In a recent interview, Buffett suggests that the board would approve Ajit Jain as the next CEO of Berkshire, and he would love it if Ajit would take the job (if he volunteers).
In my opinion, this is Buffett's way of begging the shareholders and media to insist by acclamation that Ajit volunteer. UPDATE -- APPARENTLY NOT JUST THAT. GIVEN THE TIMING, IT WAS PAVING THE WAY FOR THE SOKOL RESIGNATION. Buffett, and his family, have always wanted Ajit to become CEO, if it were to be a manager. The problem has been that Ajit doesn't really want the job -- especially its profile. Ajit loves Warren, however, and he's dutiful. My guess is that, if necessary, he'll step up to the plate. At this point he also is possibly the one candidate that the board could choose without doing an outside search, without it causing controversy.
Let's look at the pros and cons of Ajit.
Pro -- he understands how Buffett thinks better than anyone else at Berkshire.
Pro -- it's very unlikely he'd ever do anything he believed was against Buffett's wishes or Berkshire's best interests.
Pro -- he's modest and unassuming. He would not think of himself as being compared to Buffett, competing with his record, or doing anything more than simply carrying on.
Pro -- He's had the benefit of years of training in how Buffett thinks about risk management, and in an insurance, balance sheet management, and to a degree, investment setting. This is a huge pro. It's been under recognized, in my opinion, as a critical part of the job.
Pro -- Now that Buffett has made it clear that there will not be a CIO, the CEO must be able to, in effect, assume that role. Ajit can do it. I don't think there are a lot of operating managers who lack a financial services background who would be ideal in this role.
Pro --He's as tough a negotiator as Buffett. He won't give up a nickel of shareholders' money needlessly.
Pro -- The shareholders have been exposed to Ajit over the years and are favorably pre-disposed toward him, as are the other Berkshire managers. He would start out with the mantle of authority.
Pro -- To those who know him and his reputation, he is somewhat feared in the business world (as is Buffett).
Pro -- I should have listed this first. He has a natural instinct for making money.
Pro -- He is a workaholic. He lives for Berkshire. Again, like Buffett.
Are there an cons? There are always cons to every alternative.
Con -- he's modest and unassuming. He really does not like public exposure. Not only would the show abruptly end, but he might be scarcer than a groundhog in January.
Con -- Unlike Buffett, Ajit does not enjoy answering questions. Those who have had the pleasure of spending time with him know that he is expert at wringing every last bit of juice from his conversation partner while shedding only the tiniest crumbs of (possibly useless) information in return.
No more 3 hour marathons with Becky Quick on CNBC. (Ajit is spectacularly unsusceptible to the charms of women interviewers and could not care less about being seen with or getting attention from them.)
Con -- Ajit is a master deal-maker. I would not cite administration as either his passion or an area of expertise. He's also as ruthless as Buffett, without the concern for appearances. He knows this. Ideally, he would buck Berkshire tradition and appoint a chief administrative officer. Without one, chaos could ensue (or worse) at Berkshire. Say, for example, the first time the audit committee has to meet and it discovers that because Ajit decided not to or forgot to pay the auditors, the audit never took place. joke, joke. Sort of.