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Greg Abel tapped as Buffett's successor at Berkshire Hathaway
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For those who closely follow Berkshire Hathaway, Saturday’s shareholders meeting held a clue as to who may one day succeed Warren Buffett as chief executive.

“Greg will keep the culture,” vice chairman Charlie Munger said at one point during the Q&A session, a reference to Berkshire executive Greg Abel.

And now Buffett has confirmed it. Whenever the 90-year-old does step down as CEO, he will be succeeded by Abel.

MATT MILLER/THE WORLD-HERALD 

Abel

“The directors are in agreement that if something were to happen to me tonight, it would be Greg who’d take over tomorrow morning,” Buffett told Becky Quick, the CNBC financial journalist who moderated the Q&A on Saturday.

Buffett for years has said the board knows who it would choose to succeed him. And it has been speculated since Abel and Ajit Jain were named Berkshire vice chairmen in 2018 that one of the two would succeed him. Buffett tabbed Abel to oversee Berkshire’s non-insurance operations while Jain oversees insurance.

Buffett praised both Abel and Jain, and said the age of the two men was a deciding factor for Berkshire’s board. Abel, who will turn 59 next month, is about 10 years younger than Jain.

“They’re both wonderful guys,” Buffett said. “The likelihood of someone having a 20-year runway, though, makes a real difference.”

Buffett added: “If, heaven forbid, anything happened to Greg tonight, then it would be Ajit.”

Buffett said Munger’s slip was just an acknowledgment of what the board has known for some time.

“We’ve always at Berkshire had basically a unanimous agreement as to who should take over the next day,” Buffett said. “The world’s paying more attention now.”

When Abel and Jain were named Berkshire vice chairmen in early 2018, it took from Buffett’s plate the job of overseeing Berkshire’s wide-ranging portfolio of operating companies and freed Buffett and Munger to focus their attention on investing.

James Shanahan, an analyst who rates Berkshire stock for Edward Jones, said Munger’s words Saturday probably forced Buffett to confirm to Quick after the meeting in California that Abel is his successor. Given how vague Buffett has been about succession, the disclosure was likely a reluctant one, Shanahan said.

“Still, Abel’s coronation is not exactly a surprise,” said Shanahan, citing Abel’s previous promotion to vice chair. “I also feel that most analysts and investors at least had Abel on the short list, if they hadn’t already anticipated his appointment to the role.”

Even after Abel assumes the CEO role, Shanahan said, it’s likely that Abel will remain responsible for operations and capital management and that others within Berkshire will take the lead on investments.

Shanahan thinks that the choice is a good one.

“We have a great deal of comfort with the future leadership of the company,” he said.

Overall, the stock market seemed to react positively to Buffett’s disclosure. Berkshire Class A shares closed at $420,000 on Monday, up almost 2% from Friday’s closing price of $412,500.

The fact that there was no wild swing either way likely reflects the longtime belief that either Abel or Jain would succeed Buffett. And Buffett also obviously gave no indication that he was ready to step down.

While Buffett currently holds the positions of both CEO and chairman, it seems unlikely based on Buffett’s past statements that Abel would take both roles.

During succession talk in the 2012 annual meeting, Buffett said he expected that his oldest son, Howard, would become a non-executive chairman of the board — a way to help preserve the company’s culture after Buffett is gone. The 66-year-old Howard Buffett has served on Berkshire’s board for almost three decades.

Buffett has long praised Abel, a Canadian native who rose through the ranks of Berkshire’s energy division.

He grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, where he acquired a lifelong love of hockey. As an adult, he played in amateur hockey leagues as he moved into his career in accounting and business management.

He earned a degree in commerce from the University of Alberta and worked as an accountant in Canada and later at PricewaterhouseCoopers in San Francisco before moving in 1992 to CalEnergy, a California utility that is part of Berkshire’s energy division.

