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Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

1440 Kiewit Plaza
Omaha, Nebraska 68131
U.S.A.
Telephone: (402) 346-1400
Toll Free: (800) 800-3481
Fax: (402) 346-3375
Web site: http://www.berkshirehathaway.com

Public Company
Incorporated:
1889 as Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company
Employees: 217,000
Sales: $98.53 billion (2006)
Stock Exchanges: New York
Ticker Symbols: BRK.A; BRK.B
NAIC: 511110 Newspaper Publishers; 511130 Book Publishers; 524113 Direct Life Insurance Carriers; 524126 Direct Property and Casualty Insurance Carriers; 524130 Reinsurance Carriers; 551112 Offices of Other Holding Companies

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS: 1889-1949

DIVERSIFICATION

FROM MEDIUM TO LARGE: 1970-79

FROM LARGE TO GARGANTUAN

THE MEGA-CONGLOMERATE WITH A DOWN-HOME FEEL

NO DOT-COMS FOR BUFFETT

REVENUES SURGING TOWARD $100 BILLION: 2002-06

PRINCIPAL SUBSIDIARIES

PRINCIPAL COMPETITORS

FURTHER READING

Berkshire Hathaway Inc., the investment vehicle of famed investor Warren Buffett, is a holding company for subsidiaries involved in the manufacturing, retail, and service industries. Insurance, conducted on both a primary and reinsurance basis, constitutes Berkshire Hathaways most important business. GEICO Corporation and General Reinsurance are the companys principal insurance subsidiaries. The companys other subsidiaries are involved in a variety of businesses. MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company is an international energy holding company that controls a variety of companies involved in the generation, transmission, and distribution of energy. Shaw Industries is the worlds largest manufacturer of tufted broadloom carpet. McLane Company is a wholesale distributor of groceries and nonfood items. Benjamin Moore is a manufacturer and retailer of paint. Sees Candies is a manufacturer of boxed chocolates and confectionery products. Borsheims, Helzberg Diamond Shops, and Ben Bridge Jeweler are retailers of fine jewelry. Numerous other subsidiaries give the company stakes in retail, service, and manufacturing businesses. Berkshire Hathaway operates in a distinctly decentralized manner, employing fewer than 20 people at its headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, and exerts little influence over the day-to-day business activities of its operating subsidiaries.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS: 1889-1949

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. began as a textile company, incorporated as Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company in Massachusetts in 1889. In 1929 several other New England textile manufacturers with much common ownershipValley Falls Company, Coventry Company, Greylock Mills, and Fort Dummer Mills merged into the company, which was then renamed Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates. This operation accounted for about 25 percent of the fine cotton textile production in the United States.

The glory years of the New England textile industry were numbered. The Great Depression of the 1930s contributed to its decline, as did competition from the South and overseas. Wages were lower in the South, and Southern workers had fewer alternatives than New Englanders for working in the textile mills. Further, market factors favored the coarser types of goods produced in the South, while wage differentials between the United States and foreign competition were often significant.

The New England textile business recovered somewhat during World War II, thanks to military demand for its products, and had a similar brief recovery during the Korean conflict. Still, the industry declined again after each of these upswings.

DIVERSIFICATION

In 1955 Berkshire Fine Spinning merged with Hathaway Manufacturing Company, a New Bedford, Massachusetts, textile maker dating back to 1888. The resulting company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., had more than 10,000 employees and nearly six million square feet of plant space, but its financial performance was dismal. Berkshire Hathaway closed its extensive operations in Adams, Massachusetts, in 1958, and the same year sold its curtain plant in Warren, Rhode Island, to Pilgrim Curtain Company. The company recovered a bit the following year; a contract negotiated between Berkshire and its unionized employees in 1959 marked the first wage increase for New England textile workers since 1956.

By late 1959 and into 1960, the company was operating profitably and had a backlog of unfilled orders. Depressed conditions returned quickly, however, and in 1961 Berkshire cut its work week to four days at several plants and showed a loss for the year. In 1962 the company closed three plants in Rhode Island and showed even greater losses, due to depressed prices for its products. The financial hemorrhaging continued into the mid-1960s, despite cuts in Berkshires workforce and an extensive plant modernization. In 1965 came a major change in the companys management: a partnership led by investor Warren Buffett had purchased enough stock to control the company, and in a resulting dispute Seabury Stanton, a 50-year Berkshire employee, resigned as president. Kenneth V. Chace, a vice-president who had been with the company 18 years, replaced Stanton. After Buffett gained control of Berkshire, its operations were gradually moved from New Bedford to Omaha, Nebraska, where Buffett was based.

COMPANY PERSPECTIVES

Charlie Mungermy partner and Berkshires vice chairmanand I run what has turned out to be a big business, one with 217,000 employees and annual revenues approaching $100 billion. We certainly didnt plan it that way. Charlie began as a lawyer, and I thought of myself as a security analyst. Sitting in those seats, we both grew skeptical about the ability of big entities of any type to function well. Size seems to make many organizations slow-thinking, resistant to change and smug. In Churchills words: We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us. Heres a telling fact: Of the ten non-oil companies having the largest market capitalization in 1965 titans such as General Motors, Sears, DuPont and Eastman Kodakonly one made the 2006 list. In fairness, weve seen plenty of successes as well, some truly outstanding. There are many giant-company managers whom I greatly admire; Ken Chenault of American Express, Jeff Immelt of G.E. and Dick Kovacevich of Wells Fargo come quickly to mind. But I dont think I could do the management job they do. And I know I wouldnt enjoy many of the duties that come with their positionsmeetings, speeches, foreign travel, the charity circuit and governmental relations. For me, Ronald Reagan had it right: Its probably true that hard work never killed anyone but why take the chance? So Ive taken the easy route, just sitting back and working through great managers who run their own shows. My only tasks are to cheer them on, sculpt and harden our corporate culture, and make major capital-allocation decisions. Our managers have returned this trust by working hard and effectively.Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer

Berkshire Hathaway was profitable in 1965 and 1966, but profits fell sharply as it began its 1967 fiscal year. The company was actively shopping for acquisitions to help it diversify, and in 1967 it entered the insurance business, buying National Indemnity Company and National Fire & Marine Insurance Company for a total of $8.5 million. Acquisition of the two Omaha-based companies, which primarily handled automobile insurance, was expected to help Berkshire overcome the cyclical nature of the textile business. In 1968 the company made another significant acquisition, of Sun Newspapers, a group of Omaha-area weeklies. In 1969 it bought Illinois National Bank & Trust Company of Rockford. Buffett, who became Berkshires chairman in 1969, tended to acquire companies whose management and products he liked, rather than buying companies with the intention of making major changes. Both Buffetts company and his reputation as an expert investor continued to grow for decades to come.

FROM MEDIUM TO LARGE: 1970-79

Berkshire Hathaways expansion and diversification continued at a steady pace. During 1969 and 1970 it bought controlling interests in Blue Chip Stamps (which owned Sees Candies, a chocolate maker and retailer) and Wesco Financial Corporation, a savings and loan operator. Berkshires insurance operations grew with the formation of Cornhusker Casualty Company as part of the National Indemnity group in 1970 and Lakeland Fire and Casualty Company (later National Indemnity Company of Minnesota) also as part of that group, in 1971. In addition, in 1971, Berkshire acquired Home & Automobile Insurance Company (later National Liability and Fire Insurance Company) and in 1972 formed Texas United Insurance Company, which it eventually merged into National Indemnity. Four years later, in 1976, the National Fire & Marine subsidiary acquired its only wholly owned subsidiary, Redwood Fire & Casualty Insurance Company, and Berkshire began buying shares in GEICO (Government Employees Insurance Company).

KEY DATES

1888:
Hathaway Manufacturing Company incorporates in Massachusetts.
1889:
Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company incorporates in Massachusetts.
1929:
Berkshire Cotton merges with four other textile manufacturers and changes its name to Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates.
1955:
Berkshire Fine Spinning merges with Hathaway Manufacturing to form Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
1965:
Partnership led by investor Warren Buffett purchases enough stock to control the company.
1967:
Company enters the insurance business, buying National Indemnity Company and National Fire & Marine Insurance Company.
1968:
Company acquires Sun Newspapers, a group of Omaha-area weeklies.
1969:
Company buys Illinois National Bank & Trust Company.
1976:
Berkshire Hathaway begins buying shares in GEICO (Government Employees Insurance Company).
1983:
Berkshire Hathaway acquires Blue Chip Stamps and 90 percent of Nebraska Furniture Mart.
1985:
Berkshire liquidates its original textile operations.
1986:
Berkshire acquires Scott & Fetzer Company, owner of World Book and Childcraft encyclopedias as well as Kirby vacuums, for about $320 million.
1989:
Company purchases 6.3 percent ($1 billion worth) of the Coca-Cola Company, making Berkshire Cokes second largest shareholder.
1995:
Berkshire spends $2.3 billion to buy there maining 50 percent of GEICO Corporation; Berkshire stock trades at $36,000 pershare.
1996:
As share price nears $36,000, the company issues $100 million in new Class B stock atone-30th the value of the original stock.
1998:
Class A stock hits $84,000 a share; the company purchases General Reinsurance for $22 billion.
2000:
Berkshire acquires 76 percent of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company.
2002:
Fruit of the Loom and The Pampered Che fare added to Berkshires roster of subsidiary companies.
2006:
Berkshire records a net worth gain of $16.9 billion, the most in U.S. business history, asshares of its Class A stock eclipse $100,000 invalue.
2007:
Berkshire invests more than $3 billion for a 10.9 percent interest in Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

In 1977 Berkshire continued to acquire related businesses, with the acquisition of Cypress Insurance Company and the formation of the Kansas Fire & Casualty Company. The same year, it made another move into the newspaper business by purchasing, through Blue Chip Stamps, the Buffalo Evening News, a six-day afternoon paper. The News competed against a morning paper with a Sunday edition, at a time when morning papers were outstripping evening papers in popularity. After the acquisition by Berkshire, the News increased competition by publishing a Sunday edition and within five years had bested its rival, the Courier-Express, which then went out of business.

Berkshire formed another insurance company, Continental Divide Insurance Company, in 1978. Through a merger with Diversified Retailing Company, Berkshire acquired two more insurers, Columbia Insurance Company and Southern Casualty Insurance Company, in 1978; Southern Casualty was later merged into National Indemnity. Even with Warren Buffetts growing reputation, not every company was eager to become part of Berkshire; CSE Corporation, the holding company for Civil Service Employees Insurance Company, turned down an informal takeover offer in 1979. Because Berkshire did not execute hostile takeovers, the acquisition was not pursued.

FROM LARGE TO GARGANTUAN

In 1980 Berkshire spun off Illinois National Bank & Trust, a move required by the Bank Holding Company Act of 1969. A year later the company sold Sun Newspapers to Chicago publisher Bruce Sagan and began work on a rather unheard of practice. The next year, 1982, Berkshire instituted an unusual corporate philanthropy program that won praise from shareholders by allowing them to direct a portion of the companys charitable contributions. With this policy, Buffett said he hoped to foster an owner mentality among shareholders. Shareholders responded enthusiastically, with more than 95 percent of eligible shareholders participating in each year since the programs inception. The amount directed to charities of their choice was $2 a share in 1981 (the figure rose to $6 a share by 1989). Buffetts own favorite causes included population control and nuclear disarmament.

