Warren Watch: Eclipse day may shed some light on Berkshire's chances for acquiring Oncor – Omaha World-Herald

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Maybe it’s a coincidence, but the lights will go out in Nebraska on the same day that Hathaway Inc. may learn if it can acquire a part of Texas’ lighting system.

Yes, Aug. 21 is the date that the shadow of the moon will zip across our state, almost totally dimming the sky at Berkshire’s Omaha headquarters.

In Delaware that day, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Sontchi is to hold a hearing and may rule on Berkshire’s offer to buy Oncor Electric Delivery of Dallas.

Berkshire would pay $9 billion for 80 percent of Oncor and another $2.2 billion for the rest later on, with the sale to be completed by year’s end.

The purchase plan is in Bankruptcy Court because of the financial troubles of Oncor’s owner, Energy Future Holdings Corp. Texas utility regulators favor the deal.

At the same time, hedge fund Elliott Management Corp. is making a competing offer for Oncor. Yes, that’s the same Elliott that advocated a sale of Nebraska-based retailer Cabela’s.

Buffett’s commandments

Berkshire Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett has been known to criticize the boards of directors for paying CEOs too much, not solving problems quickly enough and ignoring shareholders when they make decisions.

Now Lawrence Cunningham, a George Washington University law professor, has compiled Buffett’s recommendations and boardroom experiences into an essay for the National Association of Corporate Directors.

The headline: “Warren Buffett’s Ten Commandments for Directors.”

My abridged version of Cunningham’s findings:

1. Pick an outstanding CEO and you’ll have fewer problems in the future.

2. Set CEO standards and evaluate performance regularly, without the CEO present.

3. Act on the owners’ behalf and think independently.

4. Replace the CEO and top managers promptly when needed and be stewards of the owners’ capital.

5. Tell other directors if there’s an issue and enlist their help if needed.

6. Reach out beyond the board to shareholders if necessary.

7. Adjust the board’s “atmosphere” if it’s stifling or unproductive.

8. Negotiate compensation on behalf of the owners rather than delegating to consultants.

9. For audit committee members, use professional auditors’ insights and skills.

10. Plan for director succession and choose successors well.

‘A fascinating game’

Rather, bridge is “the best exercise there is for the brain,” Buffett told Heath; it is neither tension-filled nor relaxing.

Players use various strategies to communicate, he said, and you have to draw inferences from what they do and say.

“You can play a hand every six or seven minutes every day for the rest of your life and you will never see the same hand,” Buffett said. “It’s a game you can enjoy when you are in your 90s, and you are seeing a different intellectual challenge every seven minutes.

“It’s a fascinating game. You are learning from every word spoken and not spoken.”

He bought his first computer, from the Nebraska Furniture Mart, to play bridge online, and still plays at least four times a week, two hours per session.

The Omaha World-Herald is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

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