In 1996, CalEnergy acquired an electric utility in the United Kingdom and sent Abel to run it. He later moved to Des Moines, Berkshire’s energy division headquarters. Abel became president in 1998, CEO in 2008 and chairman in 2011, succeeding David Sokol.

Abel significantly grew the division and particularly expanded its portfolio of renewables.

As far back as 2002, Buffett praised Abel’s skills, calling him a “deal-maker.” Later, he began calling on him during the company’s annual meeting to answer questions about energy issues.

During the pandemic-altered meeting last year, Buffett largely took the stage alone. But Abel was also present, and Buffett deferred to him more than usual to answer questions related to Berkshire’s operations.

Abel also expressed his belief that the culture of Berkshire would remain after Buffett steps aside.

“Without Warren and Charlie at the helm, I don’t see the culture of Berkshire changing,” Abel said. “A large part of that is having the business acumen to understand the transaction, the economic prospects and then the ability to act quickly.”

During Saturday’s meeting, both Abel and Jain were on the stage with Buffett and Munger. Buffett especially called on Abel when questions were raised about Berkshire’s commitment to dealing with global climate change. Abel described how Berkshire has been a leader among utilities in expanding its renewable operations and endorsing global targets for reduced emissions.

Abel lived in Omaha in the 1990s while in a different role at Berkshire, in a Dundee home just blocks down Farnam Street from Buffett’s. Coincidentally, Howard Buffett later bought that home, not knowing that it had once been owned by Abel.

Abel now lives in Des Moines. But given Buffett’s insistence that the Fortune 500 company’s headquarters will remain in Omaha after he is gone — he has threatened to haunt from the grave any future chair deciding otherwise — it seems likely that Abel would either move to Omaha or commute and telecommute here if and when he does take over.

Of course, the question of succession is largely moot as long as Buffett remains chair and CEO, and he showed little sign of slowing down Saturday. Exhibiting his typical energy and endurance, he held the stage during the meeting for almost four hours.

Buffett’s daughter, Susie, told The World-Herald last year that people need to stop worrying about her father’s age.

“My dad is going to outlive us all, and I’m not kidding,” she said. “I’ll bet a lot of money he will get to 100.”


Photos: 30 images of Warren Buffett through the years

Local
alert
Coyotes and foxes join Omaha's annual wildlife parade
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They’re all around us, living under porches and sheds or in a nearby park or golf course.

Omaha and other cities across the region are teeming with wildlife — coyotes, red foxes, turkey, geese, cottontails, raccoons and opossums. Also raptors, which are feasting on all those bunnies.

Most of the time, we don’t even know they’re around — unless they become a nuisance.

Then spring arrives.

“We see a huge uptick in wildlife calls,” said Pam Wiese, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Humane Society. “We get called from people who see an opossum, woodchuck, etc.”

Wildlife reports peak in the spring because critter mothers are foraging night and day to feed themselves and their hungry babies. So if you see a raccoon out during the day, it doesn’t mean it’s rabid.

What is your favorite critter to see in the city?

“It’s just a female looking for extra food because she’s nursing so many young,” said Laura Stastny, executive director of Nebraska Wildlife Rehab.

Then, when baby foxes and others start to leave their nests or dens in the coming days, messages of surprise — and delight — pop up on neighborhood Facebook pages or Next Door apps across the city.

“Fox kits 6 to 7 weeks old go out of their dens,” Stastny said. “People notice because the babies are playing outside their dens.”

While no one is shocked anymore to see raccoons or opossums, foxes and coyotes are a different story. But Stastny said foxes have been in Omaha for years, and coyotes are becoming more common.

NEBRASKA WILDLIFE REHAB 

A coyote picked up on a trail cam. They’re becoming more common in cities.

There’s a fox den in Elmwood Park, an offshoot of the once multiple dens at the Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack horse barns. An active coyote den sits along the Papio Creek, right in the middle of Omaha.

Sam Wilson, the furbearer and carnivore program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, says foxes in the city should be considered almost normal. That’s not just in Omaha, but in Lincoln and other cities across Nebraska.

