Heir Apparent at Berkshire Hathaway: Warren -2-

By Dow Jones Business News, 

The hedge-fund manager who questioned Howard Buffett's qualifications says he isn't yet satisfied that the son is up to the chairman's job. "Berkshire is an increasingly complex entity," Mr. Kass says. "Doesn't that mean that the chairman [should have] had experience in the management of companies, trading large sums of securities, and is more than just a supporter of Berkshire culture?"

Howard Buffett says he is accustomed to skeptics taking him lightly. When he was a Nebraska county commissioner between 1989 and 1992, Mr. Buffett says, they jokingly called him an S.O.B.--son of a billionaire.

People who have worked with him say he is direct but easygoing, with an open mind and little patience for by-the- book thinking.

Fellow philanthropist Shannon Sedgwick Davis recalls traveling with Mr. Buffett in a car, teary-eyed after a harrowing visit to eastern Congo, when she felt something land on her lap. It was a pack of cherry Twizzlers, which she says cheered her up. "I remember thinking, 'Who brings Twizzlers to the middle of a jungle?' You can't be fooled by Howard's sense of joy and fun."

The Howard G. Buffett Foundation already has disbursed around $530 million. It has estimated that by 2045, when the last of his father's wealth will be distributed, it will have received more than $7 billion.

Mr. Buffett travels widely to vet opportunities. He has visited 133 countries, mainly on behalf of the foundation.

"Howie's an Indiana Jones all the way," his father says of his philanthropy. "He's always been on the go. He's got boundless energy and curiosity, and a good heart."

His board activity isn't as well known. Currently, besides serving on Berkshire's board, he is a director at Coca- Cola and at irrigation-infrastructure company Lindsay Corp.

Mr. Buffett says he has come a long way from his first stint as a director, which felt like an "Accounting 101" lesson. He says he is wary of activist investors and believes that informal conversations with fellow directors outside the boardroom often can resolve disagreements. He says he believes executive pay should have a reasonable base, with higher amounts tied to performance.

Coca-Cola executives say they have found Mr. Buffett's connections helpful in dealing with government officials and other leaders in emerging markets. Coke Chief Executive Muhtar Kent said in an email Mr. Buffett's knowledge of such markets had helped "guide my thinking."

Berkshire's longtime reinsurance business chief, Ajit Jain, whom analysts consider a potential CEO successor, says he values Mr. Buffett's understanding of business enough that he has tried to coax him, over lunches in New York, to get more involved in Berkshire. But Mr. Buffett has been more interested in other pursuits, he says. Mr. Jain says he believes Mr. Buffett is the right choice for the chairman's role.

Howard Buffett says his father never made a concerted effort to teach his children about business or investing, but instilled in him the value of money early on by tying pocket money to household chores. He and his siblings would hear snippets of conversation on the phone or at the dinner table, absorbing them by "osmosis." His business education, he says, is "not something you can buy or read about. It's something that came with life."

Some shareholders say that if Warren Buffett thinks his son is the best choice, that is good enough for them. "[ Warren] Buffett is totally unemotional, which is one of the reasons he's a phenomenal investor," says Paul Lountzis, whose firm Lountzis Asset Management owns Berkshire shares. "Why would anyone think he would do anything to jeopardize a lifetime of work?"

Write to Anupreeta Das at anupreeta.das@wsj.co

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This article appears in: News Headlines

Referenced Stocks: BRK.A

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