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WSJ Meet Warren Buffett’s Wannabes


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Prem Watsa, the chairman and chief executive of Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. , a Toronto company that owns insurers, restaurants and other businesses run in a decentralized, Berkshire-like style, is known as the “Warren Buffett of Canada.”


“There’s only one Buffett, and he’s in Omaha,” says Mr. Watsa, shying away from the comparison. Yet he built Fairfax, a word play on “fair and friendly acquisitions,” into one of Canada’s largest companies through acquisitions, just like Mr. Buffett, whose big takeovers include railroad BNSF in 2010.


Mr. Watsa, 64, says he first learned about Mr. Buffett’s way of doing things in the mid-1980s when a friend explained the concept of “float” in insurance. Berkshire’s chairman used float, or money collected from insurance customers as premiums that don’t have to be paid out until later, to fund Berkshire’s expansion.


Like his idol, Mr. Watsa writes a shareholder letter used as a pulpit to weigh in on global financial issues and lure investors to the annual meeting. Messrs. Buffett and Watsa each named their son after legendary value investor Benjamin Graham.

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