During the early 1980s the textile business continued to languish and the insurance industry was hit by poor sales and price cutting. Berkshires performance, however, was buoyed by the performance of its investment portfolio. Buying significant but non-controlling blocks of stock in such companies as The Washington Post Company, Media General, and additional shares of GEICO Corporation, Berkshires holdings grew in value by 21 percent in 1981, a year in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined by 9.2 percent, and earnings grew 23 percent per share.

In 1983 the 60 percentowned Blue Chip Stamps merged with Berkshire Hathaway, the same year the company acquired 90 percent of the Nebraska Furniture Mart, a high-volume Omaha discount retailer and the largest U.S. home furnishings store founded by a Russian immigrant, Rose Blumkin. The Blumkin family retained management and the remaining ownership of the store. Buffett had been known to promote it during annual shareholder meetings, often running buses to the store (a practice continued to this day). Also in 1983, another insurance company, National Indemnity Company of Florida, was formed and added to the National Indemnity group.

The mid-1980s proved a heady time for Berkshire with several monumental agreements and the sad denouement of its textiles business. Early in 1985 the company participated in Capital Cities Communications acquisition of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). Buffett agreed to put up $517.5 million in financing for the deal and came out with an 18 percent share of the merged company, Capital Cities/ABC. The investment community saw the move as unusual for Buffett, who tended to hunt for undervalued companies and stay away from high-priced deals. Buffett, however, said he saw the investment climate changing, with good prospects for companies such as television networks that had intangible assets rather than heavy investments in plants and equipment.

Then came the end of Berkshire Hathaways money-losing textiles operation, which the company had tried to sell. After finding no buyer, Berkshire liquidated the conglomerates originating business due to increasing lower-cost foreign competition. Buffett lauded the efforts of Kenneth Chace, who remained a Berkshire director, and of Garry Morrison, who had succeeded him as president of textiles. Buffett had kind words for the unionized textile workers as well, who had made only reasonable demands in view of the companys financial position.

Later the same year Berkshire agreed to acquire Scott & Fetzer Company, a Cleveland, Ohio-based diversified manufacturing and marketing company, for about $320 million. Scott & Fetzers products included World Book and Childcraft encyclopedias and Kirby vacuum cleaners. At the same time Berkshires insurance business underwent several changes. In a tight market for insurance, many commercial insurance buyers needed a financially stable company to underwrite large risks, so National Indemnity, Berkshire Hathaways largest insurance company, advertised in an insurance trade publication its willingness to write property and casualty policies with a premium of $1 million or more. The advertisement produced an explosion in large-premium business for Berkshire; the company wrote $184.5 million in net premiums for large accounts from August 1985 through December 1986, compared with virtually no such business previously.

Also during 1985, Berkshire reached an agreement with Firemans Fund Insurance Company, which allowed it a 7 percent participation in Firemans business. John J. Byrne, an executive of GEICO, an insurer partly owned by Berkshire and that shared a long history with Buffett, left to become chairman of Firemans Fund earlier in the year, and had arranged the deal. Another insurance move during 1985 was the establishment of Wesco-Financial Insurance Company by Berkshires Wesco Financial Corporation subsidiary.

In 1986 Berkshire finalized its Scott & Fetzer deal and went on to acquire 84 percent of Fechheimer Bros. Company, a uniform manufacturer and distributor based in Cincinnati, Ohio. The next year, as the stock market continued the upward rise begun earlier in the decade, Buffetts policy of buying undervalued stocks and holding them for the long term paid off well. In August 1987 the Wall Street Journal reported that in the five years since the markets surge began, Berkshires stock portfolio had grown in value by 748 percent, far surpassing the Dow Jones average (which increased 233.6 percent) and Standard & Poors (S&P) 500 stock index (which gained 215.4 percent).

When the stock market crashed in October and wiped out the years gains, Berkshires portfolio weathered the storm and was up 2.8 percent, while the S&P 500 experienced a 2.5 percent decline. Just before the crash, Berkshire had bought $700 million worth of preferred stock (convertible to a 12 percent common stake) in Salomon Inc., the Wall Street investment firm whose fortunes were closely tied to the market. Even after the crash, however, Buffett expressed his confidence in Salomons management and the investments inherent value. Another major event of 1988 was the listing of Berkshires stock on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Although the stock had previously traded in the over-the-counter market, the move was designed to reduce transaction costs for shareholders.

Berkshire Hathaway became the highest-priced stock on the exchange, at about $4,300 a share, up from $12 a share when Buffett first bought the company. The price hit a high for the decade of more than $8,000 a share, but Buffett always encouraged buyers to be in the market for the long haul. He was not of the do-as-I-saynot-as-I-do school, for both he and Berkshire had proven themselves to be long-term shareholders in other companies, leading some to view Buffett as a protector against hostile takeovers. During 1989 the company bought significant shares of the Gillette Company, US-Air Group, and Champion International Corporation, with each purchase widely interpreted as a defense against takeovers. Another major purchase was 6.3 percent or $1 billion worth of the Coca-Cola Company (making Berkshire Cokes second largest shareholder) and an 80 percent interest in Borsheims, an Omaha jewelry store run by the Friedman family, relatives of the Nebraska Furniture Marts Blumkins.

As Berkshire grew, so did Buffetts recognition and reputation as a no-nonsense businessman. To many, part of Buffetts charm was speaking his mind, even if his opinions were not always fashionable. Buffetts frank assessment of situations brought him both fans and foes, including when he pulled the Wesco Financialowned Mutual Savings & Loan Association of Pasadena, California, out of the U.S. League of Savings Institutions in 1989. Buffetts move was in response to the Leagues lobby for more leniency during the federal bailout of the S & L industry, which Buffett likened to a mugging of taxpayers. Another of Buffetts business stratagems, to the chagrin of many corporate honchos, was his belief that executive compensation be tied to a companys performance, not its size.

THE MEGA-CONGLOMERATE WITH A DOWN-HOME FEEL

In the early 1990s Berkshire continued its trend of buying complementary companies and large blocks of stock, with the acquisition of H.H. Brown Shoe Company,

31.2 million shares of Guinness PLC, and 82 percent of Central States Indemnity in 1991, and Lowell Shoe Company and 14.1 percent of General Dynamics Corp. in 1992. In a related though somewhat surprising move in 1991, Buffett was appointed interim chairman of Salomon Inc. (in which the company still owned stock). After serving ten months and effecting a turnaround, Buffett was happily back at the helm of Berkshire Hathaway full time, although both Buffett and Munger joined the board of the ailing USAir in 1992.

The following year, H.H. Brown added Dexter Shoe to its holdings, Buffett sold ten million shares of Capital Cities/ABC, and net earnings posted a spectacular surge from 1992s $407.3 million (down from 1991s $439.9 million) to $688.1 million. In 1994, Berkshire added major stock holdings of two companies to its portfolio (4.9 percent of Gannett Co., Inc., and 8.3 percent of PNC Bank Corp.) and Buffett admitted to two expensive gaffes: a $222.5 million faux pas from unloading ten million Cap Cities shares for $64 each when prices topped $85, and taking a $268.5 million write-down for its questionable USAir stock (both Buffett and Munger stepped down from the airlines board after a year). Though Buffett was perhaps too optimistic with USAir and a bit pessimistic about Cap Cities, neither setback made more than a tiny ripple in Berkshires bottom line.

During the mid-1990s Berkshire Hathaway imperceptibly changed course from a strategic long-term investment conglomerate to one still very much interested in investing but leaning more heavily toward acquiring and actually operating these investment opportunities. As early as 1993 in its annual solicitation for attractive acquisitions, Berkshire had raised the stakes by including the statement, We would be likely to make an acquisition in the $23 billion range. By 1995, after the company acquired Helzbergs Diamond Shops and R.C. Willey Home Furnishings through stock swaps, the stakes had risen further, up to the $5 billion range. Meanwhile, as Berkshires permanent four (Capital Cities/ABC, Coca-Cola, GEICO, and The Washington Post) lost a hint of their luster in 1995, the retailing segment more than offset this slip with Borsheims, Kirby, Nebraska Furniture Mart, and Scott Fetzer (which posted exceptional numbers for the entire decade) exceeding expectations.

Late in 1995 Berkshire began the process of taking GEICO, the seventh largest auto insurer in the nation, private. Buffetts long history (45 years) with GEICO came full circleafter years of mentoring from Ben Graham and Lorimer Davidson, 43 years after selling his original 350 shares, and 15 years since Berkshire paid $45.7 million for a 33.3 percent stake of GEICO (which grew to 50 percent in the ensuing years)the company spent $2.3 billion to make GEICO its own. With the GEICO deal completed in January 1996, Berkshire Hathaways insurance segment mushroomed in both float and potential earnings, becoming more stalwart as the companys core segment. Number-wise, Berkshire finished 1995 with $29.9 billion in assets, a good-sized leap from the previous years $21.3 billion, while Berkshire stock traded at $36,000 per share, more than three-and-a-half times higher than 1992s mere $10,000 a share.

News in 1996 was the planned issuance of $100 million in new Class B stock (the companys original shares were designated Class A stock), valued at one-30th the price of its predecessor. The recapitalization was done in part, Buffett explained in the 1995 annual report, to discourage brokers from marketing unit trusts and seducing clients with the Berkshire name. Since most small investors found Berkshires per share cost prohibitive, Buffett was attempting to make the companys stock available at a lower price without going through expense-laden unit trusts pretending to be Berkshire clones. Yet what people needed to remember, according to Buffett, was not book value, but intrinsic value. By measuring intrinsic value, an economic indicator rather than an accounting concept, investors had a better handle on worth and whether or not something was a good long-term risk. In these terms, Buffett hoped to double Berkshires per-share intrinsic value (of Class A stock) every five years, which was still a rather daunting task.

NO DOT-COMS FOR BUFFETT

Buffetts interest in companies as acquisitions rather than investments increased in the late 1990s. Berkshire Hathaway upped its investment in the ice cream retailer International Dairy Queen in 1998 and Allied Domecq, owner of Dunkin Donuts, in 1999. In 1998, however, the company made the uncharacteristic purchase of Executive Jet, an aviation company that initiated timeshare purchases of private jets by businesses. The $725 million purchase brought Berkshire Hathaway into an emerging market, something Buffett had always avoided. In a more predictable move that year, Buffett added to Berkshire Hathaways insurance group with the acquisition of General Reinsurance Corporation for $22 billion. One of the top three global property and casualty reinsurance companies, General Re had a reputation as one of the best-managed U.S. insurers.

The General Re purchase, however, contributed greatly to Berkshire Hathaways poor performance in 1999. The transition to Berkshire Hathaway ownership was rocky: Ronald E. Ferguson, General Res CEO, had kept the negotiations secret. Once the deal was signed, James Gustafson, General Res president and COO, immediately resigned. Ferguson still had not replaced him by early 2000. In the leadership void, the companys underwriters seemed to be operating aimlessly. In addition, General Re was struck with a series of underwriting losses, combining to a total loss in 1999 of $1.6 billion. Buffetts hands-off management style left the subsidiary to find its own way through the muddle.

In part as a result of General Res losses, net income for Berkshire Hathaway dropped from $2.8 billion to $1.6 billion in 1999. Earnings per share were cut in half. Criticism of Buffett and his investment philosophy became more common. His insistence on holding a stock for the long term was seen by some as stubborn and misguided when Coca-Cola stock hit a high of $87 a share in 1998. A sale at that point would have meant a $15.7 billion gain for Berkshire Hathaway; however, Buffett held the stock as it fell to $50 a share. Some questioned his continued resistance to high-tech and Internet stocks, which were driving a boom in the stock market. While the S&P 500 rose approximately 20 points in 1999, Berkshire Hathaways per-share book value rose only 0.5 percent.

