March 2, 2015 / 12:09 AM / in 4 years

Buffett's utilities chief could keep the lights on at Berkshire

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Greg Abel, the 52-year-old head of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, is not unlike the company he oversees: like utilities themselves, he is reliable, hard-working – and usually in the background.

While his boss, billionaire investor Warren Buffett, has the salesmanship and flair to put his face on everything from rubber duckies to bottles of ketchup, Abel is much quieter, yet no less hardworking, say people who know him.

Those traits could serve him well should he indeed succeed the iconic Buffett, who has headed the sprawling Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate for 50 years. Buffett and his vice-chairman, Charlie Munger, hinted in an letter on Saturday that Abel could be next in line to take over one of the world’s biggest and most influential companies.

Abel rarely speaks about himself, but has quietly built Berkshire’s energy unit into a mini-conglomerate using many of the same skills that it would take to run Berkshire itself.

“He has been an outstanding leader and has been the driving force for many years,” said Paul Lountzis, a Berkshire investor. While Lountzis has not met Abel, “his rise and the results at Berkshire Hathaway Energy speak for themselves.”

Abel, born in Edmonton, graduated from the University of Alberta in 1984, where he studied accounting. In a 2013 video from the university honoring Abel as a distinguished alumnus that year, family and friends described him as warm and likeable, a lifelong hockey fan who often calls home to talk to his mother.

In a 2014 video, Abel accepted the so-called Ice Bucket Challenge, allowing a Berkshire Hathaway Energy employee to dump a bucket of ice water on his head to raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. As the water poured over his head, Abel flashed two thumbs up to the camera.

Through a handful of businesses, Berkshire Hathaway Energy provides power to more than 11.5 million people around the world. Abel, as chairman, chief executive and director of Berkshire Hathaway Energy and PacifiCorp, is key to keeping the lights on.

Despite that responsibility, Abel keeps a personal touch.

Larry Cunningham, author of “Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values,” remembers getting handwritten notes from Abel, including, most recently, when Abel couldn’t attend a lecture of Cunningham’s in Des Moines.

Buffett heaped praise on his lieutenant in the University of Alberta video.

“He’s a first-class human being,” Buffett said. “There’s a lot of smart people in this world but some of them do some very dumb things. He’s a smart guy who will never do a dumb thing. I’ve never heard him say anything that didn’t make sense.”

(For story on other possible successor see)

Editing by Meredith Mazzilli

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