Buffett compared Cook to legendary Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, noting that while Jobs was a tech and business visionary, Cook has had a huge impact on the company’s climb to a $2 trillion-plus market valuation.
Berkshire Hathaway has traditionally stayed away from high-flying tech firms; most of its profits come from railroads, insurance, utilities and energy businesses. But in 2016 Buffett began buying Apple shares. At present Berkshire owns about 5.3% Apple, after investing about $36 billion.
“He’s handled that business so well,” Buffett said of Cook, who took the reins of Apple after Jobs’ death in 2011. “He couldn’t do what Steve Jobs could do in terms of creation, but Steve Jobs couldn’t do what Tim Cook has done in many respects.”
Berkshire’s annual shareholder’s gathering is traditionally held as a festive affair (dubbed “Woodstock for capitalists”) in Omaha, Neb., Berkshire’s home base. But pandemic conditions forced this year’s meeting to be held in virtual form, with Buffett, Munger and other Berkshire bigwigs at a dias addressing shareholders on a live stream originating from Los Angeles. CNBC anchor Becky Quick moderated the session, fielding questions submitted from shareholders.
When asked to comment on Berkshire’s investment in Apple, Buffett enthused about Cook’s handling of the company that has reached unthinkable valuations.
Buffett called Cook “one of the best managers in the world.” He gushed about the role that Apple iPhones and other devices play in the lives of consumers. “The product is an incredible product,” he said.
Berkshire has also invested in Amazon in recent years. Berkshire vice chairman Charlie Munger, who has been Buffett’s business partner for more than 60 years, expressed concern that the anti-trust regulatory push afoot in the U.S. and Europe could retard the natural growth of the tech behemoths. Neither Buffett or Munger expressed concern that the giants of Silicon Valley have gotten too big, as regulators have asked of late.
“They’re a credit to the market, and a credit to our civilization,” Munger said. “They’re huge and that’s good for us.”
Buffett added, “The Googles and the Apples — they are incredible companies in terms of what they earn on capital. They gush out more money.”
Buffett admitted he sold some of Berkshire’s Apple holdings amid the turbulence of last year. He noted that Munger gave him a hard time about that as a bad call, as was the move to dump some shares in Costco.
“Charlie in his usual low-key way let me know he thought it was a mistake too,” Buffett said.
(Pictured: Warren Buffett, Tim Cook)