Buffett was, in large part, vindicated in 2000 as the high-tech bubble burst. The S&P 500 ended the year down approximately 9 percent, while Berkshire Hathaways book value rose 6.5 percent. Buffett continued his strategy of acquiring low-tech companies in mundane, though proven, markets. In 2000 Berkshire Hathaway completed its acquisitions of the power company MidAmerican Energy and the rent-to-rent furniture company CORT Business Services. Berkshire also added to its insurance group with the purchase of U.S. Liability, to its jewelry retailers with Ben Bridge Jewelers, and to its manufacturers with boot and brick maker Justin Industries. Just before the end of the year, Berkshire purchased Benjamin Moore Paint for $1 billion cash and building products manufacturer Johns Manville Corporation for about $1.8 billion, although both deals were not completed until early 2001.

Back in 1973 Buffett warned that Berkshire Hathaways sheer bulk would prohibit it from continuing to grow at rates of 15 to 20 percent a year. That warning was premature. For the next decade, the company expanded at that rate, sometimes significantly more. As the century changed, however, the prediction was perhaps being realized. With sales of $34 billion, could Berkshire Hathaway keep up its phenomenal growth rate? Perhaps more important, how much longer would its 71-year-old mastermind, Warren Buffett, be around to lead the company?

REVENUES SURGING TOWARD $100 BILLION: 2002-06

To those who questioned Berkshire Hathaways growth potential, the first years of the 21st century offered an emphatic answer, quieting speculation that Buffetts business could not expect to grow at its accustomed rate. Revenues leaped upward, reaching $63 billion in 2003 and nearly eclipsing the $100 billion mark three years later, when the companys operating subsidiaries generated $98 billion in sales. The company also registered a net worth gain of $16.9 billion in 2006, the most in U.S. business history. The record gain in net worth occurred in a year when Berkshire Hathaways stock value put the company in the history books as well. In October, the first six-digit shares in U.S. investment history were recorded when the price of a Berkshire Hathaway Class A share hopped above $100,000. The companys rising stock value and its record financial totals pointed to another period of success for the renowned Oracle of Omaha, as Buffett was often referred to, demonstrating that he had not lost his uncanny ability to steward the fortunes of his holding company.

His investments between 2002 and 2006 added new gems to Berkshire Hathaways roster of operating subsidiaries. In 2002, Buffett acquired The Pampered Chef, a marketer of kitchenware; Fruit of the Loom, a manufacturer of underwear; and Larson-Juhl, the largest maker of custom-made picture frames in the United States. In 2003, Buffetts most important purchases were the acquisition of Clayton Homes, a leader in the manufactured housing industry, and McLane Company, a $23 billion-in-sales distributor of groceries and nonfood items.

After failing to find any suitable acquisition candidates in 2004, Buffett agreed to five purchases in 2005, setting up deals to acquire Business Wire, a company that disseminated information in 150 countries for 25,000 clients; Forest River, a $1.6 billion-in-sales recreational vehicle manufacturer; Medical Protective Company, a medical malpractice insurer; Applied Underwriters, a provider of payroll services and workers compensation insurance to small businesses; and PacifiCorp., a utilities company based in Portland, Oregon. In 2006, Buffett purchased TTI, a distributor of electronic components; ISCAR, an Israeli manufacturer of cutting tools; and British reinsurer Equitas, gaining the power to invest the companys nearly $9 billion in capital reserves.

Buffett answered the questions related to Berkshire Hathaways growth potential by turning a $34 billion company into a $98 billion company. As for the answer to the other question posed by Berkshire Hathaway onlookers, the question of succession, the response was less decisive. Buffett announced that three individuals would replace him, filling his roles as chairman, chief executive officer, and chief investment officer, but he had reportedly only selected candidates to take over his duties as chief executive officer, revealing their identities to Berkshire Hathaways directors, exclusively. He showed no signs of slowing down as Berkshire Hathaway entered 2007, spending roughly $1.3 billion to more than double the companys stake in healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson and to increase its interest in French drug maker Sanofi Aventis. Buffett also jumped into the railroad industry during the first half of 2007, investing more than $3 billion for a 10.9 percent stake in Burlington Northern Santa Fe. Although the question of what Berkshire Hathaway would be like without Buffett fueled considerable debate, the Oracle of Omaha seemed determined to keep such discussions open for argument for years to come. The good news, Buffett wrote to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders in the companys 2006 annual report, at 76, I feel terrific and, according to all measurable indicators, am in excellent health. Its amazing what Cherry Coke and hamburgers will do for a fellow.

Trudy Ring
Updated, Taryn Benbow-Pfalzgraf
Susan Windisch Brown
Jeffrey L. Covell

PRINCIPAL SUBSIDIARIES

Acme Brick Company; Applied Underwriters; Ben Bridge Jeweler; Benjamin Moore & Co.; Berkshire Hathaway Group; Berkshire Hathaway Homestates Companies; Borsheims Fine Jewelry; Buffalo News; Business Wire; Central States Indemnity Company; Clayton Homes, Inc.; CORT Business Services; CTB Inc.; Fechheimer Brothers Company; FlightSafety International, Inc.; Forest River, Inc.; Fruit of the Loom, Inc.; GEICO Corporation; General Re Corporation; H.H. Brown Shoe Group; Helzberg Diamonds; Home-Services of America; International Dairy Queen, Inc.; Iscar Metalworking Companies; Johns Manville Corporation; Jordans Furniture, Inc.; Justin Brands; McLane Company, Inc.; Medical Protective Company; MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company; MiTek Inc.; National Indemnity Company; Nebraska Furniture Mart; NetJets Inc.; The Pampered Chef, Ltd.; Precision Steel Warehouse; RC Willey Home Furnishings; The Scott Fetzer Company; Sees Candies, Inc.; Shaw Industries; Star Furniture Company; TTI, Inc.; United States Liability Insurance Group; Wesco Financial Corporation; XTRA Corporation.

PRINCIPAL COMPETITORS

The Blackstone Group L.P.; HM Capital Partners LLC; Investcorp Bank B.S.C.; Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.

FURTHER READING

Clark, Andrew, Financial: How Many Shares for $100,000? Just One in Berkshire Hathaway, Guardian, October 25, 2006, p. 25.

Collins, Linda, J., Berkshires Buffett Sees More Competition Ahead, Business Insurance, May 7, 1990, p. 67.

Fabrikant, Geraldine, Berkshire Hathaway Ponders the Future, International Herald Tribune, April 24, 2007, p. 16.

Gogoi, Pallavi, Some Sage Wisdom for Warren Buffett, Business Week Online, May 13, 2003.

Grant, Linda, The $4 Billion Regular Guy, Los Angeles Times, April 7, 1991, p. 36.

Guerrera, Francesco, Buffett Spends Dollars 1.3Bn to Build Healthcare Exposure, Financial Times, May 17, 2007, p. 19.

________, Buffett to Stage Dollars 5Bn Shoot-Out to Find Successor, Financial Times, May 7, 2007, p. 1.

Hagstrom, Robert G., Jr., The Warren Buffett Way: Investment Strategies of the Worlds Greatest Investor, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1994.

Halperin, Alex, Buffetts Pricey Railroad Ride, Business Week Online, April 10, 2007.

Has Warren Buffett Lost His Touch? Business Week Online, March 15, 2002.

Jordon, Steve, Berkshire Reaches $100,000 Milestone, Omaha World-Herald, October 6, 2006.

________, Buffett Says Company Put Together Record Increase in Net Worth for Year, Omaha World-Herald, March 2, 2007.

________, Some Think Berkshire Has More Room to Run, Omaha World-Herald, December 24, 2006.

Kilpatrick, Andrew, Of Permanent Value: The Story of Warren Buffett, Birmingham, Ala.: Andy Kilpatrick Publishing Empire, 1994.

________, Warren Buffett: The Good Guy of Wall Street, New York: Donald I. Fine, 1992.

Laing, Jonathan R., The Collector: Investor Who Piled Up $100 Million in the 60s Piles Up Firms Today, Wall Street Journal, March 31, 1977.

Loomis, Carol J., The Inside Story of Warren Buffett, Fortune, April 11, 1988.

Lowenstein, Roger, Warren Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist, New York: Random House, 1995.

The Sage Has Some Explaining to Do, Business Week, March 20, 2000, p. 100.

Sosnoff, Martin, Larry the Tortoise, Warren the Hare, Forbes, January 27, 1997.

Stead, Deborah, Question of the Week, Business Week, May 28, 2007, p. 16.

Voices from Berkshires Annual Meeting, Business Week Online, May 9, 2007.

Warren the Buffett You Dont Know, Business Week, July 5, 1999, p. 54.

Woolley, Suzanne, Buffett What Has the Master Been Up To? Money, March 1, 2001, p. 71.

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Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

1440 Kiewit Plaza
Omaha, Nebraska 68131
U.S.A.
Telephone: (402) 346-1400
Toll Free: (800) 800-3481
Fax: (402) 346-3375
Web site: http://www.berkshirehathaway.com

Public Company
Incorporated:
1889 as Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing
Company Employees: 45,000
Total Assets: $135.79 billion (2000)
Stock Exchanges: New York
Ticker Symbols: BRK.A; BRK.B
NAIC: 51111 Newspaper Publishers; 51113 BookPublishers; 524113 Direct Life Insurance Carriers; 524126 Direct Property and Casualty InsuranceCarriers (pt) ; 524130 Reinsurance Carriers; 551112Offices of Other Holding Companies

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is a holding company with an ever increasing number of subsidiaries engaged in a myriad of business activities. Originally in textiles, Berkshires reach has extended to insurance, retailing, manufacturing, publishing, and banking. Run by the dynamic Warren Buffett and his partner Charles Munger, Berkshire has become synonymous with its legendary investment portfolio, which historically has garnered results far in excess of advances in the S&P 500 and other benchmark indices. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and its subsidiaries are involved in several different businesses, the most significant of which is property, casualty, and auto insurance, both directly (GEICO) and through reinsurance (General Reinsurance Corporation). Noninsurance subsidiaries include the furniture retailers Nebraska Furniture Mart, R.C. Willey Home Furnishings, Star Furniture, and Jordons Furniture; the fine jewelry retailers Borsheims, Helzberg Diamond Shops, and Ben Bridge Jeweler; and footwear retailers H.H. Brown, Dexter, and Justin Brands. Berkshires other businesses include publishing (the Buffalo News, World Book, Childcraft) ; manufacturing (Sees Candies, Campbell Hausfeld, Kirby, Fech-heimer Brothers Company) ; and interior decorating supplies (paint and stain manufacturer Benjamin Moore, carpet manufacturer Shaw Industries). Investing through its insurance subsidiaries, Berkshire often buys major shares of other publicly traded companies (American Express, Capital Cities/ABC, Coca-Cola, Gillette, The Washington Post Company, and Wells Fargo). Its chairman, Warren Buffett, is renowned for his expertise in selecting stocks with hidden appeal and staying power.

Humble Beginnings: 1889 Through the 1940s

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. began as a textile company, incorporated as Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company in Massachusetts in 1889. In 1929 several other New England textile manufacturers with much common ownershipValley Falls Company, Coventry Company, Greylock Mills, and Fort Dummer Millsmerged into the company, which was then renamed Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates. This operation accounted for about 25 percent of the fine cotton textile production in the United States.

