Warren Buffett hires possible successor

By Associated Press
Posted Oct. 26, 2010 at 7:33 a.m.

Billionaire Warren Buffett renewed speculation about his successor Monday by hiring a new investment manager to handle “a significant portion” of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s investment portfolio. Buffett offered few details about Todd Combs, 39, but the move fits with the succession plan the 80-year-old has outlined for the company he leads.

Combs has managed the Castle Point Capital hedge fund for the past five years, but he will leave that job at the end of the year to join Berkshire. Documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission show that Castle Point had a $280 million U.S. stock portfolio at the end of June.

Berkshire’s announcement didn’t say how much of Berkshire’s investment portfolio Combs will handle, but it will almost certainly be a step up for Combs. At the end of the third quarter, Berkshire held a $46 billion U.S. stock portfolio, $28 billion cash and other investments.

Combs’ office in Greenwich, Conn., referred questions to Berkshire, and officials at the Omaha-based company’s headquarters did not immediately respond to messages Monday.

Currently, Buffett makes most of the investment decisions at Berkshire in consultation with Berkshire’s vice chairman, Charlie Munger. The only exception to that is at one of Berkshire’s insurers, Geico, where Lou Simpson ran investments, but Simpson is retiring at the end of this year.

Buffett told Fortune magazine that Munger had introduced him to Combs.

Buffett told the magazine that Combs grew up in Florida and graduated from Florida State University in 1993. He worked for the Florida comptroller and then Progressive Insurance before joining Castle Point in 2005.

“For three years Charlie Munger and I have been looking for someone of Todd’s caliber to handle a significant portion of Berkshire’s investment portfolio,” Buffett said in a statement. “We are delighted that Todd is joining us.”

Combs’ hedge fund focused on the financial sector, and Berkshire has significant investments in bank stocks such as Wells Fargo & Co., US Bancorp and M&T Bank.

Buffett biographer Andy Kilpatrick said Monday’s announcement appears to be the beginning of hiring the investment managers Buffett has discussed as part of his succession plan, but he doesn’t know Combs.

“It doesn’t mean he’s not terrific, but I’ve never heard of him,” said Kilpatrick, the stockbroker-author of “Of Permanent Value, the Story of Warren Buffett.”

Previously, Buffett has said the plan to replace him includes splitting his job into three parts — chief executive officer, chief investment officer and chairman.

Buffett has also said that Berkshire’s investment duties would likely be split among three or more different managers who would report to the next CEO. Those investment managers will be in charge of Berkshire’s stock portfolio and its other investments.

Buffett has said his company’s board had a list of several internal and external investment managers who could manage Berkshire’s investments.

Buffett, however, has said he has no plans to retire, still loves his work and remains in good health.

Three of Berkshire’s internal managers are candidates to be CEO, and Buffett says the board always knows who to pick if a replacement were needed tomorrow.

Berkshire owns more than 80 different subsidiaries, including clothing, insurance, furniture, utility, jewelry and corporate jet companies. Berkshire also has big investments in companies including Coca-Cola Co. and American Express.

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