Among the 10 largest companies (link opens a PDF) in the world, General Electric (NYSE:GE) and Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A)(NYSE:BRK-B) stand as the only two well-known conglomerates. Each owns businesses involved in an array of industries, employs at least 300,000 employees, and generates more than $140 billion in revenue annually.
In terms of operations, however, the similarities end there. Beneath the surface, these two corporate giants couldn't be more different than an upstate Yankee and a salt-of-the earth Midwesterner. And, in a sense, that's what they are.
GE was founded in Schenectady, N.Y., in 1892, while Berkshire found a home in Omaha in the 1960s when Warren Buffett assumed control of the former textile operation. The former became an American manufacturing icon. The latter emerged as one of the best managed investing outfits of all time.
Today, investors regard each company as time-tested "blue chip" stocks, complete with built-in diversification due the assortment of businesses under a single umbrella. When in doubt, it seems you can't go wrong with GE or Berkshire over the long haul.
But before investing your hard-earned cash in either company, there are some important distinctions to keep in mind. A few questions I hear often from investors include the following:
- What formula has worked for these companies while other conglomerates have failed?
- Why does GE's dividend yield a hearty 3.2% while Buffett has shied away from dividends since 1966?
- Why does Berkshire seem to scatter its bets far and wide while GE tends to align itself with a handful of industries?
In the following video, Motley Fool senior manufacturing specialist Isaac Pino dives into the characteristics that separate GE and Berkshire. When you look under the hood, these two companies run on a different type of fuel and with a different economic engine. It's no surprise then, that CEOs Jeff Immelt and Warren Buffett represent two different types of drivers at the wheel.
Watch the short clip below to better understand why one is a hands-on operator and the other is a backseat navigator. And find out why both styles work just fine.