Warren Buffett name-checked a key executive in a letter to investors and said if ‘you could swap me for him, don’t hesitate’

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REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, had high praise for his colleague Ajit Jain, who handles Berkshire’s insurance operations, in his latest letter to shareholders.

“Ajit has created tens of billions of value for Berkshire shareholders,” Buffett wrote. “If there were ever to be another Ajit and you could swap me for him, don’t hesitate.”

Buffett’s admiration of Jain’s business acumen is nothing new.

“From a standing start in 1985, Ajit has created an insurance business with float of $37 billion and a large cumulative underwriting profit, a feat no other insurance CEO has come close to matching,” Buffett wrote in his 2013 shareholder letter.

In the 2014 shareholder letter, Buffett wrote that Jain and Greg Abel, CEO of Berkshire’s energy division, were in some ways better business executives than him.

“Ajit Jain and Greg Abel are proven performers who would probably be under-described as ‘world-class,'” he wrote. “In some important ways, each is a better business executive than Buffett.”

Whitney Tilson, the founder of the hedge fund Kase Capital, speculated that Buffett’s praise for Jain in his most recent letter could be reason to believe Jain would be Buffett’s likely successor at Berkshire.

“Buffett almost always sings Ajit Jain’s praises (rightly so!),” Tilson wrote. “But this year he was particularly effusive – perhaps the best indicator yet that Ajit is his successor?”

Jain – whose mind Buffett said is an “idea factory” – has for some time been considered a leading candidate to become Berkshire’s next chairman, although Buffett said in 2015 that Jain was “not looking to take my job.”

Jain, originally from Odisha, India, met Buffett in 1985. Buffett later said: “A hugely important event in Berkshire’s history occurred on a Saturday in 1985. Ajit Jain came into our office in Omaha – and I immediately knew we had found a superstar.”

Jain graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology in 1972 with a degree in mechanical engineering. After losing his job as a salesman at IBM, which was closing its India operations, he moved to the US in the late 1970s to earn an MBA from Harvard Business School.