Is Buffett’s successor already sitting next to him?

Speculation mounts over who will succeed Warren Buffett.

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It seems to have taken some time to become newsworthy, however articles recently published in the American press have highlighted that in 2009, billionaire investor Warren Buffett hired a woman by the name of Tracey Britt as his financial assistant at Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.A) (NYSE: BRK.B).

Ms Britt is currently 28 years of age and in recent days speculation seems to have mounted that Buffett may be preparing her to one day take over when he retires. It is understood that Buffett wanted Britt to have a full understanding of the recent multibillion-dollar H.J. Heinz (NYSE: HNZ) deal which Berkshire took part in. Given that Britt’s office adjoins Buffett’s, Britt is believed to have significant knowledge of the day-to-day business affairs and dealing that take place within the small and secretive head office in Omaha, Nebraska.

A company’s successor is always important but perhaps no more so than when a high profile CEO who has been instrumental in the development of a firm steps down. Recently two CEOs who were the face of their respective companies, Mr Paul Little at Toll Holdings (ASX: TOL) and Mr Frank O’Halloran at QBE Insurance (ASX: QBE) stepped down, leaving significant shoes for the incoming CEOs to fill.

Foolish takeaway

Companies have a duty to have a succession strategy in place. Buffett has said repeatedly that the board at Berkshire has identified candidates once he has gone – this of course adds to the intrigue surrounding Ms Britt. All too often a CEO departure is met with a “worldwide search” and the hiring of expensive recruitment firms. Shareholders deserve better than this.

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Motley Fool contributor Tim McArthur owns shares in QBE Insurance and Toll Holdings.

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