Meet the Growth Investor

Last week, we took a tour of the bargain-hunting world of the value investor. We'll take a U-turn this week and explore what it means to be a growth investor. Who are these thrill-seekers? Prepare to find out.

Buy the best
Growth investing doesn't get the same historical reverence as the value approach. But just as there is Benjamin Graham for value investors, there is Philip Fisher for growth disciples.

Fisher was a West Coast money manager who sought to invest in superior management teams and used "scuttlebutt" to shape his investment theses. Scuttlebutt, he writes in his 1958 book Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits and Other Writings, is the process of gathering firsthand knowledge from industry participants regarding the various strengths and weaknesses of the players. The goal, Fisher writes, is to "understand whether a particular company has outstanding potentialities for growth and development." In other words, walking the mall and interrogating sales clerks in search of the next great retail stock is scuttlebutt.

Of course, scuttlebutt is only one part of Fisher's equation. Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits became required reading for investors of all stripes because of the 15 points elucidated within -- a series of mostly subjective screening criteria that Fisher believed would identify a top-flight business. Among the list: superior products, an active R&D pipeline, healthy profit margins, and a deep and talented management team.

Are you a growth investor?
Interestingly, value-investing hero Warren Buffett has heaped nearly as much praise on Fisher as he has on Graham, his mentor. Listen to this: "I sought out Phil Fisher after reading his Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits and Other Writings. When I met him, I was as impressed by the man as by his ideas. A thorough understanding of the business, obtained by using Phil's techniques ... enables one to make intelligent investment commitments." No wonder Buffett has said that the line between value and growth is imaginary, and that, in fact, the two strategies are "joined at the hip."

Nevertheless, there are notable differences in how professional investors -- that is, mutual fund managers -- employ growth and value in buying stocks. While value managers are more likely to buy the downtrodden, such as Cendant and Home Depot, growth devotees are more likely to pick proven performers such as eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) or Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) , even if doing so means paying an abnormally high multiple to earnings.

A thrill-seeker's hall of fame
Unfortunately, there's no way for me to accurately or fairly give you a rundown of the best growth investors of all time. With apologies to the dozens I've missed, here are a few that stand out in my memory:

  • Philip Fisher: Growth investing's leading thinker bought shares of Motorola (NYSE: MOT  ) in 1955 and held until his death in 2004, multiplying his original investment many, many times over.
  • T. Rowe Price: The founder of the firm that bears his name espoused a strategy of investing in "fertile fields of growth," which he did with great success. For example, $1,000 invested in a model portfolio he began in 1934 would have grown to $271,201 by the end of 1972, according to John Train's Money Masters of Our Time.
  • Peter Lynch: He relentlessly researched superior businesses in the quest for multibagger returns. The work paid off; Lynch produced a 29.2% annualized return to investors in his 14 years of leading Fidelity Magellan (FUND: FAGMX  ) .
  • Tom Bailey: Founder of Janus Capital (NYSE: JNS  ) here in Denver, and the originator of the growth-oriented Janus Fund (FUND: JANSX  ) . Bailey beat the market in 10 of the 16 years he ran the Janus Fund, despite a brutal market downturn in 1973 and 1974, just three years into the fund's existence.

Follow the money
Growth isn't the perfect stock-picking strategy, of course. But many practitioners of the style have crushed the market's average return over the decades. If you're interested in learning more, start with the basics of valuation at our Fool's School, then read about Peter Lynch's approach in One Up on Wall Street, then graduate to Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits. Finally, if you find that growth investing is right for you, we have a newsletter devoted to the topic, Motley Fool Rule Breakers.

For more on getting started with investing, consider givingMotley Fool GreenLighta try. Our new personal finance newsletter service tackles all aspects of managing your money, including how to invest it. Click here to learn more.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers owns shares of Cendant and LEAP options in Apple. Check out all of his stock holdings at Tim's Fool profile. Cendant and Home Depot are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. eBay is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.

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