Wilson’s neighborhood in northeast Lincoln has many mature oak trees, which attract squirrels and other rodents. The foxes feast on the constant roadkill.

“They want to escape coyotes, so they are using urban areas,” he said. “Foxes are choosing this over a life in the country.”

In the last decade or so, coyotes have started to adapt to life in the city, too. An Omaha homeowner near 129th and Blondo Streets reported seeing one in his backyard earlier this spring. One was spotted last summer north of Marian High School near 78th Street and Military Avenue.

“They were first moving through the city along waterways to travel to new territory,” Stastny said of coyotes. “They can be found in large park areas, state recreation areas in the city or along a creek.”

NEBRASKA WILDLIFE REHAB 

Trapping and moving an animal is usually a death sentence for the animal. Another one usually will move in to take the place of the removed animal.

When people start to notice wildlife, the first inclination for many is to call the Humane Society or Nebraska Wildlife Rehab to demand that the animals be destroyed or trapped and removed.

But many of the most effective traps are not allowed in city limits, and moving trapped animals more than 100 yards is not allowed as it can be a death sentence for territorial wildlife. Often, another animal will just move in and take its place.

The best bet, Stastny said, is to leave the animal alone, remove any food sources and keep an eye on pets.

With so much wildlife, all kinds of issues can surface.

Some people have expressed frustration that Nebraska Wildlife Rehab isn’t trapping and moving the Canada geese that have been nesting on the medians of some of Omaha’s busiest streets.

People need to trust that the geese know what they are doing, Stastny said. If a nest were moved, she said, the mother would abandon it.

“Geese are looking for a place where there are not a lot of predators to nest. Those medians are defensible for them and hard to find for predators,” Stastny said. “Leave the geese alone and don’t give them food and water. That brings on predators. At four weeks after incubating, sometimes there is a little traffic issue when they lead their babies to water. Stop traffic if it’s safe to do so or call the Humane Society.”

Wild creatures are here to stay — and deserve to, Stastny said. Adults and children, she said, can learn to enjoy them if they take the proper precautions.

“We’re actually here to give people advice and talk them through ways to live in harmony with wildlife. That’s a big part of our mission,” Stastny said. “If they do call us, they do care about wildlife, but they don’t know how to proceed. We always try to help.”

Photos: Nebraska wildflowers for the garden

Health-med-fit
New COVID cases in Nebraska lowest since July; Douglas County hits vaccine milestone
  • Updated

New cases of COVID-19 in both Douglas County and Nebraska as a whole were down last week to levels seen last summer.

Meanwhile, the push to vaccinate residents continued at a steady pace — but slower than in previous months.

Douglas County Health Director Adi Pour said Monday that the county recorded 572 new cases of COVID-19 last week, 21% fewer than the week before. That takes the county back to a level seen last August as well as earlier this spring, before an uptick the week of March 20.

“We are going in the right direction,” Pour said during a pandemic briefing with Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert.

The downturn comes as Nebraska reported what appeared to be the lowest number of cases and deaths since the first full week of July, almost 10 months ago, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cases dropped to 1,300 for the week ending Saturday, down from 2,435 the week before, according to the CDC. Cases in the U.S. as a whole are also falling, down 15% for the week.

The state’s data dashboard also showed a decrease last week, with a total of 1,166 cases for the seven-day period that ended Saturday. That was down 29% from 1,653 the week before.

Meanwhile, the race to vaccinate and stay ahead of COVID-19 variants continues. The Douglas County Health Department has hit a milestone, administering more than half a million doses of vaccine. While some went into the arms of people who live outside the county, almost 430,000 were given to county residents. Some 46% of residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated, and 58% have received at least one dose.

The county is now shifting some vaccine from larger to smaller clinics, vaccinating in high schools and churches and taking walk-ins.

“We want to break down every barrier there is,” Pour said.

