Warren Buffett said Wednesday he replaced Benjamin Moore & Co.’s CEO to keep a promise not to sell the company’s paints in big-box retail stores.
Also on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” program, Buffett declined to comment on news reports about the handling of Benjamin Moore by its chairwoman, Tracy Britt, an executive with Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and financial assistant to Buffett.
Buffett is chairman and CEO of Omaha-based Berkshire, which owns Benjamin Moore.
He said he had made the commitment, including a video, to the network of Benjamin Moore dealers because they were nervous about the possibility of losing sales to larger retailers.
He said he removed Denis Abrams as CEO last year because Abrams was about to sign an agreement to sell through a larger retailer.
Abrams’ replacement was Bob Merritt, a veteran manager from the restaurant industry. But Merritt left the company in September for undisclosed reasons and last week was replaced by Michael Searles, who had been a top executive at retailer Stage Stores Inc.
On CNBC, Buffett said he couldn’t comment on the reasons for Merritt’s departure or a recent story in the New York Post in which anonymous sources were critical of Britt’s hiring of Merritt.
Buffett said he participated in hiring Searles from among three qualified candidates and that he is “doing very well.”
The rapid executive changes are unusual for Buffett, who relies on longtime management to run the companies owned by Berkshire. But over the years he has changed managers at some of the 80-plus businesses Berkshire owns.
Buffett said Benjamin Moore has performed well, earning a $1.5 billion profit over the past decade despite the downturn in the housing market and damage from Hurricane Sandy that shut down a paint plant in Newark, N.J., that recently reopened.
Meanwhile, the ongoing budget debate in Washington didn’t affect Berkshire’s deal to buy the beverage-dispensing machine business of Britain’s IMI PLC for $1.1 billion, Buffett said.
Berkshire agreed to make the purchase on behalf of its Marmon Group subsidiary. Marmon officials said the IMI unit will fit well with its other food-service businesses.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.
The Omaha World-Herald Co. is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.