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Marvel's Turnaround

David Gardner: In our previous conversation with you, you said that one of the hallmarks of bad management is the inability to make difficult decisions. What is one difficult decision you are happy you made in your time at Marvel (NYSE: MVL  ) as CEO?

Peter Cuneo: Well, I think one of the important decisions was to license out our toy business. You may recall that a toy company on the New York Stock Exchange, Toy Biz, Inc., actually merged with the bankrupt Marvel and emerged as a new company, Marvel Enterprises, out of bankruptcy, and because that was a toy company, it was difficult for me as a new CEO initially to convince some people that maybe we should take some of the risk out of our business and license out the toy business rather than doing it ourselves. That finally was accomplished in 2001, and I think that that was a very important decision in the recovery, if you will, of Marvel.

David Gardner: You have a history of working for distressed companies and turning them around. The phrase "Turnaround Specialist" has been used next to your name for some years now. That is why I want to ask you a little bit, for a minute, just about KrispyKreme (NYSE: KKD  ) , whether you have any opinions there, because Krispy Kreme this week announced its own so-called turnaround specialist who had been serving I think as the transitional CEO at Enron. Do you think that Krispy Kreme has made the right move? Would you be a buyer of Krispy Kreme stock today?

Peter Cuneo: I really do not follow Krispy Kreme. I have never owned the stock. I am usually pretty well-focused on my own challenges, and so I am the wrong person to ask about that. I really don't have an opinion.

David Gardner: How many turnaround specialists are there out there?

Peter Cuneo: I have no idea. There are a lot of people calling themselves turnaround specialists, but when one looks at their record, sometimes you can be surprised. So I really don't know. Turnarounds are a unique situation. It takes a unique individual, someone who is maybe a little crazy actually because it is high-risk, high-reward, and most human beings just naturally would prefer low-risk, low-reward situations. We all want safety and security, and so it takes a certain individual who has probably got a little streak of craziness in them to take on some of these risks.

David Gardner: You mentioned you have outside interests. You are part-time now at Marvel. Assuming that you are a student of the business game as well, what other publicly traded businesses do you admire?

Peter Cuneo: I think again you are asking the wrong person, because I am really not focused very often on outside companies. I think what I want, my goal is to have as many people admire Marvel and the other companies I am associated with, and that is where my energies go. I really don't spend a lot of time looking at other companies.

David Gardner: How about this, Peter? What other company that you are associated with are you excited about right now?

Peter Cuneo: Well, a lot of the companies I am associated with are small companies -- they are not public -- that most of your listeners may not have heard of and wouldn't have a chance necessarily to invest in the near term. Again, I think that what is really important in this world is to find quality companies with quality people. My own philosophy is it is very much about the basics. Unfortunately, unless I am very involved in a company, reading reports from analysts or reading points of view in the newspaper isn't always the best way to get information on companies. You really have to dig in yourselves. I would recommend that to all your listeners. Many magazines put out every year lists of the most admired companies and so on, and I do see those lists, but frankly I don't have a clue, honestly, about many of the companies on those lists. Because you really don't know what is going on behind the doors unless you do your homework.

Stay tuned for Part 5 tomorrow.

Did you miss the beginning of this interview? Check out Part 1, Part 2, orPart 3. Marvel is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorpick. Want to learn more? Subscribe today without risk for six months.

David Gardner is co-founder of The Motley Fool and is the advisor of Motley Fool Rule Breakers. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.

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