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Berkshire Hathaway shareholders prize CEO Buffett

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By The Associated Press
Saturday, May 4, 2013, 7:57 p.m.
 

OMAHA — Before facing questions from a crowd of more than 30,000, billionaire Warren Buffett started Saturday mobbed by fans at Berkshire Hathaway's annual meeting.

Admirers held cellphones and iPads in the air as they surrounded Buffett in the meeting's 200,000-square-foot exhibit hall.

A pack of security guards formed a buffer around Buffett as he visited displays selling Berkshire's See's Candy, explaining BNSF railroad's virtues and highlighting some of the company's other 80-plus subsidiaries.

In remarks to shareholders, Buffett said Berkshire's board knows who it would pick as CEO if he died tonight, but the top candidates could change over time. The 82-year-old has no plans to retire.

He spends plenty of time thinking about the future of his company after he is gone, he said. He told shareholders that he's confident the conglomerate will continue to thrive.

The leaders of Berkshire's roughly 80 subsidiaries and all the operating companies would reject a leader who tried to change the way the company works, he said.

Buffett leads Berkshire with a staff of two dozen at its headquarters, and he largely lets the CEOs of all its subsidiaries make all the operating decisions.

Shareholders again rejected a proposal to require the company's utilities to set goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Berkshire owns several utilities through its MidAmerican Energy Holdings subsidiary.

Backers of the measure urged Berkshire officials to take a leading role in reducing utility dependence on coal.

Buffett and the board oppose the idea of setting goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions because it remains unclear how those emissions will be regulated.

Buffett and the board control 39 percent of the voting power. The proposal gained only 57,569 votes. Berkshire said 598,162 votes were cast against it.

Shareholders rejected a similar measure in 2011.

The Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting began humbly in 1982 with a crowd of 15 in an insurance company cafeteria. It has grown steadily just as the company's stock price rose to become the most expensive in the nation, reaching $162,904 for a Class A share on Friday.

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