The glory years of the New England textile industry were numbered. The Great Depression of the 1930s contributed to its decline, as did competition from the South and overseas. Wages were lower in the South, and Southern workers had fewer alternatives than New Englanders for working in the textile mills. Further, market factors favored the coarser types of goods produced in the South, while wage differentials between the United States and foreign competition were often significant.

The New England textile business recovered somewhat during World War II, thanks to military demand for its products, and had a similar brief recovery during the Korean conflict. Still, the industry declined again after each of these upswings.

Diversification: 1950s60s

In 1955 Berkshire Fine Spinning merged with Hathaway Manufacturing Company, a New Bedford, Massachusetts textile maker dating back to 1888. The resulting company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., had more than 10,000 employees and nearly six million square feet of plant space, but its financial performance was dismal. Berkshire Hathaway closed its extensive operations in Adams, Massachusetts, in 1958, and the same year sold its curtain plant in Warren, Rhode Island, to Pilgrim Curtain Company. The company recovered a bit the following year; a contract negotiated between Berkshire and its unionized employees in 1959 marked the first wage increase for New England textile workers since 1956.

By late 1959 and into 1960, the company was operating profitably and had a backlog of unfilled orders. Depressed conditions returned quickly, however, and in 1961 Berkshire cut its work week to four days at several plants and showed a loss for the year. In 1962 the company closed three plants in Rhode Island and showed even greater losses, due to depressed prices for its products. The financial hemorrhaging continued into the mid-1960s, despite cuts in Berkshires workforce and an extensive plant modernization. In 1965 came a major change in the companys management: a partnership led by investor Warren Buffett had purchased enough stock to control the company, and in a resulting dispute Seabury Stanton, a 50-year Berkshire employee, resigned as president. Kenneth V. Chace, a vice-president who had been with the company 18 years, replaced Stanton. After Buffett gained control of Berkshire, its operations were gradually moved from New Bedford to Omaha, Nebraska, where Buffett was based.

Berkshire Hathaway was profitable in 1965 and 1966, but profits fell sharply as it began its 1967 fiscal year. The company was actively shopping for acquisitions to help it diversify, and in 1967 it entered the insurance business, buying National Indemnity Company and National Fire & Marine Insurance Company for a total of $8.5 million. Acquisition of the two Omaha-based companies, which primarily handled automobile insurance, was expected to help Berkshire overcome the cyclical nature of the textile business. In 1968 the company made another significant acquisition, of Sun Newspapers, a group of Omaha-area weeklies. In 1969 it bought Illinois National Bank & Trust Company of Rockford. Buffett, who became Berkshires chairman in 1969, tended to acquire companies whose management and products he liked, rather than buying companies with the intention of making major changes. Both Buffetts company and his reputation as an expert investor continued to grow for decades to come.

From Medium to Large: 197079

Berkshire Hathaways expansion and diversification continued at a steady pace. During 1969 and 1970 it bought controlling interests in Blue Chip Stamps (which owned Sees Candies, a chocolate maker and retailer) and Wesco Financial Corporation, a savings and loan operator. Berkshires insurance operations grew with the formation of Cornhusker Casualty Company as part of the National Indemnity group in 1970 and Lakeland Fire and Casualty Company (later National Indemnity Company of Minnesota) also as part of that group, in 1971. In addition, in 1971, Berkshire acquired Home & Automobile Insurance Company (later National Liability and Fire Insurance Company) and in 1972 formed Texas United Insurance Company, which it eventually merged into National Indemnity. Four years later, in 1976, the National Fire & Marine subsidiary acquired its only wholly owned subsidiary, Redwood Fire & Casualty Insurance Company, and Berkshire began buying shares in GEICO (Government Employees Insurance Company) .

In 1977 Berkshire continued to acquire related businesses, with the acquisition of Cypress Insurance Company and the formation of the Kansas Fire & Casualty Company. The same year, it made another move into the newspaper business by purchasing, through Blue Chip Stamps, the Buffalo Evening News, a six-day afternoon paper. The News competed against a morning paper with a Sunday edition, at a time when morning papers were outstripping evening papers in popularity. After the acquisition by Berkshire, the News increased competition by publishing a Sunday edition and within five years had bested its rival, the Courier-Express, which then went out of business.

Berkshire formed another insurance company, Continental Divide Insurance Company, in 1978. Through a merger with Diversified Retailing Company, Berkshire acquired two more insurers, Columbia Insurance Company and Southern Casualty Insurance Company, in 1978; Southern Casualty was later merged into National Indemnity. Even with Warren Buffetts growing reputation, not every company was eager to become part of Berkshire; CSE Corporation, the holding company for Civil Service Employees Insurance Company, turned down an informal takeover offer in 1979. Because Berkshire did not execute hostile takeovers, the acquisition was not pursued.

Company Perspectives:

Although our form is corporate, our attitude is partnership. Charlie Munger and I think of our shareholders as owner-partners, and of ourselves as managing partners. (Because of the size of our shareholdings we are also, for better or worse, controlling partners.) We do not view the company itself as the ultimate owner of our business assets but instead view the company as a conduit through which our shareholders own the assets .

Charlie and I hope that you do not think of yourself as merely owning a piece of paper whose price wiggles around daily and that is a candidate for sale when some economic or political event makes you nervous. We hope you instead visualize yourself as a part owner of a business that you expect to stay with indefinitely, much as you might if you owned a farm or apartment house in partnership with members of your family. For our part, we do not view Berkshire shareholders as faceless members of an ever-shifting crowd, but rather as co-venturers who have entrusted their funds to us for what may well turn out to be the remainder of their lives .

The evidence suggests that most Berkshire shareholders

have indeed embraced this long-term partnership concept .

Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO

From Large to Gargantuan: 1980s

In 1980 Berkshire spun off Illinois National Bank & Trust, a move required by the Bank Holding Company Act of 1969. A year later the company sold Sun Newspapers to Chicago publisher Bruce Sagan and began work on a rather unheard of practice. The next year, 1982, Berkshire instituted an unusual corporate philanthropy program that won praise from shareholders by allowing them to direct a portion of the companys charitable contributions. With this policy, Buffett said he hoped to foster an owner mentality among shareholders. Shareholders responded enthusiastically, with more than 95 percent of eligible shareholders participating in each year since the programs inception. The amount directed to charities of their choice was $2 a share in 1981 (the figure rose to $6 a share by 1989). Buffetts own favorite causes included population control and nuclear disarmament.

During the early 1980s the textile business continued to languish and the insurance industry was hit by poor sales and price cutting. Berkshires performance, however, was buoyed by the performance of its investment portfolio. Buying significant but noncontrolling blocks of stock in such companies as The Washington Post Company, Media General, and additional shares of GEICO Corporation, Berkshires holdings grew in value by 21 percent in 1981a year in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined by 9.2 percentand earnings grew 23 percent per share.

In 1983 the 60 percent-owned Blue Chip Stamps merged with Berkshire Hathaway, the same year the company acquired 90 percent of the Nebraska Furniture Mart, a high-volume Omaha discount retailer and the largest U.S. home furnishings store founded by a Russian immigrant, Rose Blumkin. The Blumkin family retained management and the remaining ownership of the store. Buffett had been known to promote it during annual shareholder meetings, often running buses to the store (a practice continued to this day). Also in 1983, another insurance company, National Indemnity Company of Florida, was formed and added to the National Indemnity group.

The mid-1980s proved a heady time for Berkshire with several monumental agreements and the sad denouement of its textiles business. Early in 1985 the company participated in Capital Cities Communications acquisition of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). Buffett agreed to put up $517.5 million in financing for the deal and came out with an 18 percent share of the merged company, Capital Cities/ABC. The investment community saw the move as unusual for Buffett, who tended to hunt for undervalued companies and stay away from high-priced deals. Buffett, however, said he saw the investment climate changing, with good prospects for companies like television networks that had intangible assets rather than heavy investments in plants and equipment.

Then came the end of Berkshire Hathaways money-losing textiles operation, which the company had tried to sell. After finding no buyer, Berkshire liquidated the conglomerates originating business due to increasing lower-cost foreign competition. Buffett lauded the efforts of Kenneth Chacewho remained a Berkshire directorand of Garry Morrison, who had succeeded him as president of textiles. Buffett had kind words for the unionized textile workers as well, who had made only reasonable demands in view of the companys financial position.

Later the same year Berkshire agreed to acquire Scott & Fetzer Company, a Cleveland, Ohio-based diversified manufacturing and marketing company, for about $320 million. Scott & Fetzers products included World Book and Childcraft encyclopedias and Kirby vacuum cleaners. At the same time Berkshires insurance business underwent several changes. In a tight market for insurance, many commercial insurance buyers needed a financially stable company to underwrite large risks, so National Indemnity, Berkshire Hathaways largest insurance company, advertised in an insurance trade publication its willingness to write property and casualty policies with a premium of $1 million or more. The advertisement produced an explosion in large-premium business for Berkshire; the company wrote $184.5 million in net premiums for large accounts from August 1985 through December 1986, compared with virtually no such business previously.

Key Dates:

1888:
Hathaway Manufacturing Company incorporates in Massachusetts.
1889:
Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company incorporates in Massachusetts.
1929:
Company merges with four other textile manufacturers and changes its name to Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates.
1955:
Berkshire Fine Spinning merges with Hathaway Manufacturing to form Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
1965:
Partnership led by investor Warren Buffett purchases enough stock to control the company.
1967:
Company enters the insurance business, buying National Indemnity Company and National Fire & Marine Insurance Company.
1968:
Company acquires Sun Newspapers, a group of Omaha-area weeklies.
1969:
Company buys Illinois National Bank & Trust Company.
1983:
Berkshire Hathaway acquires Blue Chip Stamps and 90 percent of Nebraska Furniture Mart.
1985:
Berkshire liquidates its original textile operations.
1986:
Berkshire acquires Scott & Fetzer Company, owner of World Book and Childcraft encyclopedias as well as Kirby vacuums, for about $320 million.
1989:
Company purchases 6.3 percent ($1 billion worth) of the Coca-Cola Company, making Berkshire Cokes second largest shareholder.
1995:
Berkshire spends $2.3 billion to buy the remaining 50 percent of GEICO Corporation; Berkshire stock trades at $36,000 per share.
1996:
As share price nears $36,000, the company issues $100 million in new Class B stock at one-thirtieth the value of the original stock.
1998:
Class A stock hits $84,000 a share; the company purchases General Reinsurance for $22 billion.

Also during 1985, Berkshire reached an agreement with Firemans Fund Insurance Company, which allowed it a 7 percent participation in Firemans business. John J. Byrne, an executive of GEICOan insurer partly owned by Berkshire and that shared a long history with Buffettleft to become chairman of Firemans Fund earlier in the year, and had arranged the deal. Another insurance move during 1985 was the establishment of Wesco-Financial Insurance Company by Berkshires Wesco Financial Corporation subsidiary.

In 1986 Berkshire finalized its Scott & Fetzer deal and went on to acquire 84 percent of Fechheimer Bros. Company, a uniform manufacturer and distributor based in Cincinnati, Ohio. The next year, as the stock market continued the upward rise begun earlier in the decade, Buffetts policy of buying undervalued stocks and holding them for the long term paid off well. In August 1987 the Wall Street Journal reported that in the five years since the markets surge began, Berkshires stock portfolio had grown in value by 748 percent, far surpassing the Dow Jones average (which increased 233.6 percent) and Standard & Poors (S&P) 500 stock index (which gained 215.4 percent) .

