Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Buffett Reveals 'Not Remotely Life-Threatening' Cancer Diagnosis

Warren Buffett disclosed that he has been diagnosed with stage I prostate cancer in this news release:

The good news is that I've been told by my doctors that my condition is not remotely life-threatening or even debilitating in any meaningful way. I received my diagnosis last Wednesday. I then had a CAT scan and a bone scan on Thursday, followed by an MRI today. These tests showed no incidence of cancer elsewhere in my body.

This CNBC article added some perspective on Buffett's health.

Buffett Moves Quickly to Disclose 'Not Life Threatening' Cancer

This inevitably will bring Berkshire's succession planning to the forefront. It is almost certain that lots of time will be dedicated to the issue at the the 2012 Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting that's happening at the beginning of next month.

Who will be taking Buffett's job when he no longer can do it is obviously an important subject for Berkshire shareholders. It would be nice to know the successor (though there's plenty of downside to revealing who it is).

Having said that, the meeting need not become too narrowly focused on this one important issue. The meeting generally covers a wide range of subjects and hopefully this year will be no different.

I'd certainly like it to remain that way as long as Buffett is on the job.

In the latest Berkshire Hathaway (BRKashareholder letter, after emphasizing the Board's enthusiasm for the two new investment managers (Todd Combs and Ted Weschler), here's what Buffett said about his chosen successor:

Your Board is equally enthusiastic about my successor as CEO, an individual to whom they have had a great deal of exposure and whose managerial and human qualities they admire. (We have two superb back-up candidates as well.) When a transfer of responsibility is required, it will be seamless, and Berkshire’s prospects will remain bright. More than 98% of my net worth is in Berkshire stock, all of which will go to various philanthropies. Being so heavily concentrated in one stock defies conventional wisdom. But I’m fine with this arrangement, knowing both the quality and diversity of the businesses we own and the caliber of the people who manage them. With these assets, my successor will enjoy a running start. Do not, however, infer from this discussion that Charlie [Munger] and I are going anywhere; we continue to be in excellent health, and we love what we do.

Despite his new illness, from what is known it seems there's a good chance Buffett will be in his current job for a very long time. I, like many others, wish him the best possible health.

The next shareholder meeting certainly needs to have enough time (subjective, of course) spent on succession. Yet, I'm hoping the meeting doesn't become dedicated to (or obsessed with) anticipating the inevitable transition ahead that's ultimately unknowable at this time.

There's plenty of other worthwhile ground to cover. For whatever number of years may be left where Buffett and Munger take questions at the annual meeting, to me it should be used to learn as much as possible from them.

Adam

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