Insights From Berkshire Hathaway Director Susan Decker

Insights From Berkshire Hathaway Director Susan Decker
By Mark Hirschey (Work of Mark Hirschey) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

According to former Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO) CFO and current Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.A) (NYSE:BRK.B) director Susan Decker, Buffett’s boardroom is more conceptual and collegial rather than analytical and contentious. Decker spoke at a panel discussion on Berkshire Hathaway at Stanford University on Monday. In her comments, she contrasts the style Berkshire Hathaway’s board with her other board appointments.

Decker noted that most boards don’t get involved with early discussions and strategy with acquisitions, but analyze and approve deals later in the process. Directors at Berkshire Hathaway, however, are typically involved in several conversations in a sector that might be of interest or asked how a deal could be structured without even knowing the name of the target.

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Statements from Decker

“The {Berkshire] board is not involved in the valuation decision for acquisitions. Warren will often discuss large deals with the board in advance, but usually at the conceptual level, rather than asking for approval of valuation and structuring,” Decker said. “It’s the opposite with other boards I’m on, in which approval is required by the board for the funds used for large acquisitions and for structuring considerations of the deal.”

Decker also explained that synergy between the pieces of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.A) (NYSE:BRK.B) is also a big part of the strong long-term returns. “The magic of the returns has been in this collection of businesses, some of which generate more cash than they need, and others of which have attractive investment opportunities for that capital, like Burlington Northern and a few others. Berkshire Hathaway can transfer excess capital from businesses that don’t need it to businesses that do need it, tax free and in a way that enhances compound annual growth rates.”

Succession is discussed at every Berkshire Hathaway board meeting

Apparently Decker played coy on the subject of who will succeed Buffett in the future, other than to note that succession is discussed at nearly every board meeting. She did say she was confident that Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.A) (NYSE:BRK.B)’s operating model will continue to do well even when Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger are no longer at the helm

Of note, chairman and CEO Warren Buffett’s annual pay has remained unchanged at $100,000 for decades.

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