Buffett Watch

Possible Buffett successor drops CEO role at BNSF

Matthew 'Matt' Rose
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

In what appears to be a unsurprising transition, Matt Rose will become executive chairman of BNSF Railway and drop his CEO role.

President and Chief Operating Officer Carl Ice, who has been with the Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary for 34 years, will become CEO on Jan. 1, 2014.

Rose's move away from day-to-day duties could increase speculation among Buffett watchers that he is a step closer to becoming Warren Buffett's successor as Berkshire's CEO.

The news release, however, makes it sound like Rose will be at BNSF for years to come.

It says that "over the next decade, Rose will continue to work with BNSF's leadership on the activities supporting BNSF's strategic positioning for growth and investment, including long-term organizational planning, market positioning and public policy."

Buffett is quoted as saying the "combination of Matt's and Carl's talents is the perfect arrangement for the future."

Carl Ice
Source: BNSF

Berkshire announced its $26 billion purchase of BNSF in late 2009. Buffett called it a "bet on the country."

Buffett's endorsement of Rose's leadership and the railroad's strong performance for Berkshire have put him on the short listof people who could become CEO when Buffett eventually leaves that job, along with reinsurance chief Ajit Jain, GEICO's Tony Nicely and MidAmerican Energy's Greg Abel.

While Buffett has repeatedly indicated he has no plans to step down anytime soon, in May he told Berkshire shareholders that he and the board are "solidly in agreement" on who would become CEO if he suddenly died or became unable to do the job.

He's also said there are three internal candidates to be the next CEO, all of them men.

By CNBC's Alex Crippen. Follow him on Twitter: @alexcrippen