When the stock market crashed in October and wiped out the years gains, Berkshires portfolio weathered the storm and was up 2.8 percentwhile the S&P 500 experienced a 2.5 percent decline. Just before the crash, Berkshire had bought $700 million worth of preferred stock (convertible to a 12 percent common stake) in Salomon Inc., the Wall Street investment firm whose fortunes were closely tied to the market. Even after the crash, however, Buffett expressed his confidence in Salomons management and the investments inherent value. Another major event of 1988 was the listing of Berkshires stock on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Although the stock had previously traded in the over-the-counter market, the move was designed to reduce transaction costs for shareholders.

Berkshire Hathaway became the highest-priced stock on the exchange, at about $4,300 a share, up from $12 a share when Buffett first bought the company. The price hit a high for the decade of more than $8,000 a share, but Buffett always encouraged buyers to be in the market for the long haul. He was not of the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do school, for both he and Berkshire had proven themselves to be long-term shareholders in other companies, leading some to view Buffett as a protector against hostile takeovers. During 1989 the company bought significant shares of the Gillette Company, USAir Group, and Champion International Corporation, with each purchase widely interpreted as a defense against takeovers. Another major purchase was 6.3 percent or $1 billion worth of the Coca-Cola Company (making Berkshire Cokes second largest shareholder) and an 80 percent interest in Borsheims, an Omaha jewelry store run by the Friedman family, relatives of the Nebraska Furniture Marts Blumkins.

As Berkshire grew, so did Buffetts recognition and reputation as a no-nonsense businessman. To many, part of Buffetts charm was speaking his mind, even if his opinions were not always fashionable. Buffetts frank assessment of situations brought him both fans and foes, including when he pulled the Wesco Financial-owned Mutual Savings & Loan Association of Pasadena, California, out of the U.S. League of Savings Institutions in 1989. Buffetts move was in response to the Leagues lobby for more leniency during the federal bailout of the S & L industry, which Buffett likened to a mugging of taxpayers. Another of Buffetts business stratagems, to the chagrin of many corporate honchos, was his belief that executive compensation be tied to a companys performance, not its size.

The Mega-Conglomerate with a Down-Home Feel: 1990s

In the early 1990s Berkshire continued its trend of buying complementary companies and large blocks of stock, with the acquisition of H.H. Brown Shoe Company, 31.2 million shares of Guinness PLC, and 82 percent of Central States Indemnity in 1991, and Lowell Shoe Company and 14.1 percent of General Dynamics Corp. in 1992. In a related though somewhat surprising move in 1991, Buffett was appointed interim chairman of Salomon Inc. (in which the company still owned stock). After serving ten months and effecting a turnaround, Buffett was happily back at the helm of Berkshire Hathaway full-time, although both Buffett and Munger joined the board of the ailing USAir in 1992.

The following year, H.H. Brown added Dexter Shoe to its holdings, Buffett sold ten million shares of Capital Cities/ABC, and net earnings posted a spectacular surge from 1992s $407.3 million (down from 1991s $439.9 million) to $688.1 million. In 1994, Berkshire added major stock holdings of two companies to its portfolio (4.9 percent of Gannett Co., Inc. and 8.3 percent of PNC Bank Corp.) and Buffett admitted to two expensive gaffes: a $222.5 million faux pas from unloading ten million Cap Cities shares for $64 each when prices topped $85, and taking a $268.5 million writedown for its questionable USAir stock (both Buffett and Munger stepped down from the airlines board after a year). Though Buffett was perhaps too optimistic with USAir and a bit pessimistic about Cap Cities, neither setback made more than a tiny ripple in Berkshires bottom line.

During the mid-1990s Berkshire Hathaway imperceptibly changed course from a strategic long-term investment conglomerate to one still very much interested in investing but leaning more heavily toward acquiring and actually operating these investment opportunities. As early as 1993 in its annual solicitation for attractive acquisitions, Berkshire had raised the stakes by including the statement, We would be likely to make an acquisition in the $2-3 billion range. By 1995, after the company acquired Helzbergs Diamond Shops and R.C. Willey Home Furnishings through stock swaps, the stakes had risen furtherup to the $5 billion range. Meanwhile, as Berkshires permanent four (Capital Cities/ABC, Coca-Cola, GEICO, and The Washington Post) lost a hint of their luster in 1995, the retailing segment more than offset this slip with Borsheims, Kirby, Nebraska Furniture Mart, and Scott Fetzer (which posted exceptional numbers for the entire decade) exceeding expectations.

Late in 1995 Berkshire began the process of taking GEICO, the seventh largest auto insurer in the nation, private. Buffetts long history (45 years) with GEICO came full circleafter years of mentoring from Ben Graham and Lorimer Davidson, 43 years after selling his original 350 shares, and 15 years since Berkshire paid $45.7 million for a 33.3 percent stake of GEICO (which grew to 50 percent in the ensuing years)the company spent $2.3 billion to make GEICO its own. With the GEICO deal completed in January 1996, Berkshire Hathaways insurance segment mushroomed in both float and potential earnings, becoming more stalwart as the companys core segment. Number-wise, Berkshire finished 1995 with $29.9 billion in assets, a good-sized leap from the previous years $21.3 billion, while Berkshire stock traded at $36,000 per share, more than three-and-a-half times higher than 1992s mere $10,000 a share.

News in 1996 was the planned issuance of $100 million in new Class B stock (the companys original shares were now designated Class A stock), valued at one-30th the price of its predecessor. The recapitalization was done in part, Buffett explained in the 1995 annual report, to discourage brokers from marketing unit trusts and seducing clients with the Berkshire name. Since most small investors found Berkshires per share cost prohibitive, Buffett was attempting to make the companys stock available at a lower price without going through expense-laden unit trusts pretending to be Berkshire clones. Yet what folks needed to remember, according to Buffett, was not book value, but intrinsic value. By measuring intrinsic value, an economic indicator rather than an accounting concept, investors had a better handle on worth and whether or not something was a good long-term risk. In these terms, Buffett hoped to double Berkshires per-share intrinsic value (of Class A stock) every five years, which was still a rather daunting task.

The Late 1990s: No Dot Coms for Buffett

Buffetts interest in companies as acquisitions rather than investments increased in the late 1990s. Berkshire Hathaway upped its investment in the ice cream retailer International Dairy Queen in 1998 and Allied Domecq, owner of Dunkin Donuts, in 1999. In 1998, however, the company made the uncharacteristic purchase of Executive Jet, an aviation company that initiated time-share purchases of private jets by businesses. The $725 million purchase brought Berkshire Hathaway into an emerging market, something Buffett had always avoided. In a more predictable move that year, Buffett added to Berkshire Hathaways insurance group with the acquisition of General Reinsurance Corporation for $22 billion. One of the top three global property and casualty reinsurance companies, General Re had a reputation as one of the best-managed U.S. insurers.

The General Re purchase, however, contributed greatly to Berkshire Hathaways poor performance in 1999. The transition to Berkshire Hathaway ownership was rocky: Ronald E. Ferguson, General Res CEO, had kept the negotiations secret. Once the deal was signed, James Gustafson, General Res president and COO, immediately resigned. Ferguson still had not replaced him by early 2000. In the leadership void, the companys underwriters seemed to be operating aimlessly. In addition, General Re was struck with a series of underwriting losses, combining to a total loss in 1999 of $1.6 billion. Buffetts hands-off management style left the subsidiary to find its own way through the muddle.

In part as a result of General Res losses, net income for Berkshire Hathaway dropped from $2.8 billion to $1.6 billion in 1999. Earnings per share were cut in half. Criticism of Buffett and his investment philosophy became more common. His insistence on holding a stock for the long term was seen by some as stubborn and misguided when Coca-Cola stock hit a high of $87 a share in 1998. A sale at that point would have meant a $15.7 billion gain for Berkshire Hathaway; however, Buffett held the stock as it fell to $50 a share. Some questioned his continued resistance to high-tech and Internet stocks, which were driving a boom in the stock market. While the S&P 500 rose approximately 20 points in 1999, Berkshire Hathaways per-share book value rose only 0.5 percent.

Buffett was, in large part, vindicated in 2000 as the high-tech bubble burst. The S&P 500 ended the year down approximately 9 percent, while Berkshire Hathaways book value rose 6.5 percent. Buffett continued his strategy of acquiring low-tech companies in mundane, though proven, markets. In 2000 Berkshire Hathaway completed its acquisitions of the power company MidAmerican Energy and the rent-to-rent furniture company CORT Business Services. Berkshire also added to its insurance group with the purchase of U.S. Liability, to its jewelry retailers with Ben Bridge Jewelers, and to its manufacturers with boot and brick maker Justin Industries. Just before the end of the year, Berkshire purchased Benjamin Moore Paint for $1 billion cash and building products manufacturer Johns Manville Corporation for about $1.8 billion, although both deals were not completed until early 2001.

Back in 1973 Buffett warned that Bershire Hathaways sheer bulk would prohibit it from continuing to grow at rates of 15 to 20 percent a year. That warning was premature. For the next decade, the company expanded at that rate, sometimes significantly more. As the century changed, however, the prediction was perhaps being realized. With sales of $34 billion, could Berkshire Hathaway keep up its phenomenal growth rate? Perhaps more important, how much longer would its 71-year-old mastermind, Warren Buffett, be around to lead the company?

Principal Subsidiaries

Acme Building Brands; Ben Bridge Jeweler; Benjamin Moore & Co.; Berkshire Hathaway Group; Berkshire Hathaway Homestates Companies; Borsheims Fine Jewelry; Buffalo News; Central States Indemnity Company; CORT Business Services; Dexter Shoe Company; Executive Jet, Inc.; Fech-heimer Brothers Company; FlightSafety International, Inc.; GEICO Corporation; General & Cologne Re Group; H.H. Brown Shoe Company, Inc.; Helzbergs Diamonds; International Dairy Queen, Inc.; Johns Manville Corporation; Jordans Furniture; Justin Brands; Lowell Shoe Company; MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company; MiTek Inc.; National Indemnity Company; Nebraska Furniture Mart; Precision Steel Warehouse; RC Willey Home Furnishings; Scott Fetzer Company; Sees Candies, Inc.; Shaw Industries; Star Furniture; United States Liability Insurance Group.

Principal Competitors

AIG; The Allstate Corporation; Andersen Group; AXA Financial; CIGNA Corporation; Citigroup Inc.; CNA Financial Corporation; GE Capital; The Hartford Insurance Group; Lincoln National Corporation; Loews Corporation; Munich Reinsurance; Prudential Insurance Company of America; State Farm Insurance Companies; Swiss Reinsurance Company; Washington Mutual, Inc.

Further Reading

Collins, Linda, J., Berkshires Buffett Sees More Competition Ahead, Business Insurance, May 7, 1990, p. 67.

Grant, Linda, The $4 Billion Regular Guy, Los Angeles Times, April 7, 1991, p. 36.

Hagstrom, Robert G., Jr., The Warren Buffett Way: Investment Strategies of the Worlds Greatest Investor, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1994.

Kilpatrick, Andrew, Of Permanent Value: The Story of Warren Buffett, Birmingham, Ala.: Andy Kilpatrick Publishing Empire, 1994.

, Warren Buffett: The Good Guy of Wall Street, New York: Donald I. Fine, 1992.

Laing, Jonathan R., The Collector: Investor Who Piled Up $100 Million in the 60s Piles Up Firms Today, Wall Street Journal, March 31, 1977.

Loomis, Carol J., The Inside Story of Warren Buffett, Fortune, April 11, 1988.

Lowenstein, Roger, Warren Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist, New York: Random House, 1995.

The Sage Has Some Explaining to Do, Business Week, March 20, 2000, p. 100.

