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Doug Kass Questions the Berkshire Boys (Update 5)

Question No. 3 focused on the possibility of a breakup of the company.

Kass started the question off asking Buffett to elaborate on his earlier comment that suggested when he is gone, Berkshire will move to a more centralized style of management. Then he pointed to Teledyne's (TDY) former CEO Henry Singleton's (and close friend to Buffett and Munger) decision to break up that company into three separate business as he increased in age. Singleton's rational for the breakup was partially due to his view that the company was too hard to manage with only one CEO.

Given the size and scope and complexity of some of Berkshire's businesses, Kass wanted to know if Buffett would advise a similar transaction take place as Buffett gets older.

Buffett responded "Breaking up Teledyne was a poor result, certainly now and in the future."

This seemingly indicated he had no interest in advising on a breakup of Berkshire at any time now or in the future. He explained that Berkshire is a business that is easily managed. Any centralization that would happen after he is gone would only be within the smaller companies.

Munger spoke of Henry Singleton, saying that "he was 100% rational, and there are very few CEO's that we can say that about."

12:07 p.m. EDT update

Question No. 2 touched on the unmatched ability of Buffett to extract remarkable value in distressed opportunities. Kass pointed out that these types of transactions have veered from his historical focus on the investing in companies with solid fundamental growth opportunities.

Buffett's reputation and capital base has put him in a very unique position to backstop large companies at attractive prices. He did this with Goldman Sachs (GS), Bank of America (BAC) and General Electric (GE), all of which are poised to be hugely profitable.

Kass wanted to know how Buffett's successor could be as successful as he has in receiving these opportunities and being able to execute on them as they arise.

Buffett said that his successor would have more capital than he had so will absolutely have the ability to take on any distressed opportunities that arise. "Berkshire will have unusual capital in turbulent times. My successor can say yes very quickly [to distressed deals] that require large sums of capital. That will set you apart very quickly from others." Buffett was very confident that his successor would be willing to deploy that capital when the need for capital arises, but only in sound deals.

Buffett explained, "Berkshire is the 800 number to call when people need capital in distressed times." It's more a sign of Berkshire's brand than anything attached to a single individual.

Munger and Buffett made it clear that distress opportunities are not their main business, but at the time, it made sense to get involved in give the attractive deals.

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