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Looking into the future.
WARREN'S DEPUTY

Who is Ajit Jain, the possible successor to Warren Buffett?

By Nupur Anand

As the much-awaited shareholders’ meeting of Berkshire Hathaway drew to a close on May 04 (Saturday) speculations are rife once again that the India-born Ajit Jain may succeed the legendary investor Warren Buffett as chief of the $530 billion (Rs36.74 lakh crore) firm.

Fielding questions about a succession plan during the meeting, the 88-year-old Buffett kept the world guessing, but did mention that Ajit Jain and Gregory Able would in the near future join him and long-time business partner Charlie Munger (95) on the stage to answer shareholder questions.

Both Jain and Able are old hands at the firm and were promoted to the board of directors last year. And Buffett’s closeness with Jain is no secret.

In the past, he has hailed Jain as a money-spinner for the company. “Ajit has probably made a lot more money for Berkshire Hathaway than I have,” Buffett said at an event in India in 2011. “I really feel about him like I would a brother or a son.”

Though it is still not clear if the high praises would translate into Buffett handing him the baton, it surely shows how Jain has come a long way.

The journey

Jain was born in 1951 in Odisha, one of India’s poorest states. In 1972, he graduated in mechanical engineering from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur. The next year, he joined the sales team at the technology giant IBM.

From there, he joined the prestigious Harvard Business School for an MBA, graduating in 1978. Soon Jain joined the consultancy McKinsey & Co. where he had two stints before joining the Berkshire Hathaway Insurance Group in 1986.

He joined the company at a time when the insurance business was fledgling and built it to one of the largest in the world. Over the years, Jain has been credited with generating more profit and more revenue than any other Berkshire employee.

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Jain currently serves as the president of the Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance Group. Over the year, Buffett has sung praises for Jain on several occasions:

In 2008:

“Ajit came to Berkshire in 1986. I realised that we had acquired an extraordinary talent. So I did the logical thing: I wrote (to) his parents in New Delhi and asked if they had another one like him at home. Of course, I knew the answer before writing. There isn’t anyone like Ajit.”

But, Jain does have at least one other illustrious relative. His cousin, Anshu Jain, is the president of the New York-based financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald. He had served as the CEO of Deutsche Bank between 2012 and 2015.

In 2009:

If Charlie, I and Ajit are in a sinking boat, and you can only save one of us, swim to Ajit.

On Jain joining the company on a Saturday in 1985:

A hugely important event in Berkshire’s history…Ajit Jain came into our office in Omaha—and I immediately knew we had found a superstar.

In 2014:

Ajit’s mind is an idea factory that is always looking for more lines of business he can add to his current assortment.

In 2015:

Ajit insures risks that no one else has the desire or the capital to take on. His operation combines capacity, speed, decisiveness and, most important, brains in a manner unique in the insurance business. Yet he never exposes Berkshire to risks that are inappropriate in relation to our resources.

Then, in 2017, in a letter to the company Buffett had said:

Ajit has created tens of billions of value for Berkshire shareholders. If there were ever to be another Ajit and you could swap me for him, don’t hesitate. Make the trade!