The ZIP codes with the largest percentage of their populations vaccinated are in Elkhorn and Bennington, and the lowest are in North and South Omaha. But Pour said those areas also have larger numbers of young people not yet eligible for vaccination.

She said the county decided to order less vaccine for this week, based on slower demand, and may choose to use up what’s already in stock next week. As of Monday morning, the Health Department potentially had 20,000 doses available. Health officials want to steward vaccine supplies carefully.

Pour said she is pleasantly surprised by how eager residents still are to get vaccinated because they want to get back to normal. “So let’s all get vaccinated, let’s get back to normal,” she said.

That differs from some rural areas where health officials are encountering hesitancy, Pour said. She noted that Douglas County was one of a handful of counties to ask state health officials for additional vaccine.

Pour said she is also looking ahead to the next milestone, noting that she has a bet with her staff about when the county will have vaccinated 50% of eligible residents. She said she is guessing May 12 or 13.

If federal regulators expand vaccination eligibility to children ages 12 to 15, as is expected soon, she said, the department will be ready. Vaccination plans then will include pediatricians’ offices, places where parents will feel more comfortable having their children vaccinated.

When asked how she felt about Omaha’s mask mandate expiring May 25, Pour said she thinks that the City Council made the right decision to not seek renewal. She said she probably would have preferred that the mandate stay in place for another month, until case trends are clearer. But given the level of vaccination, she said, relying on personal responsibility should be enough.

She said she is comfortable that if cases trend upward, the council would adopt an emergency mask ordinance.

She also said she would feel comfortable if everyone in the briefing room went unmasked, as long as all were fully vaccinated.

“I do think we need to start talking (about) what vaccination tells us and allows us to do,” she said.

Pour acknowledged a New York Times report indicating that the U.S. as a whole may never reach “herd immunity” because of hesitancy in some places. But she said another report from Israel showed a dramatic decrease in hospitalizations and deaths once that country vaccinated 50% to 55% of residents.

Douglas County recorded 11 coronavirus-related deaths in April, the lowest number since 14 were reported in April 2020. This April’s deaths tended to be younger than a year ago — more were in their 40s, 50s and 60s.

As of Monday, Nebraska had administered 1,450,275 doses of vaccine, according to the state’s data dashboard, with 44.7% of those 16 and older fully vaccinated.

That total was up more than 80,000 doses from the previous week’s tally. But the shots were coming at a somewhat slower rate than in previous weeks. By comparison, more than 93,000 doses were injected the week before, and more than 211,000 doses were injected the week ending April 18.

World-Herald Staff Writer Henry J. Cordes contributed to this report.


Our best Omaha staff photos of April 2021

Crime-and-courts
Problems with Fremont police DUI probe lead to plea deal, probation for ex-Dodge County attorney
  • Updated

Then-Dodge County Attorney Oliver Glass had just tried to pick up his kids for his parenting time while blitzed on alcohol.

His soon-to-be ex-wife called police after one of their kids returned from the car and told her that their dad had been drinking.

Armed with this information, Fremont police then went to Glass’ house and contacted the authorities who had been overseeing Glass’ probation for a March 2020 DUI. They ordered police to give him a preliminary breath test, which registered at .20, 2½ times the legal limit.

Glass

What did police do at that point? They waited while Glass paced, cried and placed several desperate phone calls. They even waited for him to feed his dogs.

“He was inside the house for a good half hour,” prosecutor Brenda Beadle said. Finally, the officers took him to the Fremont police station, but they didn’t make him blow into a more advanced machine that is needed in court to confirm his .20 blood-alcohol content.

After those missteps, Beadle told a judge Monday, prosecutors would have had a hard time convicting Glass of second-offense aggravated DUI. In turn, Beadle agreed to reduce Glass’ second DUI charge to a first-offense DUI. She also agreed to a defense request that the judge run the sentences for both the DUI and a probation violation simultaneously.

That essentially means Glass, who resigned as county attorney March 1, gets two DUIs for the price of one.

