Warren Buffett Takes Route of Transparency

In a statement released on April 17, Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, announced that he has been diagnosed with stage 1 prostate cancer, but that it “is not remotely life-threatening or even debilitating in any meaningful way.” As the top executive at one of the most prominent multinational conglomerates in the world, Buffett’s decision to reveal a number of details about his diagnosis presents an interesting case of transparency and how it relates to and may affect his company.

Berkshire Hathaway employs over 270,000 people in 70+ businesses worldwide, according to Reuters. It is the eighth largest public company in the world, according to Forbes. So it’s safe to say that such an announcement from the company’s chief executive would be of interest to a lot of people.

With that in mind, Buffett may have revealed his diagnosis in an effort to stay ahead of the news, and appease any potential fears that stakeholders may have had. The public statement allowed Buffett to be the main source of information and direct the coverage and conversation surrounding the diagnosis on how stage 1 prostate cancer is not a death sentence. “I feel great—as if I were in my normal excellent health—and my energy level is 100 percent,” Buffett said in the statement. 

Both the New York Times and Reuters, when reporting on the news, cited medical sources that stressed the high survival rates of men diagnosed with such a disease. Additionally, both the Times and Reuters also quoted Berkshire Hathaway shareholders who said they were not alarmed or worried by Buffett’s condition.

However, Buffett’s decision to be transparent about his diagnosis also raises the question of who will succeed him. Recently, he has indicated that a successor has been chosen, but he did not name the person, and said to CNBC that he had not even notified the successor, himself.

Berkshire Hathaway is three weeks away from an annual meeting, where more than 40,000 shareholders descend upon the company’s headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. Reuters reports that for the first time ever, this year Buffett is expected to take questions from sell-side analysts. Undoubtedly, questions about the succession plan at Berkshire Hathaway will come up. It will be interesting to see if Buffett succeeds in leading and managing that conversation as well as he had done with the news of his diagnosis.

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