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Billionaire Warren Buffett turns 91, but isn’t slowing down anytime soon

In this article:
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Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief Andy Serwer joins Myles Udland and Brian Sozzi to discuss Warren Buffett’s 91st Birthday, his possible replacement as CEO for Berkshire after he decides to step down, and some of Buffett’s most notable achievements in his life that have helped to differentiate his legacy from other CEOs.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

BRIAN SOZZI: Happy 91st birthday to the Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett. Bring in Yahoo Finance Editor in Chief and our Buffett insider, Andy Serwer. Andy, good to see you this morning here. He may be 91 years old but from the outside looking in, there really are no indications that he's slowing down.

ANDY SERWER: Keeps on ticking, Brian. And you know, it's interesting because at the annual meeting this past spring, Charlie Munger made a little bit of an oops and indicated pretty strongly that Greg Abel is going to be the next CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. Here's the thing though, to your point, when is that going to happen? Nobody knows.

I mean, Buffett is 91 years old but he keeps on ticking and there is no indication as you said, that he is going to step down, ready to step down, wants to step down. And if you read between the lines, I think that he's probably going to be in that chair, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway for probably another three or four years if his health does hold up.

MYLES UDLAND: Yeah. And I think, Andy, the way that the company has evolved over the last several years makes it easier for Buffett to stay in that seat. And we can have a conversation around why Berkshire hasn't really made transformative acquisitions since Precision Castparts, that is maybe related to this, maybe it's not related to this. But the net result is that Ted and Todd, who are running part of the investment portfolio, have more sway over let's say, new Berkshire, how Berkshire gets reshaped on the margins. And Greg Abel continues to run the utilities business, he runs the railroads.

You have Ajit Jain, of course, running the insurance operations. And it makes it easier for Buffett to remain the CEO, and in a way, I see it as he has-- he's kind of figure-headed himself, right? Like he has made other people empowered, thus making it easier for him to remain in his seat really for as long as he would like.

ANDY SERWER: I think that's an excellent point, Myles, and a great way to think about it. Indeed, there are the big four there as you mentioned, Ted and Todd and Ajit and Greg. And increasingly, they are responsible for the businesses. And Buffett is acting more and more like an executive chairman who sort of oversees the strategic direction of the company.

Now, that's very much not the case say 5 and 10 years ago. I mean, those people weren't there or if they were in the case of Ajit, they were running sort of discrete businesses, which is to say, the insurance business at Berkshire Hathaway, which Ajit still oversees but he's obviously much more involved in the core businesses overall. And the investment guys were not there. And so he's relying-- Buffett is relying on them as much as well.

And so it allows him to sort of step back and make the transition. And of course, no one has been asked more about succession as a CEO than Warren Buffett has and he reminded me, I guess it was a year ago, that people have been asking him about succession for the past 30 years he said since he was in his 60s and he pointed out that many of the people who had asked him are either retired long ago or in many cases deceased themselves.

And so he's had a lot of time to think about this. And obviously, this is one of the most obviously smart but also thoughtful and self-aware people on the planet. And again, you know, people are going to talk about his foibles and you can do that all you want. But I think the point here is that this stuff is not lost on him.

BRIAN SOZZI: What may be going lost a little bit, Andy, is how not the norm this is in the C-suite. Warren Buffett, 91 years old. He may be-- I have to double-check this-- may be the oldest CEO of a public company. The only other name that I can think of, 85 years old for Carl Icahn. Many other companies have mandatory age requirements or retirement ages for their CEOs. I mean, this is a major feat for this guy.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, it's definitely in the don't try this at home category, Brian. And it sort of reminds me a little bit of Steve Jobs. It's like well, I'm going to act like a jerk like Steve. It's like no, that's not the point. Steve Jobs was a genius. He also happened to be kind of a jerk sometimes but one didn't inform the other. And by the way, you don't have to be a jerk to be a CEO, it's not going to help you out.

In many cases, most cases, most cases, it does not make sense for one to be a CEO when never mind 90s, but 80s and probably 70s. You know, there's just-- it's just too hard for most people in terms of just their physical and mental makeup. Never mind the fact that you get set in your ways, even if you do have the mental and physical acuity.

So this is a very, very singular thing. But you know, this is a guy who is the most impactful nonagenarian probably on the planet. I think-- with apologies to Jimmy Carter and of course, his own partner, Charlie Munger. But you know, the guy also just is incredibly impactful not only in terms of running maybe what is the sixth biggest business in the United States and maybe he's the sixth wealthiest person depending on what week it is in the United States but he fields just tons of phone calls when there are deals to be done.

And Myles of course would love to talk more about Precision Castparts and how that hasn't worked out and I agree. And Buffett would be the first to tell you that. And that is it impossible to move the needle that the company's this big? But he thinks about that stuff a lot and is fielding a ton of calls but it's never been more competitive with all these private equity people out there and the world awash in liquidity.

BRIAN SOZZI: Indeed it is impressive stuff. Again, happy 91st birthday to the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett. Andy Serwer, good to see you.