The thousands of pieces of information thrown at investors can be daunting. Analyzing balance sheets, comparing financial measures like earnings multiples and cash flows, and assessing management can make studying stocks a laborious task. However, lost in the information overload of company information is that a buy and sell decision on a particular company can often be defined by a single question or theme.

With that in mind, in this series we're looking at the one key theme for some of the most popular stocks around. Today we're digging deeper into the one factor driving International Business Machines' (NYSE: IBM) performance in the coming years.

The one thing to know about IBM: talented leadership
The tech world is one of the most often criticized sectors when it comes to capital allocation. While themes like capital allocation might be a heck of a lot more boring than cutting-edge technologies, finding ways to return money to shareholders rather than wasting it on costly acquisitions is especially important in maturing businesses.

This is an area where IBM's leadership team, led by longtime CEO Sam Palmisano, excels. Between 2005 and 2009, despite revenues growing only 5%, IBM managed to more than double earnings per share. How'd the company manage to do that? Smart moves transitioning into higher margin businesses, wringing more efficiencies out of its massive organization, and smart use of profits to buy back shares all contributed to IBM's stellar EPS gains.

The best part: The leadership team has the most focused road map in all of technology. Over the next five years, IBM has a plan in place to deliver 12% compounded growth in EPS. The gains once again come with minimal growth in revenues, instead IBM plans to flex its balance sheet. It'll plow profits into buying back shares and push further into high-margin areas like data analysis where it has a strong presence. It's an ambitious goal, but given IBM's track record and the superior planning and focus compared to its rivals, I'm giving management the benefit of the doubt.

Keys to the takeaway
Several of IBM's peers could learn some lessons from the company. Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO) has been criticized for a lack of focus, and hoards nearly $39 billion in cash on its balance sheet. Yet the company just announced a dividend and spent much of the last decade buying shares back at prices well above today's levels. Likewise, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) and Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) have had to engage in wild bidding wars in storage to fill in technology gaps that were largely due to underinvestment in research and development. While IBM has kept R&D stable since 2005, it has managed to focus on many of the key growth areas in IT spending and its absolute spending level is still near double HP's level.

There's a lot of moving parts at a giant company like IBM, but keeping focused on management's ability to deliver on its goals should determine whether or not the stock's a winner in the coming years.

Personally, I'm betting IBM will deliver.

Eric Bleeker owns shares of Cisco. You can follow his tech stories and musings on Twitter. The Fool has created a bull call spread position on Cisco Systems. The Fool owns shares of International Business Machines. Motley Fool Alpha owns shares of Cisco Systems. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.