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We here at The Motley Fool believe that an important component of a great investment is good management. But what constitutes good management? I sat down with Fool analysts Rich Greifner (TMFTenacious) and Matt Argersinger (TMFMattyA) to find out.
Part two of two. Click here for yesterday's conversation.
Yesterday we talked about the importance of management. You suggested looking for founder-managers, people who had a large personal stake in their company. How much is management vulnerable to different industry pressures? Can we compare management across industries?
Argersinger: Competitive advantages are rarely sustainable and management teams are always under siege from their competitors. Good managers will differentiate their businesses by tweaking their manufacturing processes, developing innovative marketing strategies, or delivering superior customer service.
One great way to measure a company's competitive position and the capabilities of its management team is to compare its returns on invested capital (ROIC) against other companies in its industry. It's never going to tell the whole story, but a company with a higher average ROIC over time relative to its peers is a great indication that they're getting more than few things right.
Greifner: I think good management is industry agnostic. For instance, most online retailers strive to cut costs by limiting the amount of time their customer service representatives spend on the phone with customers. But Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh was willing to exchange short-term profitability for long-term customer loyalty, so he gave his phone operators free rein to do whatever it took to make Zappos' customers happy. This willingness to think outside the industry (shoe)box helped Zappos post over $1 billion in annual sales, and made the company a comfortable acquisition fit for another customer-obsessed online retailer, Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) .
Final question: Who are some of your favorite managers and why? Who are some of your least favorite?
Argersinger: I already mentioned Bobby Kotick and Reed Hastings, but right near the top of my Hall of Fame list is Jim Koch of Boston Beer Company (NYSE: SAM ) . And it's not just because Boston is my hometown. Jim left a high-paying consulting job 25 years ago to chase his dream of brewing the world's best-tasting beer. Sam Adams was born, and Koch and team have gone on to deliver incredible returns to shareholders since Boston Beer went public. Koch still owns more than 30% of the company and plans to keep brewing better tasting beers and growing the Sam Adams brand until the day he can no longer raise a glass.
Least favorite managers? I'm hesitant to name names. Let's just say there are more than a few Wall Street executives out there who are on that list. Frankly, I'm not sure how they sleep at night with the amount of shareholder value they've destroyed and taxpayer money they very nearly squandered.
Greifner: In addition to the managers named above, I'm a big fan of Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG ) co-CEO Steve Ells. I admire Ells for his laser focus on delivering Chipotle customers the best burrito experience possible. Although it would surely lead to faster growth, Ells refuses to franchise, since it would compromise Chipotle's quality. Ells is such a perfectionist, he even refuses to serve cookies or coffee, since "we wouldn't do it better than anyone else." As long as Ells is at the helm, I know that Chipotle is in good hands.
Believe it or not, Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) Steve Jobs is actually not my least favorite CEO. That dubious honor belongs to Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) . Chesapeake may own a number of desirable properties, but McClendon is far too aggressive for my liking, and I can't shake the feeling that he's using the company as a vehicle for personal enrichment.
A great big thanks to Rich and Matt for sharing their thoughts on management with us. Who's your favorite manager and why? Let us know in the comments.