Warren Buffett said he has been diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer, but the 81-year-old chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway Inc is giving no indication he plans on retiring any time soon.
The billionaire investing legend assured shareholders in a letter made public late on Tuesday that his condition is “not remotely life-threatening.”
The two-month radiation treatment he and his doctors plan to start in mid-July will restrict his travel, but should not otherwise affect his routine, he said.
“I feel great — as if I were in my normal excellent health and my energy level is 100 percent,” Buffett said.
Cancer experts say Buffett’s diagnosis should not be a major concern because it appears his doctors diagnosed the disease early. Still, the news will remind Berkshire investors of Buffett’s mortality and the disclosure is bound to give rise to fresh speculation about who will eventually succeed Buffett at Berkshire’s helm.
Buffett said he was diagnosed on Wednesday last week and he has received tests including a CAT scan, a bone scan and an MRI. He said the tests showed no indication of cancer elsewhere in his body.
“The chance of dying of prostate cancer for Mr Buffett in the next 10 years is probably 2 or 3 percent, so the prognosis is great,” said Ralph deVere White, director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, Davis.
Buffett is known for his no-nonsense approach to investing. He is one of the world’s richest men — his stake in Berkshire Hathaway is worth about US$44.6 billion — and in recent years he has become one of the most generous philanthropists.
He and Berkshire’s board have a succession plan in place. Berkshire plans to split Buffett’s job into three parts — chief executive, chairman and several investment managers — when the company does need to replace him.
He told shareholders in February that Berkshire’s board has chosen someone to succeed him as chief executive — someday — and he said there are two backup candidates.
None of the three has been publicly identified.
Buffett has said Berkshire has not even told the successor and backups who they are, but he has said his son Howard, a member of Berkshire’s board, would make an ideal chairman. Berkshire has hired two hedge fund managers — Todd Combs and Ted Weschler — over the past two years who Buffett says are capable of eventually running the company’s entire portfolio.
Berkshire’s insurance, railroad and utility businesses typically account for more than half of its net income. It also owns clothing, furniture, brick and jewelry firms, and has major investments in such companies as American Express Co, International Business Machines Corp, Washington Post Co and Wells Fargo & Co.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men — more than 241,000 new cases are expected to be diagnosed in the US this year. More than 90 percent are early-stage, like Buffett’s, and nearly all men with such diagnoses survive at least five years.
Berkshire’s class B shares rose US$1.09 on Tuesday to close at US$80.76. They fell US$0.95 after hours following the announcement of Buffett’s diagnosis.