What if you drove past Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) headquarters in Seattle and saw Howard Schultz sipping on a Dunkin' Donuts coffee? Wouldn't you start to question the Starbucks brand and think twice about the company's product? After all, if the founder of the company doesn't believe in the product he is selling, why should you believe in it?

Fortunately for shareholders, the Starbucks chairman has remained passionate about the company for decades, and the stock has returned 4,900% since the company's public debut in 1992.

All CEOs champion their business in press releases and analyst meetings when they are on the clock -- it's their job. But investors looking to crush the market need to seek out those leaders that make the success of the company their life's passion.

Mouthing off
It's no secret that there's a correlation between companies led by founders or committed CEOs and incredible stock returns. Call it the "founder effect," call it motivation, call it whatever you want. The bottom line is that management committed to the success of the company shows it by owning a significant portion of the business and by hanging around a long time, often decades.

Need a few examples? How about Bio-Rad Laboratories (AMEX:BIO): Chemist David Schwartz and his biochemist wife, Alice, started the company in 1952. The Schwartz family holds about a third of the company, and the founder only recently handed the reins to son Norman in 2003, who has been with the company for more than 30 years. Bio-Rad has outperformed the general market over the past 22 years -- it has returned more than 3,000% for shareholders.

A similar familial handover recently took place at Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), where founder and now chairman Irwin Jacobs passed the baton to son Paul Jacobs, an employee since 1990. Qualcomm is a 70-bagger since its 1991 IPO. And I'll bet you won't see either Jacobs with a cell phone using a competitor's technology.

Robert Stiller founded Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NASDAQ:GMCR) in 1981 and still serves as chairman and CEO. Since its IPO in 1993, Green Mountain has more than doubled the return of the S&P, and insiders still own a third of the company.

Sticking it out
Particularly with successful small-cap companies, being bought out by a larger conglomerate is fairly common. But invested insiders with long tenures tend to be less likely to sell off their company too early if they see long-term promise. They turn down offers because they know that barreling ahead on the current plan is far more lucrative -- for themselves and investors alike.

What if Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) had hypothetically come in with a fabulous offer for Hansen Natural (NASDAQ:HANS) in 2003? The pairing may have helped the soda giant in the alternative-drink segment and likely boosted Coca-Cola stock, which has been essentially flat over the past three years. But investors in Hansen would have missed out on a 50-bagger. Fortunately, heavily invested insiders at Hansen have resisted the temptation to sell out.

Or what if Garmin (NASDAQ:GRMN) founders Gary Burrell and Min Kao had decided to retire and sell the company five years ago to any one of several consumer-device conglomerates scrambling to add GPS technology to their stables? The founders didn't sell, and they still own about a third of the company. Investors have been treated to 350% share growth since.

Show me the money
Everyday investors put money behind companies with little evidence that the leadership shares any passion for the business. Or worse, they invest in companies clearly demonstrating that executive interests are not aligned with those of shareholders. With thousands of stocks to choose from, no investor needs to take such risks.

At Motley Fool Hidden Gems, we consider executive tenure and insider ownership a pivotal factor when recommending investments. We also like to see founders in leadership roles, because founders tend to be keenly aware of the opportunities for growth and also attract highly motivated employees.

The results speak for themselves: Hidden Gems recommendations are up 33% versus the S&P's gain of 14% over more than three years. Add some passionate small caps to your portfolio -- click here for a no-obligation 30-day trial to Hidden Gems, and see which companies lead analysts Tom Gardner and Bill Mann are mouthing off about now.

Fool contributor Dave Mock mouths off all the time. He owns shares of Starbucks, Coca Cola, Qualcomm, and Garmin. The longtime Fool is also the author of The Qualcomm Equation . Garmin and Starbucks are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Coca-Cola in an Inside Value recommendation. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.