After Steve Jobs, Buffett shows how to handle a cancer scare
Famed investor has been candid about cancer scare, but pressure over his succession grows
THE ANNOUNCEMENT that legendary US investor Warren Buffett is suffering from prostate cancer has prompted some concern over the future of his financial juggernaut Berkshire Hathaway.
Although the news prompted a drop in Berkshire shares, most commentators have been impressed by Buffett's candour and have contrasted his open approach to his illness to that of fellow business icon Steve Jobs, who refused to divulge details of the cancer that killed him last year.
Writing for Forbes, 'reputation strategist' Davia Temin said of Buffett: "He has acted quickly, thoroughly and with consummate responsibility to his shareholders and investment partners in announcing his newly diagnosed prostate cancer. And in doing so, he has given us all a lesson in corporate crisis management, even when the issue is personal, tough, and unresolved."
However, he may have had little choice. Bloomberg Businessweek says that Buffett, despite his "folksy" image, is a private man and wonders why he has been so frank about his illness. "The answer, most likely, is to quash rumours that something more serious is going on," it states.
"His disclosure is less an acknowledgement of his mortality than of his celebrity. As an investor whose every move is analysed by people around the planet, the likelihood that Buffett could undergo two months of radiation therapy without anyone noticing is remote, if not impossible."
Several observers point out that 80 per cent of 80-year-olds have some form of cancer in the prostate, and that Buffett is likely to die with the disease rather than of it.
But that does not mean all is well, despite Buffett's insistence that he will recover. "Any evidence of poor health in an 81-year-old man is cause for concern, especially if you're a stakeholder who is dubious of the company's succession plan or any other executive's ability to fill Buffett's formidable shoes," says Time magazine.
And that highlights the main problem for Buffett and Berkshire. The issue of the illness has been tackled openly and honestly, but there is still confusion about the long-term future of his company.
The LA Times notes that the "announcement is likely to ramp up speculation over who Buffett has picked to be his eventual successor".
Reuters Breakingviews columnist Jeffrey Goldfarb says Buffett's candour is in "refreshing contrast" to that of Jobs, but adds: "Unfortunately, Buffett is shrouding his succession plan in the same sort of mystery the Apple boss did.
"Buffett expects to stick around for a while. Here's hoping it's long enough to realise he should reveal who will step into his big shoes."