Having spoken to David Gardner on several occasions about his Rule Breakers philosophy, I can tell you that one potential element of a Rule Breaker is a visionary at the helm.
"Vision" can have an amorphous definition, though -- it is a "thing" indeed. Another good place to start is to identify an individual who is not only head honcho but also founded said company. In our own search for Rule Breakers, we give preference to companies where the founder is still in place, steering toward future success.
Which got me to thinking about mining some easily accessible Foolish resources -- like the archives of our Fool Radio Show on NPR -- to get examples of corporate leaders who did it first, did it differently. or just plain did it better.
What's that about a rainforest?
Check out this Bezos gem:
In early 1994, the wake-up call for me was finding that Internet usage, actually Web usage, as measured in number of bytes flying across the Internet in Web format, was growing at 2,300% a year and things just rarely grow that fast. So I set about trying to find a business plan that might make sense in the context of that growth, and I made a list of 20 different products looking for the first best product to sell online.
We picked books for the reason that you talked about at the beginning of this show. We have 4.7 million titles in our store now, and a physical store just can't have that many, so you can build something online that literally couldn't exist in any other way. That was sort of the founding basis for the company. I was working on Wall Street and actually having a great time and so I had a tough decision to make and finally made the decision.
I'm kind of a nerd. I have a watch that updates itself 36 times a day from the atomic clock, my dog is named after a minor Star Trek character, so I was looking for the right framework in which to make this decision. I finally realized it should be a regret-minimization framework, which is just a nerd's way of saying that when you are 80 years old you want to look back on your life and have as few regrets as possible. And I thought to myself, you know, am I ever going to regret having left Wall Street in the middle of 1994?... But I knew that I might genuinely regret not participating in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a big deal.
Apparently, Bezos has little to regret. Driven by his vision, Amazon has revolutionized e-commerce, grown sales by an average of 57% year over year, watched its stock beat the S&P by almost 2,000%, and it has forced competitors such as Barnes & Noble
Amber screens, dot matrix, and the future
Yet another leader who fits the bill is Dell's
I'm lucky to have an anonymous source here at the Fool who attended high school with Michael Dell and who produced a yearbook from their senior year. Dell was already making money in computers -- even in 1983. In fact, as a senior in high school, he was already making $18,000 per year (and in those days, that wasn't chump change). While Dell's peers were busy scoping out keg parties, he was already hard at work.
The yearbook also revealed that he worked on an Apple
In 1983, a mere 8% of households had at least one computer in the home, according to National Science Foundation data. Today, according to the Census Bureau, more than 56% of households have a computer, and that number is growing. That foresight puts Dell's particular vision into perspective -- one that has helped his namesake company dust the S&P to the tune of nearly 40,000%.
Granola and greater rewards
Whole Foods Market
The story of John Mackey, the company's CEO and co-founder, starts with the fact that he never graduated from college (not uncommon among CEO visionaries; longtime Fool Rick Munarriz recently did a rundown of book smarts vs. street smarts). Not surprisingly, Whole Foods was created by and for hippies -- not exactly what you might suspect as a coming hotbed of capitalistic achievement.
Mackey opened the first Whole Foods store in 1980 -- and it was temporarily put out of business within the first year by the worst flood to hit Austin, Texas, in 100 years. According to our Fool Radio interview, that was the impetus for expansion to a second location -- the simple and logical necessity to move out of the flood plain.
To this day, Whole Foods caps salaries at 14 times the company's average wage, and in another example of its philosophy of "shared fate," 93% of stock options granted are to Whole Foods Team Members who are not executive officers. There's nothing garden-variety about that. In fact, Mackey and Whole Foods live the "holistic" idea that happy employees make happy customers, which in turn make happy investors. This hasn't harmed the company in the least. Supermarket News recently named Mackey the seventh most influential person in the industry.
Mackey reminisced about how he was turned down for financing by a venture capitalist who said his business was "just a fad," and even if it wasn't, that Whole Foods would be run out of business when traditional and discount retailers -- think Target
Breaking free of conventions
Bezos, Dell, and Mackey had visions far ahead of their times. An uncanny ability to see tomorrow's opportunities makes these visionaries tick -- and allows them to create companies that deliver our own future desires to our doors.
In two out of these three cases, we have examples of leaders who sensed an explosive new space and didn't want to be left behind -- which is the ambition of a Rule Breaker investor. Our Motley Fool Rule Breakers team is constantly on the lookout for such futuristic opportunities. Led by David Gardner -- who as co-founder of the Fool knows something about innovative leadership -- Rule Breakers formally recommends two stocks per month. Hundreds of other companies are vetted on our dedicated discussion boards. Don't be left behind -- be a part of the search for "that vision thing" by joining us for a free 30-day trial. For a limited time, you can also sign up with us for a year and score a free copy of The Innovator's Dilemma. As always, the Fool's money-back guarantee stands behind the offer.
Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. Amazon.com, Dell, and Whole Foods Market are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. The Motley Fool isinvestors writing for investors.