Buffett's NetJets Overcomes Turbulence

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- This weekend, I will get the opportunity to rub elbows with the one and only Warren Buffett when I head to Las Vegas to attend a NetJets-sponsored poker tournament.

So far, 2011 has proven to be an interesting and controversial year for Berkshire Hathaway's ( BRK.A) fractional jet ownership company, and there is a good chance that the Oracle of Omaha will use the event as a chance to ease tensions and restore customer confidence in the firm.

Since Berkshire Hathaway initially acquired NetJets in 1998, the company has been a tricky investment. As Buffett noted in his 2010 Berkshire Hathaway letter to shareholders, "(e)ven though NetJets was consistently a runaway winner with customers, our financial results, since its acquisition in 1998, were a failure.

"Despite its troublesome past, over the past year, the company's prospects have begun to shift in a new direction. Following a dramatic restructuring, which included replacing the company's former CEO, Richard Santulli with David Sokol, the firm managed to end 2010 on a strong note. By the close of year, the company boasted $207 million pre tax.

Heading into the start of 2011, it appeared as though NetJets had finally found its footing and was on track to become another financially successful component of Berkshire Hathaway's expansive portfolio. However, the company's triumphs were quickly overshadowed when David Sokol unexpectedly announced his resignation from Berkshire Hathaway.

Almost immediately, controversy began to swirl around Sokol when it was learned that the executive had made some questionable trades leading up to Berkshire Hathaway's Lubrizol ( LZ) acquisition. Following an official investigation, a Berkshire committee found that Sokol's actions were in violation of the company's code of ethics.

The negative media storm surrounding Sokol's trades and resignational has likely reflected poorly on NetJets. However, in the aftermath the firm has taken steps to ensure that it will effectively move beyond this dark period and prepare for strength down the road. This has included placing Jordan Hansell, NetJets' president, in the vacated CEO spot.

Although it has faced staggering trials, looking ahead, the outlook for NetJets and the corporate jet industry as a whole appears promising. As CNBC noted late last week, private jet use has been on the rise amidst improving economic conditions: During the first quarter of 2011, flight hours increased by 11%.

NetJets, meanwhile, has continued to expand. At the start of March, it was announced that the firm had placed a multi-billion dollar order with airplane maker Bombardier to purchase up to 120 new crafts. More recently, firm signed a lease with Signature Flight Support that will provide NetJets with access to a private terminal at Palm Beach International Airport.

Berkshire Hathaway has had a storied history with NetJets. Now, with new names at the helm, and the company showing signs of financial strength, it appears as though a new chapter is being written. Fans of both Warren Buffett and the airline industry will want to keep a close watch on this unique corner of the Berkshire Hathaway Empire to see how it fares in the months ahead.

Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.

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At the time of publication, Dion Money Management did not own any equities mentioned.

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