Investors around the world have been wondering for years who would take the reins of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A, BRK.B) once its 91-year-old current CEO (and the fifth richest man in the world) warren buffet dies or retires.
On May 1, 2021, they got their answer. At Berkshire Hathaway’s Annual Meeting of Shareholders, Executive Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Charlie Munger made an offhand comment indicating that the man succeeding Buffett as CEO reportedly Berkshire’s 59-year-old vice president of non-insurance business operations, Greg Abel. Buffett confirmed the news in an interview with CNBC the following Monday.
If the actual remark – “Greg will keep the culture,” Munger said, discussing from Berkshire decentralized operating structure – was a surprise, the individual in question is not. Abel has long been considered one of the chief heir apparent to the CEO, along with fellow board member Ajit Jain, vice president of insurance operations.
Neither Buffett nor Munger gave any indication of when exactly Greg Abel would take over as chef. Yet, let’s meet the man who is set to preside over one of America’s greatest corporations of the post-Buffett era.
Key points to remember
- At Berkshire Hathaway’s 2021 annual meeting, Executive Vice Chairman Charlie Munger made an offhand remark identifying Greg Abel as CEO Warren Buffett’s successor.
- Greg Abel is currently Berkshire’s vice president of non-insurance business operations and president of the Berkshire Energy Holdings subsidiary.
- Abel has been in Berkshire since 2000, when the conglomerate bought an energy company he ran.
- Known as a quiet but hard-working negotiator, Abel led some of Berkshire’s largest and most successful acquisitions.
- No date has been set for Buffett’s departure or Abel’s succession.
Youth and education
Born June 1, 1962 and raised in Edmonton, Canada, Gregory Abel graduated from the University of Alberta in 1984 with a degree in commerce. He became an accountant and, after a stint with the accounting firm Big Four PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), joined a small power company, CalEnergy, in 1992. He became president of the company in 1998, which became expanded into a variety of energy operations, changing its name to MidAmerican Energy Holdings (named after one of the companies it acquired).
Abel became part of Berkshire Hathaway when the conglomerate bought MidAmerican in 2000. The company was eventually renamed Berkshire Hathaway Energy (BHE). Abel was its managing director from 2008 to 2018. He is currently its president. With subsidiaries focused on coal, natural gas, hydro, wind, solar, geothermal and nuclear, BHE had approximately 23,800 employees and reported more than $20.9 billion in revenue in 2020.
This capability continued in Berkshire. BHE has represented/been involved in some of Berkshire’s biggest acquisitions, including PacifiCorp in 2005, Nevada utility NV Energy in 2013, and Dominion Energy’s pipeline business in 2020.
Abel also nurtured Home Services, a small real estate brokerage that came with the purchase of another company; it is now one of the most successful holdings in Berkshire.
Both at MidAmerican and Berkshire, Abel was mentored by David Sokol, who seemed a likely successor to Warren Buffett until his resignation from Berkshire in 2011. Sokol was singing Abel’s praises to Buffett as early as 2007.
Greg Abel’s 2020 compensation. It includes $16 million in base salary and a $3 million bonus, according to Berkshire’s filings with the SEC.
A heir apparent
Although he tended to avoid public appearances and shareholder meetings, Abel’s reputation began to spread in the financial and business world, as did speculation about his role in a post-Buffett Berkshire. In September 2017, JP Morgan analyst Sarah DeWitt wrote in a note: “The most likely successor in our opinion, whom Warren Buffett regularly praises, is Greg Abel.
Then, in 2018, came the move that marked Abel as a potential heir: Buffett elevated and appointed Abel, along with Ajit Jain, to the board of Berkshire Hathaway, creating two new seats for them. Abel received his current title of Vice President of Non-Insurance Business Operations.
As such, Abel oversees all of Berkshire’s railroad, automotive utility, manufacturing and retail subsidiaries, more than 90 companies in all. In total, non-insurance operations represent $150 billion in revenue and have 250,000 employees.
Until Munger’s inadvertent mention at the 2021 shareholder meeting, both Jain and Abel were seen as likely successors to Buffett — in fact, some gave Jain the edge.
It’s possible that Abel’s age – he’s over a decade younger than 71-year-old Jain – was ultimately the deciding factor for him being exploited on Jain.
During his time at MidAmerican, Abel gained a reputation as an excellent negotiator, leading and growing the company in more diverse directions through smart mergers and buyouts, and managing new acquisitions intelligently and effectively. His management of the purchases of gas lines from Enron and a British company, Northern Electric, particularly stood out.
In his 2014 shareholder letter, Charlie Munger called Greg Abel and Ajit Jain “proven performers who would likely be under-qualified as ‘world class.’ “World leader” would be the description I would choose. In some important ways, each is a better business executive than Buffett. »
A resident of Des Moines, where Berkshire Energy is based, Abel lives a relatively low-key life, like Buffett. Although something of an insider secret, he has made multiple public appearances over the past two years, a notable stage presence at recent annual meetings. His responses to questions, particularly on energy conservation and sustainability, have been well received by analysts and shareholders.
Hockey is one of Greg Abel’s passions. He practiced this sport as a child and coaches his children’s teams. He also sits on the board of the Hockey Canada Foundation.
Who is Warren Buffett’s successor?
In 2021, Greg Abel, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, was named Warren Buffett’s eventual successor.
What is Greg Abel net worth?
Greg Abel’s net worth is estimated at $484 million.
How much is Warren Buffett worth?
In August 2022, Warren Buffett’s net worth was estimated at just over $102 billion.
Greg Abel will face some challenges when he steps into the big role. An increasingly militant group of Berkshire shareholders are campaigning for the company to spend more of its considerable cash reserves, to reduce its carbon footprint and to promote diversity. All this, with the fact that he is not Warren Buffett.
But then, he won’t inherit Buffett’s exact role. The work that Buffett has done will likely be split between different people. Abel will be Berkshire’s CEO, but Buffett’s son Howard will likely be named chairman of Berkshire’s board.
Jain looks likely to continue as vice president of insurance operations, and his job could expand further. He was also cited as the next CEO, should anything happen to Abel.
Finally, there may well be a bigger role for Todd Combs and Ted Westchler. Both men are investment managers for Buffett and have taken on greater responsibilities in managing smaller companies in Berkshire’s portfolio. It’s possible the two will be given more responsibility after Buffett’s departure.