Wanted: chief investment officer at Berkshire Hathaway
Buffett needs someone to take over the investing duties for Berkshire's $40 billion-or-so portfolio. You need to be good at investing, you have to be young (which is why GEICO portfolio manager Lou Simpson, a legend in his own right, is ineligible), and money can't be a motivator -- only lifers need apply.
Who could the right person be? I first thought of a pretty lengthy list of the great value investors: Lee Ainslie, Bruce Berkowitz, Tom Brown, Chris Browne, Leon Cooperman, Chris Davis, David Dreman, David Einhorn, Mario Gabelli, Tom Gayner, the Gottesman clan, Joel Greenblatt, Seth Klarman, Sears Holdings
This is by no means an all-inclusive list -- it's just the most names I could think of in a three-minute span. If you or someone you know isn't on this list, please send me an angry email expressing your outrage.
Yet if I could pick one of the guys from that preliminary all-star list, I'd go with Eddie Lampert. His track record is unbelievable, he's young, and he is a value guy through and through. However, I think he is unlikely to be the next Berkshire CIO. He's amassed a billion dollar-plus fortune, but he's got a way to go before he cracks the upper echelons of the Forbes 400 -- assuming that is even his goal. The Berkshire vehicle doesn't seem right for him.
Instead, there's another guy not on that list who popped into my mind as the perfect choice.
It makes perfect sense. And if I eventually end up being wrong, I'll still tell you I'm right. Here's why.
- Youth: Gates is 51 years old, 25 years younger than Buffett.
- Experience: Gates is the only guy in the world richer than Buffett, and he's been managing his own multibillion-dollar portfolio for decades. Some say he's got great returns.
- Camaraderie: Buffett works only with people he likes, and Gates is extremely close with Buffett.
- Motivation: Gates doesn't need the money.
- Alignment of interest: Most of Buffett's Berkshire stock will eventually be bequeathed to the Gates Foundation, so Gates would be working to increase the amount of money he could eventually use to improve the lives of people everywhere. This is totally in line with what Buffett originally set out to accomplish by gifting Berkshire stock to Gates in the first place. He believed that Gates could maximize his return on invested capital, only with these returns measured in benevolence.
- Tutelage: Buffett and Gates have been teaching each other for years. Thanks to Buffett's influence, Microsoft
(NASDAQ:MSFT)started expensing options and managing capital better. I'm sure they've talked about other things besides bridge strategies and table tennis. Perhaps they've also talked about, say, how Buffett became the greatest investor in modern history.
- IQ: Buffett and Gates' combined IQs are probably out of the stratosphere. I wouldn't be surprised if they're smart enough to be reading my thoughts as we speak and influencing ... buy ... Vista ...
Joking aside, of the list I posted above, many are ineligible because of their age, many don't have personal relationships with Buffett, and many don't pass the money/motivation smell test. About 90% of the list is also generally ineligible because of their fiduciary responsibilities to their own investors. They can't just up and leave to be the next Luke to Buffett's Obi-Wan. (Speaking of which, I would literally cut off my own pinky for an opportunity to learn from Buffett.)
Keep in mind, I don't believe that the CIO role necessarily entails having that person personally pick all of the stocks, a la Buffett. A capital-allocator role -- similar to what David Swensen does in allocating money to fund managers and asset classes for Yale and in trouncing the market -- would serve just as well. Gates has decades of experience doing just that with his own money. That's why I believe Gates is the go-to guy.
Fool contributor Emil Lee is an analyst and a disciple of value investing. He doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned above. Emil appreciates your comments, concerns, and complaints. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.