Billionaire Warren Buffett offers advice

Sunday, May 4, 2003

OMAHA, Neb. -- Chief executives of some major companies are overpaid, Warren Buffett, the investment wizard who turned Berkshire Hathaway into a multibillion-dollar holding company, told his stockholders Saturday.

And at a time of criminal investigations of corporations such as Enron, Buffett cautioned stockholders to give careful attention to company financial reports.

"If I can't understand it, the management probably doesn't want me to understand it. And if management doesn't want me to understand it, there is probably something wrong going on," he said at the company's annual stockholders' meeting, which he has called "Woodstock for Capitalists."

The meeting comes about two months after Buffett filed the company's own annual report, which said earnings per share for the period ended Dec. 31, 2002, were up 436 percent to $2,795 from $521 per share in 2001.

"I really think we've been in a recession now for over two years," Buffett said, but he said the recession has not been a major one.

Asked to comment on the compensation given to chief executives, Buffett said the amounts paid have been much too high. He also said stock options offered by many companies are unfair because they can compensate poor executives during good years and can hurt good leaders during bad years.

When Berkshire purchased insurance company General Re, it inherited a stock option system that had General Re executives benefiting from the wider success at Berkshire -- even as General Re struggled, Buffett said.

"That's not an indictment of General Re, but an analysis of an option system that's like a lottery ticket," he said.

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