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Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.A and NYSE: BRK.B) is a conglomerate holding company headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, United States, that oversees and manages a number of subsidiary companies. The company averaged an annual growth in book value of 20.3% to its shareholders for the last 44 years, while employing large amounts of capital, and minimal debt.[1] Berkshire Hathaway stock produced a total return of 76% from 2000-2010 versus a negative 11.3% return for the S&P 500[3].

Warren Buffett is the company's chairman and CEO. Buffett has used the "float" provided by Berkshire Hathaway's insurance operations (a policyholder's money which it holds temporarily until claims are paid out) to finance his investments. In the early part of his career at Berkshire, he focused on long-term investments in publicly quoted stocks, but more recently he has turned to buying whole companies. Berkshire now owns a diverse range of businesses including railroads, candy production, retail, home furnishings, encyclopedias, vacuum cleaners, jewelry sales; newspaper publishing; manufacture and distribution of uniforms; as well as several regional electric and gas utilities.
Berkshire Hathaway traces its roots to a textile manufacturing company established by Oliver Chace in 1839 as the Valley Falls Company in Valley Falls, Rhode Island. Chace had previously worked for Samuel Slater, the founder of the first successful textile mill in America. Chace founded his first textile mill in 1806. In 1929 the Valley Falls Company merged with the Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company established in 1889, in Adams, Massachusetts. The combined company was known as Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates.[2]

In 1955 Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates merged with the Hathaway Manufacturing Company which was founded in 1888 in New Bedford, Massachusetts by Horatio Hathaway. Hathaway was successful in its first decades, but it suffered during a general decline in the textile industry after World War I. At this time, Hathaway was run by Seabury Stanton, whose investment efforts were rewarded with renewed profitability after the Depression. After the merger Berkshire Hathaway had 15 plants employing over 12,000 workers with over $120 million in revenue and was headquartered in New Bedford, Massachusetts. However, seven of those locations were closed by the end of the decade, accompanied by large layoffs.

In 1962, Warren Buffett began buying stock in Berkshire Hathaway. After some clashes with the Stanton family, he bought up enough shares to change the management and soon controlled the company.

Buffett initially maintained Berkshire's core business of textiles, but by 1967, he was expanding into the insurance industry and other investments. Berkshire first ventured into the insurance business with the purchase of National Indemnity Company. In the late 1970s, Berkshire acquired an equity stake in the Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO), which forms the core of its insurance operations today (and is a major source of capital for Berkshire Hathaway's other investments). In 1985, the last textile operations (Hathaway's historic core) were shut down.
Berkshire's class A shares sold for $99,200 as of December 31, 2009 (2009 -12-31)[update], making them the highest-priced shares on the New York Stock Exchange, in part because they have never had a stock split and never paid a dividend, retaining corporate earnings on its balance sheet in a manner that is impermissible for private investors and mutual funds. Shares closed over $100,000 for the first time on October 23, 2006 and closed at an all-time high of $150,000 on December 13, 2007. Despite its size, Berkshire has not been included in broad stock market indices such as the S&P 500 due to insufficient liquidity in its shares; however, following a 50-to-1 split of Berkshire's class B shares in January 2010, Standard and Poor's announced that Berkshire would replace Burlington Northern in the S&P 500, on a date to be announced.[3]

Berkshire's CEO, Warren Buffett, is respected for his investment prowess and his deep understanding of a wide spectrum of businesses. His annual chairman letters are read and quoted widely. Barron's Magazine named Berkshire the most respected company in the world in 2007 based on a survey of American money managers.[4]

As of 2005[update], Buffett owned 38% of Berkshire Hathaway. Berkshire's vice-chairman, Charlie Munger, also holds a stake big enough to make him a billionaire, and early investments in Berkshire by David Gottesman and Franklin Otis Booth resulted in their becoming billionaires as well. Bill Gates' Cascade Investments LLC is the second largest shareholder of Berkshire and owns more than 5% of class B shares.

Berkshire Hathaway is notable in that it has never split its shares, which not only contributed to their high per-share price but also significantly reduced the liquidity of the stock. This refusal to split the stock reflects the management's desire to attract long-term investors as opposed to short-term speculators. However, Berkshire Hathaway has created a Class B stock, with a per-share value originally kept (by specific management rules) close to 1⁄30 of that of the original shares (now Class A) and 1⁄200 of the per-share voting rights, and after the January 2010 split, at 1⁄1,500 the price and 1⁄10,000 the voting rights of the Class-A shares. Holders of class A stock are allowed to convert their stock to Class B, though not vice versa. Buffett was reluctant to create the class B shares, but did so to thwart the creation of unit trusts that would have marketed themselves as Berkshire look-alikes. As Buffett said in his 1995 shareholder letter: "The unit trusts that have recently surfaced fly in the face of these goals. They would be sold by brokers working for big commissions, would impose other burdensome costs on their shareholders, and would be marketed en masse to unsophisticated buyers, apt to be seduced by our past record and beguiled by the publicity Berkshire and I have received in recent years. The sure outcome: a multitude of investors destined to be disappointed."

Berkshire's annual shareholders' meetings, taking place in the Qwest Center in Omaha, Nebraska, are routinely visited by 20,000 people.[5] The 2007 meeting had an attendance of approximately 27,000. The meetings, nicknamed "Woodstock for Capitalists", are considered Omaha's largest annual event along with the baseball College World Series.[6] Known for their humor and light-heartedness, the meetings typically start with a movie made for Berkshire shareholders. The 2004 movie featured Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role of "The Warrenator" who travels through time to stop Buffett and Munger's attempt to save the world from a "mega" corporation formed by Microsoft-Starbucks-Wal-Mart. Schwarzenegger is later shown arguing in a gym with Buffett regarding Proposition 13.[7] The 2006 movie depicted actresses Jamie Lee Curtis and Nicollette Sheridan lusting after Munger.[8] The meeting, scheduled to last six hours, is an opportunity for investors to ask Buffett questions.

The salary for the CEO is US$100,000 per year with no stock options, which is among the lowest salaries[9] for CEOs of large companies in the United States.[10]
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