Buffett successors Abel, Jain get Berkshire board seats

Jan 10 (Reuters) - Berkshire Hathaway Inc on Wednesday promoted two of its top executives, Gregory Abel and Ajit Jain, cementing their widely viewed status as potential successors to Warren Buffett as the conglomerate's chief executive.

Abel, 55, was named Berkshire's vice chairman for non-insurance business operations, and Jain, 66, was named vice chairman for insurance operations.

Both were also added to Berkshire's board, increasing the number of directors to 14 from 12.

Abel is the chairman of the company's Berkshire Hathaway Energy unit, which he joined in 1992, while Jain is executive vice president at National Indemnity Co and oversees Berkshire's reinsurance operations. He joined Berkshire in 1986.

Investors and analysts have long considered Abel and Jain the top candidates to eventually succeed Buffett, 87, as chief executive.

For now, Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, 94, will remain responsible for Berkshire's major capital allocation and investment decisions, including acquisitions.

Buffett, the world's third-richest person according to Forbes magazine, has run Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire since 1965, with Munger at his side for more than four decades.

Berkshire has more than 90 operating units including the BNSF railroad, Geico auto insurance, Dairy Queen ice cream, Fruit of the Loom underwear, See's Candies and a variety of industrial and chemical operations.

While Berkshire remains best known for insurance and reinsurance, that sector now generates only about one-fourth of operating results as the company has diversified.

Buffett has long said Berkshire's board, whose members include Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates, will be ready to install a new chief executive should he step down, die or become incapacitated.

Speculation that Abel and Jain were the top candidates grew after Munger singled them out as "world-leading" performers in a 2015 letter to Berkshire shareholders.

Buffett's investment deputies, Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, are in position to eventually succeed Buffett as Berkshire's chief investment officer, while Buffett's son Howard is expected to become Berkshire's non-executive chairman.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Aparajita Saxena in Bengaluru; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Steve Orlofsky)