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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

BLOOMBERG: Berkshire Replaces Raba as Buffet Sees Housing Rebound

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (A) replaced the head of a building-products unit with $2.5 billion in annual sales as Chief Executive Officer Warren Buffett prepares the company for a U.S. housing rebound. 

Todd Raba, 55, will “relinquish” his position as chairman and CEO of Johns Manville, the Denver-based company said today in a statement. Mary Rhinehart, 54, who has served as chief financial officer, was named CEO, effective immediately, the unit of Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire said.

Raba “worked diligently during a tough economic environment to effectively position the company for future success,” Buffett, 82, said in the statement. Melody Dunbar, a spokeswoman for Johns Manville, declined to comment on the reason for the departure.

Rhinehart will oversee a unit with about 7,000 employees and 45 manufacturing facilities in North America, Europe and China. Johns Manville makes insulation and roofing and has customers in the aerospace, automotive and building industries. The new CEO has been with the company more than 30 years.

“I couldn’t be more enthused to have her taking on this role,” Buffett said.

Raba had led the insulation-maker for the past five years and in 2011 added the chairman title following David Sokol’s departure from Berkshire. Sokol, who served as chairman of Berkshire’s energy, luxury aviation and Johns Manville units, left after disclosing that he purchased stock in Lubrizol Corp. before recommending the company as a takeover target to Buffett.

Raba had worked under Sokol at Berkshire’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. In August, he announced the acquisition of Industrial Insulation Group, which was previously a joint venture between Johns Manville and Calsilite Group.

‘Better Balance’

Buffett said in July that the U.S. home market was beginning to improve. Berkshire’s billionaire leader tracks economic activity, in part, by studying the results of the company’s more than 70 operating businesses including ones that make paint and bricks.

“It was just a question of getting households in balance with” the supply of homes, Buffett told Bloomberg Television’s Betty Liu in a July 13 interview. “That happens in different paces in different parts of the country, but you have seen a much better balance developing here in recent months. And that’s why you’re seeing some pickup in prices.”

The paint unit, Benjamin Moore, hired Bob Merritt to replace Denis Abrams in June. Berkshire’s CORT Business Services Corp., the world’s largest provider of rental furniture, has named Jeff Pederson CEO, replacing Paul Arnold, who stepped down in July after a 40-year career at the company.

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