An off-the-cuff comment made by Berkshire No. 2 Charlie Munger (who, at 97, is 7 years older than Buffett) during Saturday's annual meeting seized the attention of the financial press and Berkshire shareholders watching from a distance: If something were to happen to Buffett, Munger quipped, Berkshire Vice Chairman Greg Abel - who presently runs all Berkshire's non-insurance businesses - would be tapped to take over as CEO.
The comment appeared to confirm years' worth of speculation that Abel would be Buffett's successor, though the choice had been narrowed to two candidates: Abel, who runs the non-insurance business, and Vice Chairman Ajit Jain, who runs Berkshire's insurance businesses.
After the comments went unconfirmed all weekend,, CNBC's Becky Quick, Buffett's favorite financial journalist, has apparently spoken with Buffett and members of the Berkshire board and can now confirm that the takeover scenario described by Munger is in alignment with the Berkshire board's present thinking.
"The directors are in agreement that if something were to happen to me tonight it would be Greg who’d take over tomorrow morning," Buffett said.
For a long time, many speculated that David Sokol, who once ran both MidAmerican ENergy (now Berkshire Hathaway Energy) and NetJets for Berkshire, would be Buffett's logical successor. But he abruptly left the firm in 2011 following reports that he had purchased a $10 million stake in chemical company Lubrizol before recommending it to Berkshire as a potential buy.
In recent years, rumors have swirled that Abel would likely take over from Buffett should he decide to retire. As Munger said on Saturday, it's believed that Abel will help preserve Berkshire's unique culture.