Warren Buffett is leaving the board of the Washington Post Company (WPO). He continues to own a nearly 19% stake in the company and he states that he has no intentions of selling those shares. The ostensible reason for leaving the board has to do with the time commitment. This underlies the notion that Buffett is focusing more on transforming Berkshire Hathaway (BRKB) into a company that can thrive in his absence. This point was driven home in his interview with Bethany McLean in the February 2011 edition of Vanity Fair (still summary-only). In that article McLean writes:
The real point about Burlington is that it is a capstone in the transformation of Berkshire. Indeed, today’s Berkshire Hathaway bears about as little resemblance to a hedge fund as General Electric does. [p. 114]
That underlies the fact that Buffett is focused on the really long term, not the next year or so. Buffett states:
There is no end point for Berkshire Hathaway. The important thing is not this year or next year, but where Berkshire is 20 years after I die. Not taking care of Berkshire would be like not have a will-cubed. [p. 110]
It therefore makes sense to view Berkshire’s moves going forward through this lens. If Buffett’s priorities are to create an ‘idiot-proof’ company expect more bench building, acquisitions and a lot less action on the stock front.
In the meantime a few more Buffett-related links:
Despite leaving the board, Warren Buffett has no intention of selling any Washington Post shares. (Deal Journal, Dealbook, Washington Post)
Add Greg Abel to the list of contenders to “replace” Buffett. (Fortune)
Former Buffett employee Louis Simpson is hanging out a money management shingle. (Bloomberg)
Update: A commenter wonders if Buffett is trying to disassociate himself from the Washington Post due to its for-profit education arm. Joe Weisenthal at Money Game makes the same point. This reputational risk could be playing a role in Buffett’s decision. However if Buffett thought it was a mortal threat to the company, despite his very low tax basis, he would likely be looking for a way to reduce his economic interest in WPO. At this point there is no indication that is happening.