One of my favorite things about football season is fantasy football. So recently I asked myself: What if I could put together my own fantasy squad of my favorite CEOs? What would it look like? Laugh if you will, but Foolish investors know that leadership matters. A lot. A bad leader can be the difference between a successful company and one that never leaves the bench. But great leaders can do wonders, and these 10 are total Fools:
Quarterback: Jeff Bezos -- Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN )
Bezos is also the founder of Amazon.com, and in my mind one of the greatest forward-thinkers and risk-takers in the world today. He's not afraid to zag when others zig, and his focus on the long term has helped make Amazon.com the formidable company we know today. Yet even Bezos knows he's not going to get everything right. But when he misses, he looks to learn a lesson from it in the process. As he said in his 1997 letter to shareholders: "We will make bold rather than timid investment decisions where we see a sufficient probability of gaining market leadership advantages. Some of these investments will pay off, others will not, and we will have learned another valuable lesson in either case."
Running Back: Howard Schultz -- Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX )
Longtime investors in Starbucks know how much Howard Schultz means to this business and how much the business means to him. From 2000 to 2008 Schultz took a hiatus from the business, and during this time its stock price languished. Since his return in 2008 the stock has flourished, gaining close to 300% and throttling Mr. Market in the process. The brand is now a full-fledged lifestyle brand, and this is thanks primarily to Schultz's leadership.
Running Back: Sally Smith -- Buffalo Wild Wings
Smith has been with Buffalo Wild Wings since 1994 and has been its CEO since 1996. Investors have won big-time since the company IPO'd in 2003; the stock is up more than 830%! Buffalo Wild Wings is a bit more than halfway toward its goal of 1,700 North American stores, and with franchise plans on the international front in markets like Mexico, the Middle East, and the Philippines, there's still plenty of room for it to run.
Wide Receiver: Steve Ells/Monty Moran -- Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG )
Chipotle has co-CEOs, so I'm getting a twofer here. Ells is a classically trained chef and Moran (a former lawyer) focuses very much on the cultural aspect of the business. In fact, Moran was the brains behind Chipotle's Restaurateur program, which is responsible for the development of management from the company's in-house talent. So far it seems to be working, and with a new concept in the ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen just beginning, it looks like Chipotle has a lot of growth ahead.
Wide Receiver: Jeff Weiner -- LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD )
In just a short amount of time Weiner has taken LinkedIn from a fresh new IPO to one of the market's best performers. From its IPO price of $45 per share, LinkedIn is now up more than 450%. Pay attention to cash flow from operations with LinkedIn, as it's a good indicator of the true earnings potential of the company. Last quarter. CFFO was up an astonishing 164% from the year prior. And with its recent secondary offering, management is taking advantage of a healthy stock price in order to continue to invest in the business as it grows its reach.
Wide Receiver: Kevin Plank -- Under Armour
The story behind how Plank started Under Armour is as impressive as what the company has done to date. While the company is now responsible for more than $2 billion in annual sales, it still has a ways to go to catch up with its Swooshed competitor. But that's OK -- if Plank keeps on doing what he's doing, then Under Armour's in good hands. As he once said: "We're not going to be happy being a $100 million company or a nice $250 million family run business. One of our first customers asked me recently how big we want to be. I said I want to be really big. Later it bothered me that I answered that way. Now I say I just want to be a great company." That's my kind of CEO.
Tight End: Selim Bassoul -- Middleby
When Bassoul came on board with Middleby, its stock was trading at around $3 per share. Today it trades at over $200 per share, offering investors who have hung on for the ride astronomical gains. Bassoul's philosophy is simple: It's all about the customer. In fact, his goal is 100% customer retention, which explains Middleby's "No Quibble Warranty ." Give your customers the best product available and they'll have no reason to go elsewhere.
Kicker: Reed Hastings -- Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX )
I'll admit I've been critical of the business, but Hastings has done a heck of a lot with Netflix since its early days. Perhaps what I like most about his approach is that he seems to really care about his subscribers. This explains his concerted effort to bring more unique content to his subscribers, and that's important. As he said in his most recent call: "We are fundamentally in the membership-happiness business, as opposed to in the TV-show business, so we do have a lot of flexibility." A kicker usually doesn't lose the game for you (at least in fantasyland), but he can sometimes win it.
Defense: Warren Buffett -- Berkshire Hathaway
When I think of Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway, I think of stability. Buffett has been nothing short of legendary with this business through the years, and he's created a winning culture that I believe will stand the test of time. Over the last 48 years he has grown Berkshire's book value per share from $19 to a stunning $114,214, a compound annual growth rate of 19.7%. From railroads to utilities, insurance to jewelry and seemingly everything in between, Buffett has built an empire, and I can't think of a better CEO to round out my squad.
Back to reality
As I said, leadership can make or break any given situation, so it pays to understand who you're getting when you buy shares in any company. If you can identify great leaders and hitch your wagon to their stars, the results can be breathtaking. And the best part about your CEO fantasy squad is you get to follow it all year long. So hit me up on Twitter and let me know your CEO dream team. I promise I'll re-tweet my favorites.
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