Warren Buffett used his annual letter to heap praise on Tony Nicely, the long-time chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s Geico insurance unit.
The letter also offered some perhaps surprising news: Nicely retired as CEO last year.
Nicely handed off the reins of the second-largest U.S. auto insurer to president Bill Roberts on June 30, according to the letter. Nicely, who first joined GEICO at age 18 in 1961, is remaining chairman.
GEICO, which is wholly owned by Berkshire, didn’t publicly announce the move, unlike when Roberts was named president in 2013. A September press release about GEICO breaking ground on a new office in Tucson, Arizona, identified Roberts as CEO, while a regulatory filing two months later still listed Nicely as CEO.
Roberts has big shoes to fill, as Buffett credited Nicely for boosting sales 1200 percent since Berkshire bought the company in 1995.
“By my estimate, Tony’s management of GEICO has increased Berkshire’s intrinsic value by more than $50 billion,” Buffett wrote in Saturday’s letter. “He is a model for everything a manager should be.”
In 2018, GEICO’s underwriting profit was $2.4 billion, rebounding from a $310 million loss the previous year when it was hit by costs from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Policy sales jumped 12 percent to $34.1 billion.