Warren Buffet often jokes to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders that if they were ever to come across him and Ajit Jain in a sinking boat and can save one person, they should “swim to Ajit”. Jain heads Berkshire’s reinsurance division and his boss wastes no opportunity to praise his loyalty, integrity and intelligence, describing him as indispensable to Berkshire. In a letter to shareholders, he wrote that soon after Jain joined Berkshire in 1986, he realised that the company had acquired “an extraordinary talent”.
Such praise for Jain only serves to shore up the speculation that he is the chosen one to fill Buffett’s shoes once the 82-year-old philanthropist and investor steps down as Berkshire’s chairman and chief executive. The International Herald Tribune, in fact, carried a story in 2006 with the headline ‘Ajit Jain has Buffett’s ear—and may have his job when he’s gone’.
Talk of Jain’s eventual ascent at Berkshire gained momentum in April when the company hired four top executives from American International Group Inc to report directly to Jain. The logic behind the hires? Once Jain moves up, the four new executives would take his place, Erik Holm wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
Born in India in 1951, Jain earned his engineering degree at IIT Kharagpur. He went on to study MBA at the Harvard Business School. Having completed the degree in 1978, he joined McKinsey & Co, only to quit his job and return to India in 1981. He then met his wife Tinku and found himself back in the US at her insistence. Former employer McKinsey promptly gave him a job but Jain left the company in 1986 for a career at Berkshire Hathaway. The rest, as they say, is marketing history.
—Ashish Kumar Sen in Washington