Buffett has said that his son Howard, a member of Berkshire's board, would make an ideal chairman.
Berkshire has hired two hedge fund managers, Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, who Buffett says are capable of eventually running the company's entire portfolio. They manage portfolios worth about $4 billion while Buffett continues to make most of Berkshire's investment decisions while searching for big acquisitions.
For example, the $23.3 billion Heinz deal got started on a plane when Buffett was approached by a billionaire friend. Berkshire is putting up $12 billion for half of the company and $8 billion in preferred shares that pays 9 percent a year. The 3G Capital investment firm will put up the rest of the money and run Heinz.
If Berkshire were buying Heinz outright, the deal would be Buffett's second-biggest ever behind the $26.3 billion purchase of BNSF railroad in 2010.
But these small deals by Buffett standards do add up — even at a company as big as Berkshire, which has nearly 300,000 employees and generated net income of $10.3 billion, or $6,215 per Class A share, last year.
"If you have a dozen subsidiaries add things each year, you'll have a new company in a couple years," says investor and author Kilpatrick.
Before Heinz, many shareholders were focused on the deals Buffett didn't get done. He had said a $22 billion deal fell through last year.
"It'll be interesting to see if he gives any detail on the ones that got away," the author Matthews says.
With the housing market and overall economy slowly improving, Buffett has plenty of reasons to be upbeat about Berkshire's prospects. Ever since the Great Recession, several Berkshire subsidiaries that sell products for houses, such as Shaw Carpet, Acme Brick and Benjamin Moore paints, have weighed on the company's profits.
"My guess is that he'll be very optimistic," Matthews says.
Besides those companies, Berkshire owns an eclectic mix of more than 80 subsidiaries, including Geico, General Re, BNSF, NetJets, Dairy Queen and others. Berkshire also holds big investments in companies like the Washington Post Co., Wells Fargo & Co., International Business Machines Corp. and American Express Co.
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