The Times of India has published a rare interview with Ajit Jain which coincides with Warren Buffett’s arrival in Bangalore today. Mr. Buffett’s trip to India coincides with the company’s entry into the Indian auto insurance industry through Berkshireinsurance.com, a majority owned subsidiary that has a direct sales strategy similar to Berkshire’s GEICO division.
Ajit Jain is believed to be one of the four candidates to succeed Warren Buffett as CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. We have previously discussed the succession issue at Berkshire and succession planning is one of the main areas of focus in Berkshire Hathaway: In Search of the “Buffett Premium”, our recently published comprehensive report on Berkshire. We found Mr. Jain’s comments on succession particularly interesting:
Warren’s talked about it and there is a process in place. There are four candidates and I have read that I am one of the four. It is fair to say that I work fairly closely with him. But we have got very good people. I know a lot of the names talked about. In fact, the person who is rumoured to be the likely candidate in the press-David Sokol-is somebody who I have the utmost respect for. I think he is a terrific guy to run the company. If he is chosen, he would have 100% of my support. Not that anyone is asking me. And the key thing is Warren’s going strong. You have got to see from inside the company. He may be 20 years older than I am, but forget about mental energy, he has more physical energy than I do. If you forget about his age and look at his stamina and physical characteristics, 10 years is a given and in 10-years’ time, there will be a different crop of candidates.
Mr. Jain’s comment on the list of candidates changing in the future is particularly relevant given the fact that Mr. Buffett has no intention of retiring and appears to be in good health. Mr. Jain is nearly 60 years old and Mr. Buffett has previously stressed that he would like Berkshire’s next CEO to be young enough to have a long tenure.
In Warren Buffett’s 2009 letter to shareholders (pdf), he stated: “If Charlie, I and Ajit are ever in a sinking boat — and you can only save one of us — swim to Ajit.” Given the importance of underwriting discipline at Berkshire, an under reported but critical succession question involves who will be in charge of reinsurance when Mr. Buffett and Mr. Jain both leave the scene.
For unique insight into Ajit Jain’s insights on succession, working with Mr. Buffett, opportunities in India, the situation in Japan, and more we highly recommend reading the full interview.
Disclosure: Long Berkshire Hathaway.