I am regularly asked by clients and investors of the importance of company management. When deciding to invest in a company, out of all the attributes and qualities that we review, we first focus on how important are the people in charge. Secondly how do we measure this?
Some of the attributes and qualities that we look at when reviewing a share investment include: are debt levels under control? And, what is the growth potential? However, these review factors quickly become meaningless if there is not a strong and trustworthy leadership in place.
People in managerial positions have a tremendous impact on the success, or failure, of a business. Their vision, leadership and abilities all combine to determine the future of the business.
One such person, who is often singled out as a strong leader in New Zealand, is Don Braid from Mainfreight. The company’s success is based around the unique culture among staff, which is demonstrated from the top, by management. Having a strong company vision and a focused strategy are both critical to business success.
So the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Quality management is crucial and is top of the list when deciding which companies belong in our clients’ portfolios.
In answer to the second most popular question: how we measure this, is a lot harder to answer. Quantitative and financial review factors are easier to see and therefore measure – these can be put into spreadsheets with forecasts applied. Measuring intangible quality factors associated with management however, is much more difficult, yet arguably somewhat more important.
So what are some of the quality factors we look at in company leaders? These include:
– someone who is very focused on delivering shareholder returns
– someone who knows their businesses intimately
– someone who has a track record of success
– someone who can provide transparent and open communications with shareholders
– a disciplined, sensible approach to business growth
Many companies do not succeed because they take an overly aggressive approach to expanding, or by buying good assets but paying too much and getting the business into too much debt in the process. Large transformation decisions, such as strategic acquisitions are not bad, they just require some added scrutiny.
A lot of successful companies have management teams that have remained stable for a long period of time. While a new approach can often refresh a business, continuity is also critical. We look for managers who have been part of a company’s team in charge for a reasonable length of time. Having an equally competent team is another important factor and a good manager will surround themselves with such a team. This is also a factor we look for. The alarm bells start to ring when there have been a lot of different executives.
We also look for management that has a history of doing what they say they will do, supported by financial forecasts with. It is additionally a good sign when a CEO and managerial team have invested their own money into the business. This not only demonstrates that their interests are aligned with their shareholders, but ensures that management shares the successes and failures with shareholders.
Investing in a company equals investing in the team in charge of running it. It doesn’t matter how good the assets or prospects of a company are, it can fail to deliver if managed poorly.