It's easy to pinpoint an isolated trait of a successful company and declare that other companies wanting to be successful need to -- must! -- do something similar.

For example, Philip Morris changed its name to Altria (NYSE:MO) to help distance itself from its cigarette-company roots. Yet it wasn't the name change from Boston Chicken to Boston Market that burnished that company's reputation. Quite the contrary; changing its name seemed to simply mask deeper underlying problems. It wasn't until McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) acquired the franchise and imposed some fiscal responsibility that it finally turned around.

Strong management skills
But there are characteristics that can be singled out as having a direct bearing on a company's success. At Motley Fool Hidden Gems, we try to find these commonalities in our quest to unearth the most promising small-cap companies. Take strong leadership. While mediocre management can certainly get by when its company is selling products people want, it's when the going gets tough that the true nature of management shines. In such situations, people naturally think of the reigns of Jack Welch at General Electric (NYSE:GE), Sam Walton at Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), and Sandy Weill at Citigroup (NYSE:C).

The recent announcement that Lee Raymond, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), was stepping aside after 12 years at the helm brought this to mind. Raymond spent 42 years at the oil company -- he was hired out of college -- and rose through the ranks. Such dedication and steadfastness marks a successful manager. There's no denying Raymond's achievements, either. Despite rankling environmentalists with an obdurate opposition to the theory of global warming, Raymond oversaw $25 billion in profits on sales of $291 billion last year, and ExxonMobil stock has risen 455% during his tenure. Sure, he's benefited from global events, but it reminds me of the saying, "The more prepared I am the luckier I get." A strong management team can have a lasting, positive impact on the fortunes of corporations.

Aligning interests with shareholders
Most Hidden Gems selections have management teams with established track records at the company and a personal financial stake in the business.

Igor Khandros, CEO at FormFactor (NASDAQ:FORM), personally owns 8% of all his company's stock. With a stake like that, he has plenty of incentive to be concerned about the well-being and long-term performance of the business. Count in his long tenure at the company he founded and it becomes apparent why FormFactor quickly vaulted to its current position as industry leader, and why it's not showing any signs of giving up that position. It's also a large part of why this semiconductor tech company is up 24% since it was first recommended to Hidden Gems subscribers, while the semiconductor sector is down 1% over that same time frame.

Exxon's Raymond owns some 3 million shares of his company's stock. He's certainly not the largest shareholder, but it is a significant holding that undoubtedly causes him to want the best performance from his company.

The Foolish focus
While there are a number of factors Fool co-founder Tom Gardner considers when finding the next home run stock, management quality, integrity, honesty, and length of tenure play a large role. As you consider the next company for your investment dollars, look "inside" to get a better view of things.

Want to get on the inside track to bigger and better returns for your portfolio? Tom Gardner is offering a 30-day free trial to Motley Fool Hidden Gems. Click here to learn more.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey owns shares of Wal-Mart and FormFactor, which is a Hidden Gems recommendation. He does not own any of the other stocks mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.