Sosnoff, Martin, Larry the Tortoise, Warren the Hare, Forbes, January 27, 1997.

Warren the Buffett You Dont Know, Business Week, July 5, 1999, p. 54.

Trudy Ring
updates: Taryn Benbow-Pfalzgraf,
Susan Windisch Brown

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"Berkshire Hathaway Inc." International Directory of Company Histories. 2002. Encyclopedia.com. 28 May. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

1440 Kiewit Plaza
Omaha, Nebraska 68131
U.S.A.
(402)346-1400
Fax: (402) 346-3375

Public Company
Incorporated:
1889 as Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company
Employees: 35,000 (1996)
Assets: $35.5 billion (est. 1996)
Stock Exchanges: New York
SICs: 2711 Newspaper Publishing & Printing; 2731 Book Publishing & Printing; 6331 Fire, Marine & Casualty Insurance; 6719 Holding Companies, Not Elsewhere Classified

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and its subsidiaries are involved in several different businesses, the most significant of which is property, casualty, and auto insurance (GEICO) both directly and through reinsurance. Berkshires other businesses include publishing (the Buffalo News, World Book, Childcraft; manufacturing (Sees Candies, Campbell Hausfeld, Kirby, Fechheimer Brothers Company); retailing (Borsheims, Helzbergs Diamond Shops, Nebraska Furniture Mart, R.C. Willey Home Furnishings, H.H. Brown Shoe Company, Dexter Shoe), and banking (Mutual Savings & Loan Association). Investing through its insurance subsidiaries, Berkshire often buys major shares of other publicly traded companies (American Express, Capital Cities/ABC, Coca-Cola, Gillette, Salomon Inc., Washington Post, and Wells Fargo); its chairman, Warren Buffett, is renowned for his expertise in selecting stocks with hidden appeal and staying power.

Humble Beginnings, 1889 Through the 1940s

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. began as a textile company, incorporated as Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company in Massachusetts in 1889. In 1929 several other New England textile manufacturers with much common ownershipValley Falls Company, Coventry Company, Greylock Mills, and Fort Dummer Millsmerged into the company, which was then renamed Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates. This operation accounted for about 25 percent of the fine cotton textile production in the United States.

The glory years of the New England textile industry were numbered. The Great Depression of the 1930s contributed to its decline, as did competition from the South and overseas. Wages were lower in the South, and Southern workers had fewer alternatives than New Englanders for working in the textile mills. Further, market factors favored the coarser types of goods produced in the South, while wage differentials between the U.S. and foreign competition were often significant.

The New England textile business recovered somewhat during World War II, thanks to military demand for its products, and had a similar brief recovery during the Korean conflict. Still, the industry declined again after each of these upswings.

Diversification Is Good for the Soul, the 1950s and 1960s

In 1955 Berkshire Fine Spinning merged with Hathaway Manufacturing Company, a New Bedford, Massachusetts, textile maker dating back to 1888. The resulting company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., had more than 10,000 employees and nearly six million square feet of plant space, but its financial performance was dismal. Berkshire Hathaway closed its extensive operations in Adams, Massachusetts, in 1958, and the same year sold its curtain plant in Warren, Rhode Island, to Pilgrim Curtain Company. The company recovered a bit the following year; a contract negotiated between Berkshire and its unionized employees in 1959 marked the first wage increase for New England textile workers since 1956.

By late 1959 and into 1960, the company was operating profitably and had a backlog of unfilled orders. Depressed conditions returned quickly, however, and in 1961 Berkshire cut its work week to four days at several plants and showed a loss for the year. In 1962 the company closed three plants in Rhode Island and showed even greater losses, due to depressed prices for its products. The financial hemorrhaging continued into the mid-1960s, despite cuts in Berkshires workforce and an extensive plant modernization. In 1965 came a major change in the companys management: a partnership led by investor Warren Buffett had purchased enough stock to control the company, and in a resulting dispute Seabury Stanton, a 50-year Berkshire employee, resigned as president. Kenneth V. Chace, a vice-president who had been with the company 18 years, replaced Stanton. After Buffett gained control of Berkshire, its operations were gradually moved from New Bedford to Omaha, Nebraska, where Buffett was based.

Berkshire Hathaway was profitable in 1965 and 1966, but profits fell sharply as it began its 1967 fiscal year. The company was actively shopping for acquisitions to help it diversify, and in 1967 it entered the insurance business, buying National Indemnity Company and National Fire & Marine Insurance Company for a total of $8.5 million. Acquisition of the two Omaha-based companies, which primarily handled automobile insurance, was expected to help Berkshire overcome the cyclical nature of the textile business. In 1968 the company made another significant acquisition, of Sun Newspapers, a group of Omaha-area weeklies. In 1969 it bought Illinois National Bank & Trust Company of Rockford. Buffett, who became Berkshires chairman in 1969, tended to acquire companies whose management and products he liked, rather than buying companies with the intention of making major changes. Both Buffetts company and his reputation as an expert investor continued to grow for decades to come.

From Medium to Large, 197079

Berkshire Hathaways expansion and diversification continued at a steady pace. During 1969 and 1970 it bought controlling interests in Blue Chip Stamps (which owned Sees Candies, a chocolate maker and retailer) and Wesco Financial Corporation, a savings and loan operator. Berkshires insurance operations grew with the formation of Cornhusker Casualty Company as part of the National Indemnity group in 1970 and Lakeland Fire and Casualty Company (now National Indemnity Company of Minnesota) also as part of that group, in 1971. Additionally, in 1971, Berkshire acquired Home & Automobile Insurance Company (now National Liability and Fire Insurance Company) and in 1972 formed Texas United Insurance Company, which it later merged into National Indemnity. Four years later, in 1976, the National Fire & Marine subsidiary acquired its only wholly owned subsidiary, Redwood Fire & Casualty Insurance Company and Berkshire began buying shares in GEICO (Government Employees Insurance Company).

In 1977 Berkshire continued to acquire related businesses, this time Cypress Insurance Company, and then the Kansas Fire & Casualty Company was formed. The same year, it made another move into the newspaper business by purchasing, through Blue Chip Stamps, the Buffalo Evening News, a six-day afternoon paper. The News competed against a morning paper with a Sunday edition, at a time when morning papers were outstripping evening papers in popularity. After the acquisition by Berkshire, the News increased competition by publishing a Sunday edition and within five years had bested its rival, the Courier-Express, which then went out of business.

Berkshire formed another insurance company, Continental Divide Insurance Company, in 1978. Through a merger with Diversified Retailing Company, Berkshire acquired two more insurers, Columbia Insurance Company and Southern Casualty Insurance Company, in 1978; Southern Casualty was later merged into National Indemnity. Even with Warren Buffetts growing reputation, not every company was eager to become part of Berkshire; CSE Corporation, the holding company for Civil Service Employees Insurance Company, turned down an informal takeover offer in 1979. Because Berkshire didnt execute hostile takeovers, the acquisition wasnt pursued.

From Large to XXL, the 1980s

In 1980 Berkshire spun off Illinois National Bank & Trust, a move required by the Bank Holding Company Act of 1969. A year later the company sold Sun Newspapers to Chicago publisher Bruce Sagan and began work on a rather unheard of practice. The next year, 1982, Berkshire instituted an unusual corporate philanthropy program that won praise from shareholders by allowing them to direct a portion of the companys charitable contributions. With this policy, Buffett said he hoped to foster an owner mentality among shareholders. Shareholders responded enthusiastically, with more than 95 percent of eligible shares participating in each year since the programs inception. The amount directed to charities of their choice was $2 a share in 1981 (the figure rose to $6 a share by 1989). Buffetts own favorite causes included population control and nuclear disarmament.

During the early 1980s the textile business continued to languish, and the insurance industry was hit by poor sales and price cutting. Berkshires performance, however, was buoyed by the performance of its investment portfolio. Buying significant but noncontrolling blocks of stock in such companies as The Washington Post Company, Media General, and additional shares of GEICO Corporation, Berkshires holdings grew in value by 21 percent in 1981a year in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined by 9.2 percentand earnings grew 23 percent per share.

Company Perspectives:

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is a holding company with an ever-increasing number of subsidiaries engaged in a myriad of business activities. Originally in textiles, Berkshires reach has extended to insurance, retailing, manufacturing, publishing, and banking. Run by the dynamic Warren Buffett and his partner Charles Munger, Berkshires name and reputation have become synonymous with its legendary investment portfolio, which has garnered excellent results far in excess of the S & P 500 and other indicators.

In 1983 the 60 percent-owned Blue Chip Stamps merged with Berkshire Hathaway, the same year the company acquired 90 percent of the Nebraska Furniture Mart, a high-volume Omaha discount retailer and the largest U.S. home furnishings store founded by a Russian immigrant, Rose Blumkin. The Blumkin family retained management and the remaining ownership of the store, and Buffett had been known to promote it during annual shareholder meetings, often running buses to the store (a practice continued to this day). Also in 1983, another insurance company, National Indemnity Company of Florida, was formed and added to the National Indemnity group.

The mid-1980s proved a heady time for Berkshire with several monumental agreements and the sad denouement of its textiles business. Early in 1985 the company participated in Capital Cities Communications acquisition of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). Buffett agreed to put up $517.5 million in financing for the deal and came out with an 18 percent share of the merged company, Capital Cities/ABC. The investment community saw the move as unusual for Buffett, who tended to hunt for undervalued companies and stay away from high-priced deals. Buffett, however, said he saw the investment climate changing, with good prospects for companies like television networks which had intangible assets rather than heavy investments in plants and equipment.

Then came the end of Berkshire Hathaways money-losing textiles operation, which the company had tried to sell. After finding no buyer, Berkshire liquidated the conglomerates originating business due to increasing lower-cost foreign competition. Buffett lauded the efforts of Kenneth Chacewho remained a Berkshire directorand of Garry Morrison, who had succeeded him as president of textiles. Buffett had kind words for the unionized textile workers as well, who had made only reasonable demands in view of the companys financial position.

Later the same year Berkshire agreed to acquire Scott & Fetzer Company, a Cleveland, Ohio-based diversified manufacturing and marketing company, for about $320 million. Scott & Fetzers products included World Book and Childcraft encyclopedias, and Kirby vacuum cleaners. At the same time Berkshires insurance business underwent several changes. In a tight market for insurance, many commercial insurance buyers needed a financially stable company to underwrite large risks, so National Indemnity, Berkshire Hathaways largest insurance company, advertised in an insurance trade publication its willingness to write property and casualty policies with a premium of $1 million or more. The advertisement produced an explosion in large-premium business for Berkshire; the company wrote $184.5 million in net premiums for large accounts from August 1985 through December 1986, compared with virtually no such business previously.

Also during 1985, Berkshire reached an agreement with Firemans Fund Insurance Company which allowed it a 7 percent participation in Firemans business. John J. Byrne, an executive of GEICOan insurer partly owned by Berkshire and that shared a long history with Buffettleft to become chairman of Firemans Fund earlier in the year, and had arranged the deal. Another insurance move during 1985 was the establishment of Wesco-Financial Insurance Company by Berkshires Wesco Financial Corporation subsidiary.

In 1986 Berkshire finalized its Scott & Fetzer deal and went on to acquire 84 percent of Fechheimer Bros. Company, a uniform manufacturer and distributor based in Cincinnati, Ohio. The next year as the stock market continued the upward rise begun earlier in the decade, Buffetts policy of buying undervalued stocks and holding them for the long-term paid off well. In August 1987 the Wall Street Journal reported that in the five years since the markets surge began, Berkshires stock portfolio had grown in value by 748 percent, far surpassing the Dow Jones average (which increased 233.6 percent) and Standard & Poors (S&P) 500 stock index (which gained 215.4 percent).

