Buffett shows mercy to next generation


Warren Buffett has missed a branding trick – maybe.

The man known as the Oracle of Omaha for his investing skills is to start branding some of the businesses he owns with the name of Berkshire Hathaway, his investment vehicle. As we wrotehere he will re-name the Van Tuyl chain of car dealerships – America’s fifth biggest – with the moniker.

It follows the re-naming of several other companies – you can now spend your money with Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Berkshire Hathaway Speciality Insurance and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.

This seems odd. The name Buffett is far better known than Berkshire Hathaway which, incidentally, was the name of a mill that he bought in 1962 and became a holding company for his assets. A market research firm says that 75% of Americans are said to recognise Buffett’s name, and claims that more people aspire to be like Buffett than to be like President Obama.

So why not use brand Buffett? Perhaps because he has his eye on his successor. Buffett’s eldest son Howard is almost certain to take on a leading role at Berkshire Hathaway when his father retires, probably as chairman, a non-executive role.

Many founders believe that using their name on their business forces their children to take pride in it, and to work hard to emulate them. They seem less aware, or less concerned, that it also puts vast amounts of pressure on them.

Avoiding the Buffett name on products and services means the non-family head of the business will not be quite as much in the shadow of the business’s inimitable founder, and also that his son, and any other family members who enter the business, might have some chance of escaping comparisons that are bound to be unflattering.

Warren Buffett’s branding tactic is an act of mercy.