Warren Buffett Protege leaves Berkshire, starts his own company

Tracy Britt Cool, one of

Warren Buffett

The key lieutenants in recent years, leaving

Berkshire Hathaway

BRK.B 0.36%

to create their own Berkshire.

Ms. Britt Cool began in Berkshire in 2009 at the age of 25 as Mr. Buffett's financial assistant, a job he created for her. In 2014, she became CEO of Pampered Chef, a Berkshire-owned cookware company.

Now 35, Britt Cool wants to build a long-term investment vehicle that buys companies like Berkshire does.

"I want to build a long-term platform and a long-term vehicle to acquire and build businesses," Britt Cool said in an interview. "There are companies that I think are of great value in helping them get to the next level but they are too small for Berkshire. "

Chicago-based Mrs. Britt Cool plans to leave Pampered Chef by the end of March. She will also step down from the board

Kraft Heinz Co.

in the first quarter of 2020, she said. Ms Britt Cool will continue to be

Blue Apron Holdings Inc.

& # 39; s control.

In his decade in Berkshire, Britt Cool specialized in helping Berkshire companies like the rip. At various points, she served as chairman of Benjamin Moore & Co., Larson-Juhl, Johns Manville and Oriental Trading Co., which means CEOs in these companies reported directly to her. She took over the Pampered Chef when sales and revenue fell.

"She was the firefighter," Buffett said in an interview. Everything I have assigned to her, she has done a first-class job at.

Ms. Britt Cool has been on the Kraft Heinz board since 201[ads1]5 and previously served on the board of H. J. Heinz Co. Berkshire owns 27% of Kraft Heinz. The company's shares have fallen 34% this year due to weak sales, impairment of assets and accounting errors.

Andrew Treanor, Pampered Chef's business manager, will replace Britt Cool as CEO, she said.

Ms. Britt Cool grew up in Kansas and attended Harvard Business School. She first met Mr. Buffett on a trip to Omaha, Neb., Where Berkshire is based, with a student group she founded for women investors.

She worked for him one summer in 2009, but Berkshire headquarters did not have an opening. Later that year, Mr. Buffett hired Ms. Britt Cool full-time as her financial assistant, initially to oversee Berkshire's involvement in Berkadia, a joint venture between Berkshire and

Jefferies Financial Group

As a financial assistant, "I worked directly with Warren on everything that crossed his desk," Britt Cool said. "I really enjoyed learning about value investing and how I can be an entrepreneurial operator at the same time."

Mr. Buffett said he understood Ms. Britt Cool's decision because he also left a job he loved, with his mentor Benjamin Graham's investment firm, to work for himself in 1956. He added that he did not intend Berkshire to invest in Ms. Britt Cool new adventure.

Ms. Britt Cool is one of the highest-profile women in Berkshire, with three women on the board and seven female CEOs in the operating companies. Some Berkshire viewers have speculated that she could take a future top management role in the company.

Ms. Britt Cool has played a big role in Berkshire in bringing together the company's dozens of CEOs to network and learn from each other. Britt Cool organized the first Berkshire CEO in 2013, and they have been held annually in Omaha since. Berkshire CEOs say the rallies are a highlight and have sparked new working conditions.

Ms. Britt Cool said she plans to use the same strategies she used in Berkshire businesses to help small businesses grow. She declined to comment on the structure of her business or how she plans to fund it.

Mr. Buffett has known in recent years struggled to find affordable companies to buy for Berkshire, as a decadal bull market has pushed up the company's valuations. Because of Berkshire's size, Mr. Buffett is looking to distribute tens of billions of dollars at a time.

"The toughest part is finding things to buy," Buffett said. But since Britt Cool will target much smaller companies, he added, "she has an easier job than I've got."

Write to Nicole Friedman at

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