Big investors like Warren Buffett have the clout, time, and resources to evaluate a potential investment's management face to face. You may not have such a mighty address book, but that shouldn't stop you from assessing the people in the executive suites.

When sizing up management's mettle, I always start with two simple measures: ownership and returns on invested capital. I want to know whether management has skin in the game, aligning its interests with mine. And I want to learn how well executives have allocated shareholders' hard-earned capital. If management owns a significant stake in the company, and can generate value-creating returns on invested capital, I call that a win-win!

Recently, Nike (NYSE: NKE) and its management team caught my eye. The table below will tell you why:


Insider Ownership





Deckers Outdoor (Nasdaq: DECK)



Columbia Sportswear (Nasdaq: COLM)



Source: Capital IQ (a division of Standard & Poor's) and author calculations.

Insiders own 14% of the shares outstanding, and returns on invested capital have consistently exceeded 15%. Since the cost of capital for most companies is between 8% and 12%, depending on their capital structure, Nike is creating value for its shareholders.

Studies also show that competition erodes returns over time. Yet Nike has generated those impressive returns while vying with Deckers and Columbia Sportswear. That impressive achievement suggests that management knows what it's doing.

Good execs? Check!
From the data above, it certainly looks like Nike's management has been creating value for its shareholders. Given its top-notch leadership, I'd suggest you give Nike a spot on your watch list.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.