For more than half a century, he’s made the company his investing canvas, designing an unlikely conglomerate. It owns Geico, BNSF Railway, Fruit of the Loom, Dairy Queen, Duracell, and dozens of other companies, as well as billions of dollars of stock in blue chips such as Apple Inc. and Coca-Cola Co.
The glue is Buffett, who’s argued persuasively for decades that this hodgepodge makes sense. His market-beating returns have helped: $100 invested in Berkshire in 1964, when he began aggressively buying shares to take control, would be worth more than $2 million today. “There’d be speculation about breakups,” Buffett went on at the meeting, and the shares would trade higher because some investors would assume that the parts are worth more than the whole. Finally, the guy standing in the way would be gone, he said, adding dryly, “It would be a good Wall Street story.”
Nothing of the sort is likely to happen while Buffett is there. He’s still the controlling shareholder, Berkshire is his life’s work, and he doesn’t want it torn apart by investment bankers or activist investors. To slow that process, Buffett assembled a board that backs his approach, and after his death he’ll leave his remaining shares to charities run by family and friends who know his wishes. But the pressure to dismantle his creation will mount—eventually.
The bulwark against that impulse will be Buffett’s suc