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The next Buffett?

When no less a person than Warren Buffett -- ranked third-richest person in the world by Forbes -- says he talks to Ajit Jain every day and adds it is how he gets smarter, you get a sense of the man's worth.

It is a different matter that Jain, widely projected by the media as a possible successor to Buffett, doesn't want to comment. When a Bloomberg News reporter approached him last year, he apparently said in a self-deprecating response,
Investment banker Frank Betz recalls a stockholder's event where Jain was playing bridge. He remembered every card played, even as he chatted lightly with other players. Testimony, it seems, to his awesome memory.
Photo: Jay Mandal /
On Assignment
'It is undoubtedly the case that any disappointment I have caused you by declining the interview is far less than the disappointment I would have caused you by granting it.'

Although he has distanced himself from the succession issue, media and investor speculation has not stopped about Jain, president of a Berkshire Hathaway division that provides reinsurance. Although a few other names as Buffett's successor have surfaced from time to time, it is Jain's that has topped the list longest.

Born in Orissa, Jain -- pictured here with Senator Hillary Clinton -- holds a bachelor's degree in engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, and a master's in business administration from Harvard. He worked for IBM in India from 1973 to 1976 before moving to the US. He joined Berkshire in 1986 after leaving McKinsey. Although he had little experience in the industry, he soon became a specialist in what is known as mega-catastrophe insurance coverage.

'He has probably personally overseen a commitment of more capital for Berkshire than anyone else over a long period time. For one whose judgment is known to Warren over years of dialogue, he certainly has to be a person very high up in the running,' Bloomberg News once quoted investment analyst Tom Russo as saying. According to Ronojoy Dutta, former president, United Airlines, and friend and classmate of Jain's at IIT, the latter showed Buffett-like qualities even during their student days. 'He has an uncanny ability to cut to the core of the matter,' Dutta was quoted saying.

'I have 100 percent confidence in what Ajit does,' Buffett once said during Berkshire Hathaway's annual shareholders meeting. 'There is nobody at Berkshire Hathaway I would have more confidence in.'