Warren Buffett's Billion-Dollar Superman
There isn't a single soul Warren Buffett loves more than Ajit Jain. For years, Berkshire Hathaway 's annual shareholder letters have described Jain as something of a saint in the world of insurance.
Berkshire put Jain to work in 1986. Since then, and from "a standing start," he's built a billion-dollar contributor to Berkshire's bottom line. In the first nine months of 2015, Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance generated $5.3 billion in premium revenue. Last year, the company recognized $10.1 billion in premium revenue.
Of course, revenue means nothing in insurance. As best exemplified by AIG 's performance through the financial crisis, a big insurance company is not necessarily a great insurance company.
Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance is in a similar business as its counterpart, General Re, a reinsurance company that Berkshire acquired in 1998 for $23.5 billion. At the time of the acquisition, it was the largest reinsurance company in the United States and the third largest in the world.
General Re thus serves as a good benchmark for the performance of BH Reinsurance, Jain's reinsurance unit. The following chart compares annual and cumulative underwriting profits of BH Reinsurance to that of General Re.
On the basis of underwriting margin, which provides a better method to directly compare insurers, one can see that Jain has simply mopped up his competition at Berkshire Hathaway.
Cumulative pre-tax underwriting margins
1999 to Q3 2015
2003 to Q3 2015
Source: SEC filings.
Jain's underwriting performance is simply remarkable, far better than the underwriting ability of a business Berkshire paid $23.5 billion for.
Lest you think I'm being overly generous in attributing BH Reinsurance's record to Jain, I want to provide more numerical context for his unit's historical record.
In 2002, Jain's reinsurance unit generated $534 million of pre-tax underwriting profits and $13.4 billion in float. That year, BH Reinsurance had all of 20 employees. That's more than $26 million in pre-tax underwriting profits per employee.
My favorite part of the Ajit Jain story is that it all happened almost by accident. As Jain explained, his start in reinsurance came by fortunate timing.
"I didn't know how to spell 'insurance,' or 'reinsurance,' but I was hired to do a job in the reinsurance operations of National Indemnity . Fortunately, that was at a point in time when it was raining gold in the insurance industry, and you really didn't need to know much about the business as long as you could understand some basic numbers," Jain later recounted.
But don't let Jain's humility leave you with the wrong impression. Though good timing and luck may underlie a three-year record, luck simply doesn't build a 30-year record like Ajit Jain's. It's no surprise Buffett lavishes him with praise. If Buffett is the Oracle of Omaha, Jain is the Oracle from India.
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Jordan Wathen has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Berkshire Hathaway. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days . We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .
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