Richard Beales of breakingviews.com writes about Berkshire's post-Buffett future:
That raises separate issues as to whether the Berkshire investing-operating hybrid structure - which Buffett and long-time investing partner Charlie Munger (himself 85) have created over 40 years - can continue so successfully without them.
In my opinion there will be two big disadvantages to the fact that Buffett's role will be split after he's gone. The first is obvious: none of Buffett's successors will be as good as he is.
Second, which I don't see discussed much, is that the coordination of capital across and within the balance sheet will suffer. All corporations must decide how to deploy capital among various assets--in Buffett's case that largely means deciding whether to buy partial stakes in publicly traded companies or to buy majority control of operating businesses, or simply to hold cash equivalents. Currently the locus of that decisionmaking is Buffett's head. He doesn't have to consult with anyone. In the future, it just won't work as well when the CEO successor in charge of doing deals will have to coordinate with the CIO successor in charge of buying stocks over how to deploy assets.
Similarly, there will be coordination problems across the balance sheet, right to left. Buffett is the CEO and CIO, but he's also the chief insurance underwriting officer as well. Think of a bank: the left side of the balance sheet is in charge of making loans at attractive rates, the right side is in charge of accepting deposits at attractive rates, but what makes a loan's rate attractive depends on the rate you're paying on deposits and vice versa--that's why bankers think in terms of spreads.
An insurance company is fundamentally the same--it "borrows" money not from depositors, but from policyholders, and invests the resulting float in either operating companies, equities, bonds, or cash. I don't think Buffett has ever said so explicity, but I believe he coordinates the price of the right side of the balance sheet with the opportunities available on the left side--he also thinks in terms of spread.
Again, all this currently goes on in Buffett's head alone, but in the future is insurance successors will have to coordinate with his investing and operating successors, and it won't work as well.
Disclosure: Long Berkshire Hathaway
5/8/09 Update: The Wall Street Journal has the same idea.