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Warren Buffett on Business : Principles from the Sage of Omaha by Richard J. Connors

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Chapter 8
Acquisition of General Reinsurance
2002-2006
 
 
…Gen Re had accumulated an aggregation of risks that would have been fatal had, say, terrorists detonated several large-scale nuclear bombs in an attack on the U.S. A disaster of that scope was highly improbable, of course, but it is up to insurers to limit their risks in a manner that leaves their finances rock solid if the “impossible” happens. Indeed, had Gen Re remained independent, the World Trade Center attack alone would have threatened the company’s existence.1
—WARREN BUFFETT
 
 
 
If our insurance operations are to generate low-cost float over time, they must: (a) underwrite with unwavering discipline; (b) reserve conservatively; and (c) avoid an aggregation of exposures that would allow a supposedly “impossible” incident to threaten their solvency. All of our major insurance businesses, with one exception, have regularly met those tests.
The exception is General Re, and there was much to do at that company last year to get it up to snuff. I ’m delighted to report that under Joe Brandon’s leadership, and with yeoman assistance by Tad Montross, enormous progress has been made on each of the fronts described.
When I agreed in 1998 to merge Berkshire with Gen Re, I thought that company stuck to the three rules I’ve enumerated. I had studied the operation for decades and had observed underwriting discipline that was consistent and reserving that was conservative. At merger time, I detected no slippage in Gen Re’s standards. ...

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