March 1, 2007 — -- In his annual letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett, possibly the world's most well known investor, has done something unusual this year: He's put out a Help Wanted sign, looking for someone to run the firm's investment business should he die.
Buffett, 76, says the company has a plan in place should he die today. But at a recent board meeting, Berkshire's board discussed the importance of having a replacement who could lead the company for the long-term.
Apparently, the person Buffett had in mind for the job -- Lou Simpson, president and CEO of Geico -- is just six years Buffett's junior.
"I intend to hire a younger man or woman with the potential to manage a very large portfolio, who we hope will succeed me as Berkshire's chief investment officer when the need for someone to do that arises," writes Buffett in the letter. "As part of the selection process, we may in fact take on several candidates."
While it sounds a bit like a big-money, nontelevised version of Donald Trump's "The Apprentice," it's probably not.
The person or persons Buffett will bring onboard must have "the potential to manage a very large portfolio," he writes. Berkshire's current holdings include $61 billion in stock investments, $28 billion in fixed-income securities, and cash holdings of $43 billion. That's a $132 billion bundle that not just any MBA could handle.
"It's not hard, of course, to find smart people, among them individuals who have impressive investment records," writes Buffett. "But there is far more to successful long-term investing than brains and performance that has recently been good."
Buffett certainly knows what it takes to make money on the market. Since 1965, his investment acumen has grown the value of Berkshire shares by 6,479 percent, using his simple "value investing" philosophy. A single share of Berkshire now goes for more than $100,000.
So what's he looking for in a replacement?
"Over time, markets will do extraordinary, even bizarre, things. A single, big mistake could wipe out a long string of successes," writes Buffett. "We therefore need someone genetically programmed to recognize and avoid serious risks, including those never before encountered."
Buffett also says the ideal candidate is an independent thinker, someone emotionally stable who has "a keen understanding of both human and institutional behavior."
One challenge in this search for a successor is likely the heated competition for people with the skills and temperament to make lots of money investing.
Today talented money mangers can make billions running a hedge fund without the public attention Buffett's replacement is likely to have to endure. Add to that a relatively paltry annual salary -- Buffett takes just $100,000 a year in cash compensation -- and you can see why it might be tough to find someone to take the reins of Berkshire Hathaway.
Buffett believes the answer lies in finding someone like Simpson, someone who'll be paid well but only when he or she delivers "sustained overperformance."
"Lou, however, could have left us long ago to manage far greater sums on more advantageous terms," writes Buffett. "If money alone had been the object, that's exactly what he would have done. But Lou never considered such a move. We need to find a younger person or two made of the same stuff."
There will undoubtedly be hundreds, if not thousands, clamoring for an interview with the billionaire investor.
Even though he's looking for a replacement, Buffett says he's not planning on going anywhere anytime soon.
"The good news: At 76, I feel terrific and, according to all measurable indicators, am in excellent health," writes Buffett. "It's amazing what Cherry Coke and hamburgers will do for a fellow."