Succession remains a huge topic for Berkshire given the ages of Buffett and Munger and their importance in building the company into the more than $630 billion conglomerate it is today. Any successor would take on a business overseeing a wide array of operations, from insurers to a railroad to energy companies and even retailers including Dairy Queen.
“Abel, of course, does not have the charisma, personality and reputation that Buffett built over decades, so he’s not going to have that magnetism that Buffett has,” David Kass, a professor of finance at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, said in a phone interview. “But he exudes extreme competence and success. He has a very successful track record at Berkshire and I don’t think shareholders can ask for anything more than that.”
Both Abel and Jain joined Buffett and Munger on stage Saturday to field questions from shareholders at the company’s meeting, held virtually because of the pandemic.
Abel and Jain were both named vice chairmen in 2018 in promotions that Buffett said at the time were part of the “movement toward succession.” Abel, who previously led Berkshire’s sprawling energy empire, was picked to oversee all the non-insurance businesses, while Jain ran the insurers.
Abel rose to prominence at Berkshire as a key manager of its energy operations, building those units into a business that now has more than 23,000 employees. The executive, who grew up in Canada, is also an astute dealmaker, helping the energy business buy a Nevada utility, NV Energy, and an electric-transmission company in his native Alberta.
Now, Abel has an even wider mandate. He holds roles as a board member at Kraft Heinz Co., the packaged-food company that counts Berkshire as a key shareholder, and sets compensation for the CEOs of the company’s non-insurance businesses. Shareholders have gotten more of a glimpse of Abel in recent years, with the manager joining Buffett on stage at the annual meetings this year and in 2020.
— Check out Buffett’s Investments: The ‘Great,’ the ‘Good’ and the ‘Gruesome’ on ThinkAdvisor.