When the stock market crashed in October and wiped out the years gains, Berkshires portfolio weathered the storm and was up 2.8 percent for the periodwhile the S&P 500 experienced a 2.5 percent decline. Just before the crash, Berkshire had bought $700 million-worth of preferred stock (convertible to a 12 percent common stake) in Salomon Inc., the Wall Street investment firm whose fortunes were closely tied to the market. Even after the crash, however, Buffett expressed his confidence in Salomons management and the investments inherent value. Another major event of 1988 was the listing of Berkshires stock on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Although the stock had previously traded in the over-the-counter market, the move was designed to reduce transaction costs for shareholders.

Berkshire Hathaway became the highest-priced stock on the exchange, at about $4,300 a share, up from $12 a share when Buffett first bought the company. The price hit a high for the decade of more than $8,000 a share but the ever-dynamic Buffett always encouraged buyers to be in the market for the long haul over frequent trading. And Buffett was not of the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do school, for both he and Berkshire have proven themselves to be long-term shareholders in other companies, leading some to view Buffett as a protector against hostile takeovers. During 1989 the company bought significant shares of the Gillette Company, US Air Group, and Champion International Corporation, with each purchase widely interpreted as a defense against takeovers. Another major purchase was 6.3 percent or $1 billion-worth of the Coca-Cola Company (making Berkshire Cokes second-largest shareholder) and an 80 percent interest in Borsheims, an Omaha jewelry store run by the Friedman family, relatives of the Nebraska Furniture Marts Blumkins.

As Berkshire grew, so did Buffetts recognition and reputation as a no-nonsense businessman. To many, part of Buffetts charm was speaking his mind, even if his opinions werent always fashionable. Buffetts frank assessment of situations brought him both fans and foes, like when he pulled the Wesco Financial-owned Mutual Savings & Loan Association of Pasadena, California, out of the U.S. League of Savings Institutions in 1989. Buffetts move was in response to the Leagues lobby for more leniency during the federal bailout of the S & L industry, which Buffett likened to a mugging of taxpayers. Another of Buffetts business stratagems, to the chagrin of many corporate honchos, was his belief that executive compensation be tied to a companys performance, not its size.

The Mega-Conglomerate with a Down-Home Feel, 1990s

In the early 1990s Berkshire continued its trend of buying complementary companies and large blocks of stock: the acquisition of H.H. Brown Shoe Company; 31.2 million shares of Guinness PLC; and 82 percent of Central States Indemnity in 1991; Lowell Shoe Company for H.H. Brown, and 14.1 percent of General Dynamics Corp. in 1992. In a related though somewhat surprising move in 1991, Buffett was appointed interim chairman of Salomon Inc. (in which the company still owned stock). After serving 10 months and effecting a turnaround, Buffett was happily back at the helm of Berkshire Hathaway full-time, although both Buffett and Munger joined the board of the ailing US Air in 1992.

The following year, H.H. Brown added Dexter Shoe to its holdings, Buffett sold 10 million shares of Capital Cities/ABC, and net earnings posted a spectacular surge from 1992s $407.3 million (down from 1991s $439.9 million) to $688.1 million. In 1994, Berkshire added major stock holdings of two companies to its portfolio (4.9 percent of Gannett Co., Inc. and 8.3 percent of PNC Bank Corp.) and Buffett admitted to two expensive gaffes: a $222.5 million faux pas from unloading 10 million Cap Cities shares for $64 each when prices topped $85, and taking a $268.5 million writedown for its questionable USAir stock (both Buffett and Munger stepped down from the airlines board after a year). Though Buffett was perhaps too optimistic with USAir and a bit pessimistic about Cap Cities, neither setback made more than a tiny ripple in Berkshires bottom line.

During the mid-1990s Berkshire Hathaway imperceptibly changed course from a strategic long-term investment conglomerate to one still very much interested in investing but leaning more heavily towards acquiring and actually operating these investment opportunities. As early as 1993 in its annual solicitation for attractive acquisitions, Berkshire had raised the stakes by including the statement We would be likely to make an acquisition in the $2-3 billion range. By 1995, after the company acquired Helzbergs Diamond Shops and R.C. Willey Home Furnishings through stock swaps, the stakes had risen furtherup to the $3-5 billion range. Meanwhile, as Berkshires permanent four (Capital Cities/ABC, Coca-Cola, GEICO, and Washington Post) lost a hint of their luster in 1995, the retailing segment more than offset this slip with Borsheims, Kirby, Nebraska Furniture Mart, and Scott Fetzer (which posted exceptional numbers for the entire decade) exceeding expectations.

Late in 1995 Berkshire began the process of taking GEICO, the seventh largest auto insurer in the nation, private. Buffetts long history (45 years) with GEICO came full circleafter years of mentoring from Ben Graham and Lorimer Davidson, 43 years after selling his original 350 shares, and 15 years since Berkshire paid $45.7 million for a 33.3 percent stake of GEICO (which grew to 50 percent in the ensuing years)the company spent $2.3 billion to make GEICO its own. With the GEICO deal completed in January 1996, Berkshire Hathaways insurance segment mushroomed in both float and potential earnings, becoming more stalwart as the companys core segment. Number-wise, Berkshire finished 1995 with $29.9 billion in assets, a good-sized leap from the previous years $21.3 billion, while Berkshire stock traded at $36,000 per share, over three-and-a-half times higher than 1992s mere $10,000 a share.

News in 1996 was the planned issuance of $100 million in new Class B stock (the companys original shares were now designated Class A stock), valued at one-thirtieth the price of its predecessor. The recapitalization was done in part, Buffett explained in the 1995 annual report, to discourage brokers from marketing unit trusts and seducing clients with the Berkshire name. Since most small investors found Berkshires per share cost prohibitive, Buffett was attempting to make the companys stock available at a lower price without going through expense-laden unit trusts pretending to be Berkshire clones. Yet what folks needed to remember, according to Buffett, was not book value, but intrinsic value. By measuring intrinsic value, an economic indicator rather than an accounting concept, investors had a better handle on worth and whether or not something was a good long-term risk. In these terms, Buffett hoped to double Berkshires per-share intrinsic value (of Class A stock) every five years, which was still a rather daunting task. Yet if anyone could do it, it was Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, and Berkshire Hathaway.

As no one foretold the riches Berkshire had gained in just the last 10 years, few would hazard a guess of where the company would be by the year 2000. In this case, however, saying the sky was the limit would not be portentous. As for Chairman Buffetts future, when asked by a Harvard Business School student when he planned to retire, Buffett quipped About five to ten years after I die. Such was the singular spirit and humor of the manperhaps the worlds most celebrated and successful businessman and investorrunning Berkshire Hathaway.

Principal Subsidiaries

BHR; Berskhire Hathaway Credit Corporation; Berkshire Hathaway Life Insurance Co.; Blue Chip Stamps; Borsheims; H.H. Brown Shoe Co.; Buffalo News; Campbell Haufeld; Carefree; Dexter Shoe Companies; Fechheimer Bros. Co.; France; Halex; Helzbergs Diamond Shops; K & W Products; Menem; Mrs. Bs Clearance and Factory Outlet Warehouse; Nebraska Furniture Mart; Northland; Powerwinch; Precision Steel Products; Quikut; ScottCare; Scott Fetzer Company; Scott Fetzer Financial Group; Scot Labs; Stahl; Sees Candies; Wayne; Wesco Financial; Western Enterprises; Western Plastics; R.C. Willey Home Furnishings; and World Book; Columbia Insurance Co.; Continental Divide Insurance Co.; Cornhusker Casualty Co.; Cypress Insurance Co.; Kansas Fire & Casualty Co.; National Indemnity Co.; National Indemnity Co. of Florida; National Indemnity Co. of Minnesota; National Fire & Marine Insurance Co.; National Liability & Fire Insurance Co.; Redwood Fire & Casualty Co.; Wesco Financial Corp.

Further Reading

Collins, Linda, J., Berkshires Buffett Sees More Competition Ahead, Business Insurance, May 7, 1990, p. 67.

Grant, Linda, The $4 Billion Regular Guy, Los Angeles Times, April 7, 1991, p. 36.

Hagstrom, Robert G., Jr., The Warren Buffett Way: Investment Strategies of the Worlds Greatest Investor, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1994.

Kilpatrick, Andrew, Warren Buffett: The Good Guy of Wall Street, New York: Donald I. Fine, 1992.

Kilpatrick, Andy, Of Permanent Value: The Story of Warren Buffett, Birmingham, Alabama: Andy Kilpatrick Publishing Empire, 1994.

Laing, Jonathan R., The Collector: Investor Who Piled Up $100 Million in the 60s Piles Up Firms Today, The Wall Street Journal, March 31, 1977.

Loomis, Carol J., The Inside Story of Warren Buffett, Fortune, April 11, 1988.

Lowenstein, Roger, Warren Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist, New York: Random House, 1995.

Sosnoff, Martin, Larry the Tortoise, Warren the Hare, Forbes, January 27, 1997.

Trudy Ring

updated by Taryn Benbow-Pfalzgraf

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Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

1440 Kiewit Plaza
Omaha, Nebraska 68131
U.S.A.
(402) 346-1400
Fax: (402) 346-3375

Public Company
Incorporated: 1889 as Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company
Employees: 20,000
Assets: $9.46 billion
Stock Exchange: New York

Berkshire Hathaway and its subsidiaries are involved in several different businesses, the most significant of which is property and casualty insurance and reinsurance. It conducts this business nationwide through 12 subsidiaries, headed by National Indemnity Company of Omaha. Other businesses of Berkshire Hathaway include newspaper and encyclopedia publishing; manufacturing of candy, uniforms, home cleaning systems, and other products; retailing of furniture and jewelry; and operation of a savings and loan. Through the investment portfolios of its insurance subsidiaries, Berkshire Hathaway often buys significant shares of other publicly traded companies; its chairman, Warren Buffett, has become renowned for his stock-picking expertise.

Berkshire Hathaway began as a textile company. Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company was incorporated in Massachusetts in 1889. In 1929 several other New England textile manufacturers with much common ownershipValley Falls Company, Coventry Company, Greylock Mills, and Fort Dummer Millsmerged into the company, which was then renamed Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates. This operation accounted for about 25% of the fine-cotton-textile production in the United States.

The glory years of the New England textile industry were numbered. The Great Depression of the 1930s contributed to its decline, as did competition from the South and overseas. Wages were lower in the South, and southern workers had fewer alternatives than New Englanders to working in the textile mills. Also, market factors favored the coarser types of goods produced in the South. Wage differentials also were a factor in foreign competition.

The New England textile business recovered somewhat during World War II, thanks to military demand for its products, and had a similar brief recovery during the Korean conflict. Still, the industry declined again after each of these upswings.

In 1955 Berkshire Fine Spinning merged with Hathaway Manufacturing Company, a New Bedford, Massachusetts, textile maker dating back to 1888. The resulting company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., had more than 10,000 employees and nearly six million square feet of plant space, but its financial performance was dismal. Berkshire Hathaway closed its extensive operations in Adams, Massachusetts, in 1958, and the same year sold its curtain plant in Warren, Rhode Island, to Pilgrim Curtain Company. The company recovered a bit the following year; a contract negotiated between Berkshire Hathaway and its unionized employees in 1959 marked the first wage increase for New England textile workers since 1956. By late 1959 and into 1960, the company was operating profitably and had a backlog of unfilled orders. Depressed conditions returned quickly, however, and in 1961 Berkshire Hathaway cut its work week to four days at several plants and showed a loss for the year. In 1962 the company closed three plants in Rhode Island and showed even greater losses, due to depressed prices for its products.

