Steven Tanger joined Tanger Factory Outlet Centers (NYSE:SKT), founded by his father in 1981, as the company's fourth employee. The company had grown to 13 outlet centers by 1992, and the following year became the first outlet center developer to be listed on the NYSE as a publicly traded REIT, under ticker symbol SKT. Tanger has been president and CEO since 2009, and the company's portfolio, growing steadily, now includes over 40 outlet centers across the U.S. and in Canada.
From the long-term approach, to founding family CEOs, to employee retention, Tanger agrees with many of The Motley Fool's investment priorities. Not only the senior management team, but many employees receive stock grants and have an owner's interest in the company.
Tom Gardner: In the portfolio that I manage at The Motley Fool, I am not allowed to sell within five years, so every investment that I make has a minimum holding period of five years.
The point that I'm making there is, first of all, I think you'll get better returns. You'll in part get better returns just because it's more tax-efficient, but more importantly you'll start looking for factors that lead to sustained greatness at a business. You won't get caught up in a single economic cycle, or one product launch. You'll actually have to look to find evidence that there are the ingredients of greatness, over 10, 15, 20-year periods.
One of the factors I look for is that the family, or the founder, is involved. Founder CEOs and founding family CEOs -- in Buffett's parlance -- they're taking care of that asset as if it's the only family asset, and I really love feeling that alignment, rather than having a CEO who might have stock options and might be gone in five years.
I presume you view that as an important factor in Tanger's history, or in your investment approach, too.
Steve Tanger: Enthusiastically, yes. I own about 5% of the company; I think we're $33-$34 a share, which is significant -- my largest holding -- and look forward to many more years of continued growth there, and adding to my ownership through stock grants that vest, and other ways.
Warren Buffett, you mentioned, is a great investor. I don't know if you realize this, but in 1999, in the height of the tech bubble, he called and said he now owned 5.3% of our business.
Gardner: I did not know that.
Tanger: Yes. I don't think he still owns that amount. I don't know what he still owns at all, but it was like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for a company our size to have a public announcement -- and he bought it in his personal account, not through GEICO, and not through Berkshire -- so we were very pleased.
I happen to believe in a lot of his thinking with regard to investing, so we are long-term holders. Our senior management team all own stock. Actually, the stock grants that were awarded to myself and our executive VPs last year have a holding period of three years after the grant is vested, so that ensures large ownership for senior management.
We're very proud of the fact that Tanger people act as owners, not as employees. We give stock grants, even down to the property level, to some of our maintenance folks. Everybody walks around with their head high. We have a stock ticker at every one of our shopping centers, so that people can track the value of the stock.
Gardner: I don't know if this number comes readily to mind for you, but another factor that I look for, again, looking for greatness over five-plus years ... ideally, I never want to sell. I'd like to own businesses for 20 years. Look at Tanger. Look at Starbucks. Look at Whole Foods. There are so many great companies.
A factor that I look for, to the extent that I can find the data, is employee retention, tenure. I like to see that people love going to work there and want to stay there for long periods of time. I'm presuming that the few-hundred Tanger employees and leaders of the company have been there for a sustained period of time.
Tanger: Our executive leadership team, I think, averages 15 years employment with the company, which we're very proud of. As you get closer to the property level, some of the maintenance folks, they turn over a bit, but we have great employee benefits, and our retention is superb.
Gardner: Succession, you mentioned it. I presume that the next CEO will not be a Tanger family member -- although one never knows. Let's assume that it's not, for the fun of it.
What are the chances that that person is a Duke grad? Because I've looked through your management ranks, biographies and everything. I see a lot of Chapel Hill -- my brother went to Chapel Hill; we're all Chapel Hill hoops fans in our family -- I see no Dukies, and I'm wondering if that is by design, and what would happen if the greatest potential candidate for CEO leadership at Tanger was a Coach K Duke grad?
Tanger: I would not hold that against them! Duke is an outstanding school. I have three nieces and one nephew who went to Duke.
Gardner: OK, that's great.
Tanger: They're very proud of their Duke heritage. Our succession planning is in place. I have a general counsel, a chief operating officer, and a chief financial officer that are my three senior thought-partners. We run the company together. I'm very proud of them, and I rely on their advice and counsel. This is not a one-man organization. It could not be, anymore.