First, a little extraneous caveat about this prediction. I have not spoken to anyone at Berkshire about this. Frankly, I do not know anyone who works at Berkshire. And, I have no special knowledge about this at all. It is just a pure guess (maybe a slightly educated guess) and an attempt to have some fun.
I predict that Berkshire Hathaway Board Member Stephen Burke, CEO of NBCUniversal and COO of Comcast, will succeed Warren Buffett as the Berkshire Hathaway CEO. To me, it is a very straightforward prediction because:
- He is a Board Member which means he has inside knowledge of Berkshire and would have less to learn.
- He understands the Berkshire culture — he has knowledge and exposure to the company over several decades. His family has been friendly with Warren Buffett since the 1980’s (1985 investment in Capital Cities Communications and the American Broadcasting Company) and probably since the 1970’s as Cap Cities was listed as a Berkshire investment in the 1977 annual letter. Stephen Burke’s father, Dan Burke, was the long-time business partner of Thomas Murphy, a long-time friend of Buffett’s and Berkshire Board Member since 2003, who ran Cap Cities and ABC together. Buffett has referred to Murphy and Burke glowingly numerous times throughout the years and he wrote in the 1985 annual letter, “Tom Murphy and Dan Burke are not only great managers, they are precisely the sort of fellows that you would want your daughter to marry.”
- Burke understands the Berkshire way of being hands-off with the business unit managers. Burke has the track record and business reputation that he will not feel like he has to prove himself by making big moves or getting overly involved in the business units.
- Burke seems to be about the broader purpose or meaning of being in business — something he will find in spades at Berkshire. He will appreciate and understand the nuance of the role, and revel in the fact that the Berkshire job is being part of a legacy. Berkshire prides itself on having strong values, doing things differently than most companies, having deeply rooted norms and ethics — things that I suspect Burke would enjoy supporting because these things have always been important to him and his family. Burke will not strain against that unique culture.
- He has the stature to gain immediate respect. Comcast has $55 billion in annual revenue and NBCUniversal has about $20 billion in revenue. Burke is also on the Board of JPMorgan Chase & Co. He has reportedly been offered the CEO role at Coca-Cola, Nike, DirectTV and others.
Anyone else want to make a guess that is not the usual suspects?
Related post about how Buffett will make his slection: Berkshire CEO after Warren Buffett – May 2, 2012.