“The deficiencies in the police investigation made it very difficult for the prosecution in this case,” Beadle told the judge. “It would have been a very challenging case to try.”

Following the recommendation of a probation officer, visiting Sarpy County Judge Robert Wester sentenced Glass to 18 months of probation. Wester ordered Glass to serve two days in jail upfront, but even that amounted to two for the price of one. The judge told Glass that he could report to the Dodge County Jail at 7 p.m. Monday and leave at 7 a.m. Tuesday. Though that’s just 12 hours, Wester said, “it counts for two days.”

Combine that with the five days Glass already served in January, and that adds up to the minimum jail sentence for both the DUI and the probation violation. Glass could have received anywhere from a week to 60 days in jail in each case.

“I encourage you to avail yourself of the benefits that the probation period may offer,” Wester told Glass. “I don’t think it does a lot of good to put you in jail for 30 days. Then you get (out) and you continue to be a menace.”

It was a heady hearing for a former county attorney who was known for his affinity for drug court and its ability to rehabilitate down-on-their-luck defendants.

Glass has had a turbulent year, much of it self-inflicted. While county attorney, a drunken Glass badgered Iowa native Nathan Schany, the boyfriend of Glass’ estranged wife, in dozens of texts. After receiving those texts, a drunken Schany popped a friend’s Adderall, threatened suicide and ended up in a psychiatric ward for an unusually long time. He later pushed and punched Glass outside a Fremont gas station.

Federal agents began investigating Glass to determine if he had anything to do with Schany’s hospitalization or whether he had a hand in getting Schany fired from a job at a Fremont office supply company. Glass adamantly denies those accusations.

After his ex-wife reported that he drove away drunk in January, officers located Glass sitting in a rental car in the driveway of his parents’ house near the Fremont Country Club. He was crying and told officers he was on the phone with Child Protective Services, according to a sworn affidavit by Fremont Police Officer Payton Boston.

Fremont Police Sgt. John Gieselman responded to the scene. Glass begged him and Boston to “please let me just stay home and go to sleep.” Officers then went into Glass’ house while he attempted to feed his dogs. Boston wrote that Glass was swaying back and forth by the back door and had to “lean against the door to keep his balance.” Glass made several phone calls telling people he loved them, then braced himself on the counter while speaking to the sergeant, according to the affidavit. Glass also said something about being targeted by the feds.

The officers did not explain why they didn’t make Glass submit to the more thorough DUI test, as is required in court. Fremont Police Chief Jeff Elliott did not return a reporter’s call Monday.

“He was inside the house for a good half hour ... making phone calls … feeding his dogs,” Beadle said in court. “For some reason unknown to me at this time, they failed to have him do a (further) test” that could have certified his blood-alcohol content and cinched the DUI case.

Second-offense aggravated DUI — when the person’s blood-alcohol content is over .15 — would have carried a minimum 30 days in jail. Instead, Wester held out the option to send Glass to jail for four weeks in July if he isn’t complying with his probation.

Glass told the judge that he has stayed sober for 95 days, something that eluded him after his first DUI. Prosecutors were suspicious of Glass in December after he went off the road and crashed his truck and didn’t report it until the next day. In January, he failed a random breath test administered by a probation officer. Then came the second DUI.

His attorney, Clarence Mock, noted that Glass has lost a lot. After nearly 10 years in office, Glass stepped down as Dodge County attorney, effective March 1. The Nebraska Supreme Court also issued an emergency suspension of his license to practice law.

Glass said his entire focus has been on sobriety and family. He attends Alcoholics Anonymous classes six or seven times a week. He has a therapist and, he said, a great relationship with his probation officer. Wester told him to keep on the path to sobriety.

“The fact that you relapsed from the first time around is not unusual,” Wester said. “At some point in time, I change from a person who tries to facilitate help to a punisher. If I have to do that, I’m going to do that. But I’d much prefer that you get healthy.”


Notable Nebraska crime news of 2021

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