Berkshire Names New CEO of Giant U.S. Utility

By Nicole Friedman Features Dow Jones Newswires

Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co. said Thursday that William Fehrman will become its new chief executive, replacing a potential Warren Buffett successor who was promoted to oversee more Berkshire Hathaway Inc. companies.

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Berkshire on Wednesday promoted Greg Abel and Ajit Jain, head of its reinsurance operations, to new jobs managing the company's wide-ranging subsidiaries. That puts one of the two men in line to succeed Mr. Buffett as Berkshire's CEO. Mr. Abel was previously in charge of Berkshire Hathaway Energy.

Mr. Fehrman is taking over one of the country's biggest utilities by net income, which serves customers in 18 states, the U.K. and Canada. The Des Moines, Iowa, company also owns natural-gas pipelines and invests heavily in renewable energy in the Midwest and West.

Mr. Buffett has praised his energy subsidiary and said he wants it to keep growing. "I'd be surprised if 10 years from now, we don't have significantly more money in not only wind and solar, but probably, we'll probably own more utility systems than we own now," he told shareholders at last year's annual meeting. "It's hard to imagine a better-run operation."

Berkshire Hathaway Energy struck a deal last year to buy Texas power-transmission company Oncor, but Oncor's parent company terminated the deal in favor of a higher offer from Sempra Energy.

Mr. Fehrman, 57 years old, was previously CEO of MidAmerican Energy Co., a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy. Adam Wright was promoted to that job, the company said in a federal filing.

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Berkshire Hathaway Energy is one of Berkshire's largest subsidiaries and contributed about 9.5% of Berkshire Hathaway's earnings of $24.07 billion in 2016.

Three other Berkshire subsidiaries have gotten new CEOs in the past month. Troy Bader took over as CEO of International Dairy Queen Inc. on Jan. 1 following John Gainor's retirement. Thom Lachman became CEO of Duracell Company Inc. this month when its former CEO, Angelo Pantaleo, became president of Marmon Holdings Inc., another Berkshire business. And Oriental Trading Co. gave its acting CEO, Steve Mendlik, the permanent job after its former CEO, Sam Taylor, died in late December.

The new clarity about who is most likely to succeed Warren Buffett is starting to ripple through Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s management team.

One day after Berkshire promoted Greg Abel and Ajit Jain to new jobs managing the company's wide-ranging subsidiaries it said William Fehrman will replace Mr. Abel as chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co.

The combined moves constitute some of the most dramatic changes at the top of the Omaha conglomerate in some time.

The elevation of Mr. Abel and Mr. Jain to vice chairmen puts one of the two men in line to succeed Mr. Buffett as Berkshire's CEO, formalizing the two-man race that some shareholders have long suspected.

Mr. Fehrman is taking over one of the country's biggest utilities by net income, which serves customers in 18 states, the U.K. and Canada. The Des Moines, Iowa, company also owns natural-gas pipelines and invests heavily in renewable energy in the Midwest and West.

Mr. Buffett has praised his energy subsidiary and said he wants it to keep expanding. "I'd be surprised if 10 years from now, we don't have significantly more money in not only wind and solar, but probably, we'll probably own more utility systems than we own now," he told shareholders at last year's annual meeting. "It's hard to imagine a better-run operation."

Berkshire Hathaway Energy struck a deal last year to buy Texas power-transmission company Oncor, but Oncor's parent company terminated the deal in favor of a higher offer from Sempra Energy .

Mr. Fehrman, 57 years old, was previously CEO of MidAmerican Energy Co., a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy. Adam Wright was promoted to that job, the company said in a federal filing.

Berkshire Hathaway Energy is one of Berkshire's largest subsidiaries and contributed about 9.5% of Berkshire Hathaway's earnings of $24.07 billion in 2016.

Three other Berkshire subsidiaries have gotten new CEOs in the past month. Troy Bader took over as CEO of International Dairy Queen Inc. on Jan. 1 following John Gainor's retirement. Thom Lachman became CEO of Duracell Company Inc. this month when its former CEO, Angelo Pantaleo, became president of Marmon Holdings Inc., another Berkshire business. And Oriental Trading Co. gave its acting CEO, Steve Mendlik, the permanent job after its former CEO, Sam Taylor, died in late December.

Write to Nicole Friedman at nicole.friedman@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 11, 2018 18:17 ET (23:17 GMT)