Pilot's Founders vs. Berkshire Hathaway
Warren Buffett's reputation as a straight shooter is called into question by the Haslam family in a dispute over the valuation of their remaining 20% interest.
“Imagine the record that he’s achieved with almost no enemies. Can you name another fortune that was built where there wasn’t a significant consensus or a significant view in the world that somehow that person gets vilified. I mean, I think about watching the changing narratives around Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates or Sam Walton and Walmart. … So it’s an amazing thing for Warren to have built this fortune and still have so much of the world viewing him as this sort of kind, gentle presence and patient.”
Berkshire Hathaway has a well-deserved reputation as a friendly acquirer of family owned businesses, particularly those who wish to avoid selling their interest to private equity firms or deal with the complexities of taking their company public. Warren Buffett’s longstanding reputation for integrity is unique in American business. As Chris Davis, a member of Berkshire’s Board of Directors, mentioned in a recent podcast, Warren Buffett has remarkably few enemies for a man of his vast wealth.
I admit to being biased as Berkshire shareholder for nearly twenty-four years and a longtime admirer of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. So, I was predisposed to skepticism when I read about the Haslam family filing a lawsuit against Berkshire Hathaway alleging that the family was being treated unfairly in the valuation of their remaining 20% stake in Pilot. However, as a shareholder and analyst, it is important to take an objective look at important matters, particularly when they could have adverse effects on future capital deployment opportunities.
After presenting the basic contours of the agreement between Berkshire and the Haslam family, I will discuss the key facts based on my reading of the lawsuit along with recent statements made by Warren Buffett about the deal.
On October 3, 2017, a joint press release from Berkshire and Pilot was issued to announce Berkshire’s initial investment. On the same day, Warren Buffett and Jimmy Haslam appeared on CNBC to discuss the deal.
The terms of the 2017 agreement were as follows: