Warren Buffett will retire from the Washington Post board of directors after what he calls a "great 37 years."
But he tells the Wall Street Journal that Berkshire will "keep every share of stock we have" in the company. "I would never sell a share of the Post," he says. It has "all kinds of meaning to me."
In its most recent SEC portfolio filing, Berkshire says that as of December 31, 2010, it held 1,727,765 shares. At the current stock price of $426.02, they're worth $736 million.
Berkshire is, by a large margin, the biggest institutional holderof Washington Post shares, with a 20.5 percent stake.
In a news release today, distributed by Berkshire-owned Business Wire (of course), the Post says the 80-year-old Buffett won't stand for re-election to the board, but will serve through the expiration of his current term in May.
Buffett tells the Journal, "A few years ago I wanted to get off all boards ... This was the one I hated to get off." He's been on 19 boards at one point or another.
Now, however, Buffett says he needs to focus on his own company. "As we get more complicated, I find more things taking up my time related to Berkshire."
There's no lack of mutual affection in today's news release.
Buffett is quoted as saying, "I've loved The Washington Post since I delivered almost 500,000 copies of it as a youth in Washington. That love for the product, the Company and the management continues unabated today. I will always be available to help management in any way they request. It’s been a great 37 years."
Post Chairman and CEO Donald Graham is ready to take him up on the offer, saying "calls to the 402 area code (Omaha) will not be decreasing." He calls Buffett the "best adviser any company could have had."
Graham does see one change, joking that Buffett's "pervasive" influence had reached to the menu at board lunches. "Only our cholesterol levels will be better going forward."
Buffett jokes to the Journal that Graham will still get the same advice, but "he's going to save the $75,000 directors' fee."
Buffett has been on the Post board since 1974, just after Berkshire began purchasing its large stake in the company. He did take an 8-year break starting in the mid-1980s, while he was a Capital Cities director.
Buffett had a long-running friendship with Katherine Graham, Donald Graham's mother, starting in the 70s when she was publisher of the Post. Graham died in 2001.
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