Barron's (reg req): The Most Respected CEOs. (Warren)
Buffett is the ultimate example of a CEO who counts — Berkshire
Hathaway wouldn't exist without him. Some worrywarts at Barron's were
concerned about putting him on the list because of the ongoing
investigation into a potentially dubious reinsurance contract that
Berkshire's General Re unit provided to American International Group.
That deal may not have represented Berkshire's finest hour, but it in
no way diminishes Buffett's extraordinary achievement. Berkshire stock
stood at 15 when he took over 40 years ago and it's now at $87,000 a
share. That pretty much says it all.
disclosure: I am an investor in Berkshire Hathaway, and have been since
the mid-1980s. More than not, I admire Warren Buffett as a visionary
and an advocate of honest capitalism. In particular, his loud
complaints against sleazy accounting tricks and excessive pay for
unaccountable executives who use those tricks to help pad insiders'
pockets have been a welcome part of the conversation we all need to
have about the nature and future of a system that, while imperfect, is
plainly the best of the alternatives.
That's also why I get frustrated by the anything-goes attitude on Wall
Street and in Washington and so many other places where cynical people
ignore the context in which capitalism operates. Corporations are
creatures of the state, not God, and they exist in a real world where
employees, suppliers and communities should be, but frequently are not,
given sufficient consideration next to pursuit of profits. A
spectacular return on investment does not pretty much say it all. It
tells only part of the story.
If it turns out that Berkshire Hathaway has played a significant role
in the growing insurance scandal, that would be more than a passing
thought in my book. It would be an unfortunate contribution to the
unethical culture that has become such a dismal hallmark of American
business in recent years.
Buffett has earned the benefit of the doubt. But he has some questions
I hope Barron's — like its sister publication, the Wall Street
Journal, a newspaper of depth and influence — will be asking those
questions. [Dan Gillmor on Grassroots Journalism, Etc.]