LONDON -- Paul Walsh must be one of the most accomplished chief executives presently serving within the FTSE 100.
Appointed to the top job at Diageo (LSE: DGE ) (NYSE: DEO ) back in September 2000, Walsh has since delivered wonderful returns to loyal shareholders.
During the last 12 years or so, earnings at the drinks group have risen from 37 pence to 78 pence per share while the dividend has advanced from 21 pence to 43.5 pence per share.
The progress has helped push Diageo's share price from 588 pence to a recent high of 1,878 pence. During the same time, the FTSE 100 has slumped from 6,673 to around 5,900.
When you consider most blue-chip leaders last about five years in their jobs before they retire, move on or get sacked, Walsh's tenure and results mark him out as somebody who knows a thing or two about business.
So where is Walsh investing today?
Well, it's not Diageo.
In fact, a recent statement revealed Mr Walsh had sold 20,000 Diageo shares at 1,850 pence and raised 370,000 pounds.
Furthermore, statements earlier in the year showed him giving away 15,000 shares, selling a further 50,000 shares for 768,500 pounds, and exercising 90,000 options to raise more than 1 million pounds.
Instead, it is the shares of Avanti Communications (LSE: AVN ) that have attracted Walsh's attention. He joined the company's board as a non-executive at the start of the year and has since spent about 180,000 pounds buying the shares at an average price of roughly 262 pence.
Avanti doesn't exactly offer the track record of Diageo. This AIM-traded satellite operator joined the stock market during 2007, has reported operating losses ever since, while the recent 230 pence share price is a fraction below the flotation price and well below the 735 pence all-time high.
Nonetheless, Avanti may offer rich growth possibilities -- the 260-million-pound market cap is supported by the expansion potential of the group's high-speed broadband satellites. One currently serves Europe, a second was recently launched over the Middle East, and a third, due for 2015, will serve Africa.
The investment theory is simple. Covering areas with little or no fixed-line telecom services, Avanti's satellites may become real money-spinners in the years to come. Indeed, results during October showed the company's contracted future revenues had already reached 268 million pounds, although reported sales were just 15 million pounds.
The figures also revealed net debt of 100 million pounds.
All told, it seems Walsh sees Avanti as a good high-risk, high-reward gamble. In fact, he already owned Avanti shares before his appointment to the group's board.
Do note, however, that Walsh's pay and bonuses from Diageo last year came to 3 million pounds, so his 180,000 pound investment should be seen in that context.
Should you follow Walsh?
Of course, whether Walsh's business record, his investment in Avanti, and the prospect for broadband satellites in general make Avanti a buy remains your decision.
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