The Oracle of Omaha says he ‘struck gold’ when he met his Odisha- born deputy in 1986
Even as Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, issued a dire warning about artificial intelligence he was sure it would never have anything that replaces his Indian American deputy Ajit Jain.
“There won’t be anything in AI that replaces Ajit,” Buffett said during Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting on Saturday, referring to Jain who runs its insurance businesses. “It can do amazing things.”
Speaking to shareholders in Omaha, Nebraska, the 92-year-old investor icon explained that former Microsoft chairman Bill Gates had shown him some of the latest artificial intelligence efforts.
Read: Indian American Ajit Jain moves a step closer to succeed Warren Buffett (January 10, 2018)
”It can do remarkable things, but it couldn’t tell jokes,” he said. “…but, you know, things like checking all the legal opinions since the beginning of time…it can do all kinds of things.”
That, he explained leads to his fears about the technology. “And, when something can do all kinds of things, I get a little bit worried,” Buffett shared. “Because I know we won’t be able to uninvent it.”
Heaping praise on Odisha-born Jain, Buffett said he ‘struck gold’ when he met Jain on a Saturday morning in 1986. He had asked Jain what his insurance experience had been. He replied, “None,” following which Buffett recalled replying “Nobody’s perfect,” and hired him.
“That was my lucky day: Ajit actually was as perfect a choice as could have been made. Better yet, he continues to be – 35 years later,” Buffett said.
But he re-confirmed that Greg Abel will be his successor at Berkshire Hathaway and that other key executives will be decided by Abel and Jain when the time comes.
“Greg will succeed me,” Buffett said. “He will be sitting in a position where his equivalent — or something close to his equivalent, because he’s better at many things than I’ve been — he will need that substitute.”
“When the question comes, we know Ajit’s opinion on that. But Greg will probably be the one that will make the final decision,” he said.
“Ajit will give him his best advice, and I think the odds are very, very, very high that Greg would follow it. But those are not easy questions,” Buffett continued. “We don’t have that many people that can run the five largest GAAP net-worth companies and all kinds of diverse businesses.”
He added that such questions would be better decided in the future. “It would not be smart to name that decision now. … A lot can change between now and then.”
While Abel and Jain had been viewed as top contenders since they were promoted to vice chairmen in 2018, Buffett clarified that Ajit never wanted to run Berkshire.
Buffett also praised Jain for growing Berkshire Hathaway Specialty from nothing and “without costing a dime of entry.”
Last year, Buffett said much of Berkshire’s huge value creation in insurance is attributable to Berkshire’s “good luck in my 1986 hiring” of Jain.
“Ajit’s mind is an idea factory that is always looking for more lines of business he can add to his current assortment,” Buffett had said about Jain in 2013 annual report of Berkshire Hathaway.
Read: Warren Buffett Heaps Praises On Ajit Jain, Says His Hiring Was Like Striking Gold – All About IIT Kharagpur, Harvard Alumnus (May 8, 2023)
“Ajit insures risks that no one else has the desire or the capital to take on. His operation combines capacity, speed, decisiveness and, most important, brains in a manner unique in the business,” he then said.
Jain did his schooling at Stewart School, Cuttack. Jain is an alumnus of IIT-Kharagpur, and graduated in 1972 with a Btech degree in mechanical engineering.
From 1973 to 1976, Jain worked for IBM as a salesman for their data-processing operations in India. In 1978, Jain moved to the United States, where he did his MBA from Harvard University and joined McKinsey & Co.