OMAHA – A little under an hour into the question-and-answer session at Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A)(NYSE:BRK.B)’s annual meeting here on Saturday, a name searing with history but now largely forgotten was mentioned: Henry E. Singleton.
Mr. Singleton was, arguably, the Warren E. Buffett of the 1960s and ’70s, though hardly famous. His company, Teledyne, became a remarkably successful and huge conglomerate, with an assortment of related — and unrelated — businesses. Like Mr. Buffett, Mr. Singleton was a modest man with a rare sense of rationality. He didn’t pay his shareholders dividends; he was convinced he could allocate the money more profitably. And he was right more often than not.
But after spending decades creating one of the world’s largest conglomerates, Mr. Singleton, who stepped down as chief executive in 1986 but remained as chairman, decided to break it into three companies in the early 1990s before he died at age 82in 1999. He decided that Teledyne had become too big and unwieldy for a single manager to effectively oversee and expand.
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