IN THE PAST TWO YEARS, the top finisher in Barron's annual survey of the world's most respected companies was a venerable 19th-century business that solemnly had passed on management responsibility over many generations, each one steeped in the belief that the company and its culture were larger than any single leader.
This year the survey's third, America's, money managers effectively honored not a century-old management tradition or an iconic brand, but one man's extraordinary life's work. Berkshire Hathaway (ticker: BRKA), a one-time New England cotton-mill operator that Warren Buffett transformed over 40 years into a multifaceted 4185 billion colossus, has succeeded last years winner; Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), and 2005's first-place finisher, General Electric (GE), as the most respected company in the world.
It is appropriate that Buffett, known principally for his capital-allocation genius, should be held in highest esteem in the Barron's survey, the only ranking of corporate reputation based exclusively on the views of professional investors. These investors' comments about Berkshire were unanimously reverential, their tone suggesting such reverence should be obvious to all. "C'mon, it's Berkshire," wrote one money manager.
"Clearest-thinking investor of our time -- Warren Buffett," wrote another.