividend, but I'd be doing current shareholders a disservice if I didn't also mention that, for the first time in its history in 2011, Buffett and the board authorized the repurchase of its own shares. Currently, this program allows repurchases up to 120% of book value. As a well-respected valuer of business worth, Buffett's backing of his own company's stock sent quite the statement to Wall Street and shareholders.
In the end, Warren Buffett is the quintessential buy-and-hold magnate who understands the value of a dollar and the roots from whence he came. He's honest and open with his thoughts, calculating with his purchases, and giving with his personal fortune. That is the mark of an incredible CEO, and I salute him with two thumbs up!
Do you have a CEO you'd like to nominate for this prestigious weekly honor? If so, head on over to the new CEO of the Week board and chime in with your fellow Fools on who deserves some praise. If you don't have a nominee yet, don't worry; you can still weigh in on other members' selections.
Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. He loves giving credit when credit is due. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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