New-Wave Managers: Neville Isdell of Coca-Cola

Last week, Fortune magazine featured five prominent CEOs and their views on new-millenium leadership. The five leaders have very different insights to offer -- and they're all quite Foolish.

So I'm running through the Fortune piece, one CEO at a time, and showing you how today's finest minds in corporate leadership can help you find great investments. Today, we're looking at Neville Isdell, CEO of Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO  ) , who offers this pearl of wisdom:

"You take $400 million off of your 2005 earnings, and you know how the analysts run their numbers -- now the stock is considerably lower than when I took over. That's the penalty you have to pay in order to rekindle growth over time. It's the short-term penalty for the long-term benefit."

I see shades of John Chambers' approach here. Just like the Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) CEO, Neville is willing to make short-term sacrifices for the long-term good of the company. If that doesn't make him an honorary Fool, I don't know what does; his mind-set perfectly matches the long-term buy and hold approach we generally advocate around here.

Too often, high-level managers get caught up in watching their own stock prices and trying to please Wall Street, and they make decisions accordingly. That's taking your eyes off the ball in a big way. Time, energy, and ideas spent on making sure that the next quarter doesn't disappoint anybody could often be better spent thinking about the far future, how to build your market, and how to create sustainable business advantages.

Let me ask you a question: would you rather invest in a company that will be great for five years and then fizzle out, or one that will be average or worse for five years, but brilliant for the next forty years? Investments in General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) and Coke have both provided investors with an average 12.1% compound annual growth rate for four decades, making a dollar invested in 1966 worth $96 today. Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) and Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) have seen an average 13.3% CAGR over that same period, or about 150 times the original investment.

You don't build that kind of success by planning for next quarter, or even next year. If, like Neville, you're a new CEO tasked with rebuilding possibly the most valuable brand in the world, you don't skimp on near-term expenses just to smooth out the year-over-year earnings comparisons. You do what it takes to get a leg up on the competition for the next decade or two -- or more.

All of that is beside the fact that short-term thinking often encourages shady accounting and number fudging. Whenever I hear managers talking about long-term goals, they gain a little more of my respect. And conversely, worrying about the next period coming up short is only justified if you're fearing something like a hostile takeover. In most cases, it's a no-no in my book.

Thinking ahead -- far ahead -- can make investors very, very happy for a long, long time. Tune in tomorrow for our final new-school management approach from surprise guest Jack Welch of General Electric.

Other new-wavers include:

Short-term expectations on companies with long-term goals can create vertigo-inducing valuation mismatches. Philip Durell and his merry band of Fools at theMotley Fool Inside Valuenewsletter service are standing by to help you find great stocks at ridiculously low markdowns. Try a30-day trial subscriptionto see whether bargain-hunting is right for you.

Coca-Cola is an Inside Value pick. Disney is a Stock Advisor selection.

Fool contributorAnders Bylundowns stock in Coca-Cola and Disney (and plans to hold both for at least as long as their current CEOs remain at the helm), but doesn't hold any position in the other companies mentioned today. He believes in coyotes and time as an abstract. Foolishdisclosureisn't just smart, it's the law around here; check outhis holdingsfor yourself.


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