Warren Buffett

Andrew Hill

Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement as manager of Manchester United gives the management world another example of how to bow out when you are, frankly, getting a bit elderly.

On this topic, we now have four great templates – the Pope, the Queen of England, Warren Buffett and Sir Alex – each of which could be applied by organisations whose leaders are grappling with questions about the frailty and mortality of their leaders. Read more

Andrew Hill

If you’re on Twitter, you’ll know by now that Warren Buffett is – to quote his first and (at time of writing) his only tweet – “in the house“.

His appearance on the social media service is apparently linked to a Fortune forum in which the Sage of Omaha is due to participate. It has already garnered him (again, at time of writing) 40,000 followers and prompted some Twitter wit from his bridge partner, Bill Gates. Read more

Andrew Hill

As head of the world’s largest advertising group by revenues, WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell is used to talking about image. His own, which he assiduously promotes through the media, is about to take a battering.

Sorrell – "totally aligned"

ISS, the shareholder advisory firm, has recommended investors at its June 13 annual meeting should vote against WPP’s pay policies, according to which the chief executive will receive total pay and bonuses of £6.8m, up 60 per cent on the previous year.

Nothing new here, you might think. Investors holding more than a third of the stock voted against the remuneration report last year. Sir Martin, one of the longest-serving chief executives of a FTSE 100 company, shrugged that off and probably will again this time. Speaking before the ISS recommendation, he told the UK’s Sunday Times that his interests were “totally aligned with shareholders’. I am a big shareholder – 85 per cent of the package is performance related”. While his base salary had increased from £1m to £1.3m, he pointed out he had had “only one increase in 10 years”. Read more

John Gapper

Fred Wilson, the venture capitalist who is a mainstay of New York internet start-ups, has some provocative thoughts on the lifecycle of web and mobile apps – that their lifecycles are similar to those of hit television shows:

“This round trip from nothing to everything to nothing again is also true at some level with many tech companies. Digtal Equipment Corporation was founded in 1957 and shuttered in 1998. RIM was founded in 1984 and in all liklihood will be gone before the end of this decade. Same with Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, and many more iconic tech companies.”

As he says, the networks effects that work in favour of social networks on the way up can also turn against them:

“Network effects are powerful in both directions. They can help you grow exponentially. But when they are going against you, they work just as fast. Myspace’s decline was mind-blowingly quick. RIM’s has been as well. Who is next?”

 Read more

Andrew Hill

Warren Buffett’s early stage prostate cancer is so commonplace and treatable that you might legitimately ask whether it was worth declaring. But there is no question that it was better for Berkshire Hathaway’s chairman to make his statement than to conceal the condition.

While there are good reasons to respect the privacy of patients, Apple’s failure to detail Steve Jobs’ condition during his leave of absence for health reasons in 2009 spread unnecessary uncertainty about the future of the company and its succession planning.

If Mr Buffett had any doubts about whether to make his statement, he could have asked a fellow senior citizen: Rupert Murdoch. Read more

John Gapper

President Barack Obama’s proposed “Buffett rule” – that no household making over $1m annually should pay a smaller share of its income than middle-class families pay – may turn out to be good politics but it has a numerical weak spot.

The issue is that the top 0.1 per cent in the US are already paying a higher rate of tax on average than the middle quintile of earners, on the White House’s own figures – 26 per cent compared with 16 per cent in 2010. Read more

Andrew Hill

I hope activist Bill Ackman knows what he’s getting into by backing the purchase of a 29 per cent stake in Burger King.

Mr Ackman is one of the founders of Justice Holdings, a UK investment vehicle that until Tuesday was, to me at least, as little-known as Burger King is famous. But Justice’s decision to buy a minority stake and take the company on to the New York Stock Exchange reminded me how, a few years ago, a rumour that Warren Buffett had his eye on the chain turned out to be a whopperRead more

Andrew Hill

I have met Debbie Bosanek. I’ve also met her boss Warren Buffett. But as far as this week’s US political news is concerned, the more important figure is Ms Bosanek, the billionaire investor’s secretary. She’s important because she’s met Barack Obama, who gave her a high-profile spot in the audience for his State of the Union address this week, transforming her into a symbol of tax inequality in America.

Mr Buffett started this, of course. In a New York Times op-ed last August he attacked a system that allows him to pay a lower tax rate than any of the other people in his Omaha office. This has spawned the “Buffett rule”, the benchmark that Barack Obama is using to promise that the richest Americans will not pay tax at a lower rate than their secretaries.

Ms Bosanek is both an obvious and an odd choice to become – as an ABC interviewer put it this week – “the poster woman” for this campaign. Obvious, because she is the gatekeeper for Mr Buffett. Odd, because she is far from a typical secretary (in her polite but terse emails, she actually styles herself, in the modern way, as “Assistant to Warren Buffett”). Read more