Buffett's affinity for the industry began early. As a sophomore in high school, he bought a 40-acre farm in Nebraska and hired a tenant farmer to run the operation for him. In fact, Buffett's middle son, Howard, even made farming his chosen profession -- a move Buffett encouraged when he purchased a Nebraska farm for Howard to rent in 1977.
As a result, Buffett often uses farming analogies to describe his own long-term investing methods, encouraging even small investors to visualize themselves "as a part-owner of a business that you expect to stay with indefinitely, much as you might if you owned a farm or apartment house with members of your family."
A shared connection
Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that Buffett quickly took to Tracy Britt, a brilliant farm girl-turned-Harvard M.B.A. grad (her family has operated a produce farm in Kansas since 1948) who so happened to bring a bushel of corn and some tomatoes to symbolize their shared roots when she interviewed as Buffett's financial assistant in 2009.
A recent Wall Street Journal report on Britt, a mere 28 years old, reminds us that the driven young lady not only regularly attends meetings with Buffett but also helps with financial research and occasionally drives him around town.
Oh, and did I mention she also serves as a remarkably capable chairman of four Berkshire-owned businesses that are collectively responsible for around $4 billion in annual sales? These businesses include insulation and roofing-supply specialist Johns Manville, paint manufacturer Benjamin Moore, framing company Larson-Juhl, and novelty retailer Oriental Trading -- the last of which Berskhire acquired for around $500 million last November.
What's more, Buffett has previously said that Britt "takes care of all kinds of things that come up," which effectively illustrates the truly unique role Britt fulfills for Berkshire.
What kinds of "things," you ask? Among her additional tasks so far have been the creation and arranging of a meeting aimed at bringing Berkshire's dozens upon dozens of subsidiary CEOs together each year, and Buffett reportedly sent her on a trip to Brazil to learn more about the operations of Brazilian-based 3G Capital after Berkshire teamed with the firm to acquire 50% of ketchup king H.J. Heinz back in February.
A "cadre" of terrific managers
Naturally, given her broad-reaching scope of responsibilities, Britt could ultimately stand as a candidate to eventually replace Buffett when he's gone. However, remember that Buffett himself regularly reminds investors of the incredible all-around quality of the people who run Berkshire, including a reference in last year's shareholder letter in which he wrote of the company's "cadre of terrific operating managers."
At the same time -- and as I noted in March -- Buffett regularly heaps praise on managers including both Ted Weschler and Todd Combs, who, despite having worked at Berkshire for less than three years, currently manage around $10 billion of Berkshire's equity portfolio as of this writing and are set to ultimately take over the entire portfolio.
Then there's Berkshire's insurance head, Ajit Jain, to whom Buffett suggested investors should "bow deeply" in respect if they were to meet him at this year's shareholder meeting. That's not to mention Tad Montross, whom Buffett largely credits for General Re's consistent, profitable growth since Berkshire acquired it in 1998.
Of course, Britt's certainly also not the only woman at Berkshire to excel at an executive post: Five of the aforementioned subsidiary CEOs include Cathy Baron Tamraz of Business Wire, Marla Gottschalk of The Pampered Chef, Susan Jacques of Borsheims Jewelry, Beryl Raff from Helzberg Diamonds, and Mary Rhinehart, whom Buffett himself picked as the CEO of Johns Manville last November.
In the end, if there's one thing we can be sure of, it's that Buffett has no qualms continually increasing Tracy Britt's role at Berkshire as he grooms the company to survive and thrive long after he's gone. As a result, just know we'll probably be seeing her name more often amid the ever-growing list of fresh new Berkshire executives.