The financial hemorrhaging continued into the mid-1960s, despite cuts in Berkshire Hathaways work force and an extensive plant modernization. In 1965 came a major change in the companys management. A partnershipBuffett Partnership, Ltd.led by investor Warren Buffett had purchased enough stock to control the company, andin a resulting disputeSeabury Stanton, a 50-year Berkshire Hathaway employee, resigned as president. Kenneth V. Chace, a vice president who had been with the company 18 years, replaced Stanton. Between this time and 1984 the companys operations were gradually moved from New Bedford to Omaha, Nebraska, where Buffett was based.

Berkshire Hathaway was profitable in 1965 and 1966, but profits fell sharply as it began its 1967 fiscal year. The company was shopping actively for acquisitions to help it diversify, and in 1967 it entered the insurance business, buying National Indemnity Company and National Fire & Marine Insurance Company for a total of $8.5 million. Acquisition of the two Omaha-based companies, which were handling automobile insurance primarily, was expected to help Berkshire Hathaway overcome the cyclical nature of the textile business.

In 1968 the company made another significant acquisition, of Sun Newspapers, a group of Omaha-area weeklies. In 1969 it bought Illinois National Bank & Trust Company of Rockford. Buffett, who became Berkshire Hathaways chairman in 1969, tended to acquire companies whose management and products he liked, rather than buying companies with the intention to make major changes. His reputation as an expert investor grew during the 1970s.

Berkshire Hathaways expansion and diversification continued at a steady pace. During 1969 and 1970 it bought a controlling interest in Blue Chip Stamps, which in turn owned Sees Candiesa chocolate maker and retailerand Wesco Financial Corporation, a savings and loan operator. The Berkshire Hathaway insurance operations grew with the formation of Cornhusker Casualty Company as part of the National Indemnity group in 1970 and Lakeland Fire and Casualty Companynow National Indemnity Company of Minnesotaalso as part of that group, in 1971. Also in 1971, Berkshire Hathaway acquired Home & Automobile Insurance Companynow National Liability and Fire Insurance Company. In 1972 Berkshire Hathaway formed Texas United Insurance Company, which it later merged into National Indemnity; in 1976 the National Fire & Marine subsidiary acquired its only wholly owned subsidiary, Redwood Fire & Casualty Insurance Company.

In 1977 Berkshire Hathaway acquired Cypress Insurance Company and formed Kansas Fire & Casualty Company. The same year, it made another move into the newspaper business by purchasing, through Blue Chip Stamps, the Buffalo Evening News.

The News was a six-day paper, published in the afternoon, competing against a morning paper with a Sunday edition, at a time when morning papers were outstripping evening papers in popularity. After the acquisition by Berkshire Hathaway, the News began publishing a Sunday edition and competed intensely with its rival, the Courier-Express, which shut down in 1982, leaving the News with a monopoly.

Berkshire Hathaway formed another insurance company, Continental Divide Insurance Company, in 1978. Through a merger with a company called Diversified Retailing Company, Berkshire Hathaway acquired two more insurers, Columbia Insurance Company and Southern Casualty Insurance Company, in 1978; Southern Casualty was later merged into National Indemnity Company. Even with Warren Buffetts growing reputation, not every company was eager to become part of Berkshire Hathaway; CSE Corporation, the holding company for Civil Service Employees Insurance Company, turned down an informal takeover offer in 1979. Because Berkshire Hathaway does not execute hostile takeovers, the acquisition was not pursued.

In 1980 Berkshire Hathaway spun off Illinois National Bank & Trust, a move required by the Bank Holding Company Act of 1969. A year later, the company sold Sun Newspapers to a Chicago publisher, Bruce Sagan.

In 1981 Berkshire Hathaway instituted an unusual corporate philanthropy program that won praise from shareholders. Buffett announced that shareholders would be able to direct a portion of the companys charitable contributions. With this policy, he hoped to foster an owner mentality among shareholders, he said at the time. Shareholders responded enthusiastically, with more than 95% of eligible shares participating in every year since the programs inception. The amount they were allowed to direct to charities of their choice was $2 a share in 1981; that figure had risen to $6 a share by 1989. Buffetts own favorite causes are population control and nuclear disarmament.

During the early 1980s the textile business continued to languish, and the insurance industry was hit by poor sales and price cutting. Berkshire Hathaways performance, however, was buoyed by the performance of its investment portfolio. Buying noncontrolling but significant blocks of stock in such companies as The Washington Post Company, Media General, and GEICO Corporation, Berkshire Hathaways stock holdings grew in value by 21% in 1981a year in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined by 9.2%. Berkshire Hathaways per-share earnings grew 23%.

In 1983 Blue Chip Stamps merged with Berkshire Hathaway; Blue Chip had been 60% owned by Berkshire. That year, Berkshire Hathaway also acquired 90% of the Nebraska Furniture Mart, a high-volume Omaha discount retailerand the largest U.S. home furnishings storethat had been founded by a Russian immigrant, Rose Blumkin. The Blumkin family retained management and the remaining ownership of the store, although Rose Blumkin left the business in 1989 as a result of an argument with her children. Buffett has been known to promote the store during annual shareholder meetings, running buses to the store after the meeting, and many out-of-town shareholders have ended up buying furniture there. Also in 1983, another insurance company, National Indemnity Company of Florida, was formed and added to the National Indemnity group.

Early in 1985, Berkshire Hathaway participated in Capital Cities Communicationss acquisition of American Broadcasting Companies. Buffett agreed to put up $517.5 million in financing for the deal and came out with an 18% share of the merged company, Capital Cities/ABC. The investment community saw the move as unusual for Buffett, who had tended to hunt for undervalued companies and stay away from highpriced deals. Buffett, however, said he saw the investment climate changing, with good prospects for companies like television networks, which have intangible assets rather than heavy investments in plants and equipment.

Also in 1985, Berkshire Hathaway decided to leave the textile business. The company had sought, but not found, a buyer for the money-losing business, and ended up liquidating the business. Buffett lauded the efforts of Kenneth Chacewho remains a Berkshire Hathaway directorand of Garry Morrison, who recently had succeeded him as president of the textile business. Buffett also had kind words for the unionized textile workers, who had made only reasonable demands in view of the companys financial position. In the end, however, Berkshire Hathaway could not compete with low-cost foreign textile producers.

Late in 1985, Berkshire Hathaway agreed to acquire Scott & Fetzer Company, a Cleveland, Ohio-based, diversified manufacturing and marketing company, for about $320 million. Scott & Fetzers products include World Book and Childcraft encyclopedias and Kirby vacuum cleaners. The sale was completed shortly after the beginning of 1986.

Berkshire Hathaways insurance business underwent several changes in 1985. In a tight market for insurance, many commercial insurance buyers needed a financially stable company to underwrite large risks, so National Indemnity, Berkshire Hathaways largest insurance company, advertised, in an insurance trade publication, its willingness to write property and casualty policies with a premium of $1 million or more. The advertisement produced an explosion in large-premium business for Berkshire Hathaway; the company wrote $184.5 million in net premiums for large accounts from August 1985 through December 1986, compared with virtually no such business previously. Also during 1985, Berkshire Hathaway reached an agreement with Firemans Fund Insurance Company which allowed it a 7% participation in Firemans Funds business. John J. Byrne, an executive of GEICOan insurer partly owned by Berkshire Hathaway had left GEICO to become chairman of Firemans Fund earlier in the year, and had arranged the deal. Another insurance move during the year was the establishment of Wesco-Financial Insurance Company by Berkshire Hathaways Wesco Financial Corporation subsidiary.

In 1986 Berkshire Hathaway acquired 84% of Fechheimer Bros. Company, a uniform manufacturer and distributor based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Fechheimers management had responded to the solicitation for acquisitions that appears in Berkshire Hathaways annual report.

During 1987, the stock market was continuing an upward rise that had begun early in the decade. Buffetts policy of buying, for Berkshire Hathaways investment portfolio, undervalued stocks and holding them long-term, paid off well. In August 1987 The Wall Street Journal reported that in the five years since the markets surge began, Berkshire Hathaways stock portfolio had grown in value by 748%, far surpassing the Dow Jones average, which increased 233.6%, and another market barometer, the Standard & Poors (S.&P.) 500 stock index, which gained 215.4%. When the stock market crashed in October 1987, wiping out the years gains, Berkshire Hathaways portfolio weathered the storm, it was up 2.8% for the period of January through November 1987, while the S.&P. 500 declined 2.5%.

Just before the crash, Berkshire Hathaway had bought $700 million worth of preferred stock, convertible to a 12% common stake, in Salomon Inc., a Wall Street investment firm whose fortunes were closely tied to the market. Even after the crash, however, Buffett expressed confidence in Salomons management and his conviction that the investment would prove valuable.

Another major event of 1988 was the listing of Berkshire Hathaways stock on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock had traded in the over-the-counter market previously. The move was designed to reduce transaction costs for shareholders. Berkshire Hathaway became the highest-priced stock on the exchange, at about $4,300 a share, up from $12 a share when Buffett bought the company. The price later ran up to more than $8,000 a share; a stock split could reduce the price, but would also encourage more frequent trading something that Buffett would rather not encourage, preferring shareholders to be in for the long haul. Buffett himself owns 45% of the companys shares, with a net worth of about $4 billion.

Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway have themselves proven to be long-term shareholders in other companies, leading some to see Buffett as a protector against hostile takeovers. During 1989, his company bought significant shares of The Gillette Company, USAir Group, and Champion International Corporation, with all the purchases widely interpreted as defenses against takeovers. Another major purchase was 6.3% of Coca-Cola Company, making Berkshire Hathaway Cokes second-largest shareholder.

In 1989 Berkshire Hathaway bought an 80% interest in Borsheims, an Omaha jewelry store run by the Friedman family, relatives of the Nebraska Furniture Marts Blumkins. The store has since joined Nebraska Furniture Mart as a stop for attendees of Berkshire Hathaways annual meetings.

Buffett has been an outspoken investor and business operator. In 1989 the Wesco Financial-owned Mutual Savings & Loan Association of Pasadena, California, pulled out of the U.S. League of Savings Institutions, which was lobbying for more lenient provisions in the federal bailout of the savings and loan industry. Buffett likened the bailout to a mugging of taxpayers. Buffett has also spoken out on the need to tie executive compensation to performance.

Principal Subsidiaries

National Indemnity Co.; Continental Divide Insurance Co.; Cornhusker Casualty Co.; Kansas Fire & Casualty Co.; National Indemnity Co. of Florida; National Indemnity Co. of Minnesota; National Fire & Marine Insurance Co.; Redwood Fire & Casualty Co.; Columbia Insurance Co.; Cypress Insurance Co.; National Liability & Fire Insurance Co.; Wesco Financial Corp. (80%); Borsheims (80%); The Buffalo News; Fechheimer Bros. Co. (84%); Kirby; Scott Fetzer Manufacturing Group; Sees Candies; World Book.

Further Reading

Laing, Jonathan R., The Collector: Investor Who Piled Up $100 Million in the 60s Piles Up Firms Today, The Wall Street Journal, March 31, 1977; Loomis, Carol J., The Inside Story of Warren Buffett, Fortune, April 11, 1988.

Trudy Ring

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