CEO who 'abused' expenses feels rage of the Sage of Omaha

Warren Buffett orders that paint company boss must be canned for taking staff to Bermuda

New York

The canning that recently happened at Benjamin Moore had nothing to do with the paint the company produces but refers to the unceremonious ousting of its boss of the past five years.

Denis Abrams was allegedly punished for treating himself and other senior executives to a fancy cruise from New York to Bermuda.

What had most of corporate America chirping around the water-coolers yesterday, however, was a report that the man who ordered the dismissal of Mr Abrams was the normally non-interfering Warren Buffett, the super-investor and founder of Berkshire Hathaway, which first acquired the 129-year-old paint company 12 years ago.

According to an exclusive account in the New York Post, a posse of Berkshire Hathaway officers swooped into the paint firm's New Jersey headquarters 10 days ago and told a startled Mr Abrams he should empty his desk drawers and leave without delay.

Mr Abrams "kept asking what he'd done wrong", someone who was apparently briefed on the circumstances of the firing told a Post reporter. What he had done wrong, it seems, was to arrange the seafaring jolly to Bermuda on a cruise ship to celebrate recording a small quarterly profit after five years of losses that began with the housing-sector collapse. Efforts last night to reach both Berkshire Hathaway and Benjamin Moore for comment were not successful.

In any event, if Mr Abrams thought the Atlantic excursion would be good for morale, he had not bargained on how staff on the lower rungs of the company, who have endured years of staff cutbacks and wage freezes, would react. It hardly helped that one of the lucky guests on the trip posted an update on Facebook boasting about an additional treat while in Bermuda: a sunset cruise on a private yacht that may or may not have belonged to Jimmy Buffett, the country singer who shares a name and a friendship with Warren Buffett though they are not related.

It might have been the strong whiff of resentment and indignation wafting west to Omaha that persuaded Mr Buffett to play the hangman. Mr Abrams' departure has come just as a parade of CEOs of Berkshire Hathaway-owned companies has spoken to Fortune magazine bout how a kindly and always patient Mr Buffett leaves them alone to run their businesses. "He really entrusts his mangers to run the companies," noted John Gainor, the CEO of Dairy Queen. Vance Ball, of Shaw Carpets, added: "He really allows us to operate the businesses every day with very little contact." Such comments will go down well in Omaha but ask Mr Abrams, formerly of Benjamin Moore, and he may say they are fairy tales.

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