The companies Warren Buffett owns might surprise you

Many of Buffett's businesses share some attractive characteristics that can inform your own investing.

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This article was originally published on All figures quoted in US dollars unless otherwise stated.

The more you learn about Warren Buffett, the more impressed you'll likely be. He's best known as the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.A) (NYSE: BRK.B) and for boosting the company's market value by an average annual rate of about 20% over more than 50 years.

To put that in context, the S&P 500 averaged only about 10% over that same half-century. Berkshire Hathaway is now one of America's biggest companies, employing around 372,000 people as of the end of last year.

Berkshire holds stock in many businesses -- recently owning roughly 20% of American Express and about 5.5% of Apple, for example. Buffett far prefers to own all of a great business though, instead of just a chunk of it. So he has amassed a portfolio of many wholly owned subsidiaries -- some of which might surprise you. Taking a close look at them might even give you some investing insights.

Meet the Berkshire subsidiaries

In its most recent annual report, Berkshire Hathaway listed 62 subsidiaries. Here are a few to know about:

Benjamin Moore: Paint is big business. Sherwin-Williams, for example, boasts more than 5,000 stores and has a recent market value topping $50 billion. Benjamin Moore, though, has some 7,500 locations globally.

Berkshire Hathaway Automotive: This unit stems from Buffett's 2015 acquisition of the Van Tuyl Group, which was the nation's largest privately owned automotive dealership group.

Berkshire Hathaway Energy: This big group of energy companies serves about 12 million customers and end users throughout the US, Great Britain, and Alberta, Canada. It's a major player in alternative energy, too, with billions of dollars invested in some of the largest US solar projects.

BNSF: Due to consolidation, there are now only a few major railroad companies in the US and BNSF, an acronym for Burlington Northern Santa Fe, is one of them. Its network features 32,500 route miles in 28 states and three Canadian provinces. It's the largest intermodal carrier in the US, carrying more than five million shipments in 2021. Tracing its roots back to 1849, it's the result of nearly 400 different railroad lines that merged or were acquired over 170-plus years.

Brooks Running: Yup, the 108-year-old company belongs to Berkshire. It raked in more than $1 billion in 2021, a 31% increase over the year before.

Business Wire: Many of the media releases you read, from myriad companies, are hosted on BusinessWire -- another Berkshire company.

Duracell: Those bronze and gold batteries with strong brand recognition belong to Berkshire.

Fruit of the Loom: Yup, millions of Americans are walking around wearing Berkshire Hathaway undergarments.

GEICO: GEICO was relatively small when Buffett bought the chunk of it that it didn't already own back in 1995. Today, with a workforce topping 43,000, it's the US's second-largest auto insurer and it offers other insurance coverage too for homes, rentals, flooding, and more.

HomeServices of America: If you've seen some homes for sale with a Berkshire Hathaway sign out front, you've seen HomeServices of America in action. It encompasses businesses focused on brokerage, mortgage, franchising, title, escrow, insurance, and relocation services, and includes 46,000 real estate agents in more than 900 offices.

International Dairy Queen: All those Blizzards and burgers, sold at more than 7,000 locations, belong to Berkshire.

Johns Manville: Tracing its roots back to 1858, Johns Manville is a leading insulation and commercial roofing company.

McLane: McLane is a key supply chain specialist in America, delivering groceries and food service offerings to convenience stores, mass merchants, drug stores, and chain restaurants covering more than 100,000 locations. It also has one of the largest private fleets of trucks. 

Pampered Chef: The direct sales giant recently boasted a force of more than 60,000 sellers of its kitchenwares.

See's Candies: See's has belonged to Berkshire since 1972.

There are many more Berkshire businesses, each quite impressive in its own right.

Lessons from Buffett's businesses

All the above may be very interesting, but how can it help you? Well, think about why Buffett bought these companies. Clearly, he's building an empire, but he's also picky. He favors companies that are very well managed, aiming to keep management in place when he buys a company. He also loves to buy companies that generate a lot of cash, as he can then deploy it to help some of his other businesses grow or to buy more companies.

You, too, can be Buffett-like when investing: You can favor companies that generate lots of profits -- some of which might be spent paying generous dividends to shareholders. You should always aim to favor great companies over merely good companies too. Great companies might have great management, great competitive advantages (such as a strong brand), great financial health, and great growth prospects. 

Learn more about Buffett, and you might improve your investing results even more. You might even invest in Berkshire Hathaway itself, to benefit from the growth of all the companies above. 

This article was originally published on All figures quoted in US dollars unless otherwise stated.

American Express is an advertising partner of The Ascent, a Motley Fool company. Selena Maranjian has positions in American Express, Apple, and Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool Australia's parent company has positions in and recommends Apple and Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool Australia's parent company recommends Sherwin-Williams and recommends the following options: long January 2023 $200 calls on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), long March 2023 $120 calls on Apple, short January 2023 $200 puts on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), short January 2023 $265 calls on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), and short March 2023 $130 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool Australia has recommended Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.

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