The Capital Allocation Playbook (Part 8)

The Outsiders

In his book, William Thorndike discusses 7 other case studies besides Teledyne and compares them with Jack Welch’s performance at GE (who is not among “The Outsiders”). The table below from Strategy for Executives summarises the performance of the Super 8 capital allocators:

CEO Company Period as CEO Stock’s Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) Factor by which the stock outperformed the S&P 500
Jack Welch GE 1981-2001 20.9% 3.3 Times
Tom Murphy Capital Cities 1966-1996 19.9% 16.7 Times
Henry Singleton Teledyne 1960-1989 20.4% 12 Times
Bill Anders General Dynamics 1991-1993 23.3% 6.7 Times
John Malone TCI 1973-1998 30.3% 40 Times
Katharine Graham The Washington Post 1971-1993 22.3% 18 Times
William Stiritz Ralston Purina 1981-2001 24% 4 Times
Dick Smith General Cinema 1962-2005 16.1% 16 Times
Warren Buffet Berkshire Hathaway Since 1965 20.7% Over 100 Times

This chart from the book (via Kyle Eschenroeder) shows what the 8 Outsider CEOs had in common:

Towards the end of the book, Thorndike has a capital allocator’s checklist. Here’s a summary:

  1. The allocation process should be CEO led, not delegated to finance or business development personnel.
  2. Start by determining the hurdle rate—the minimum acceptable return for investment projects (one of the most important decisions any CEO makes).
  3. Calculate returns for all internal and external investment alternatives, and rank them by return and risk
  4. Calculate the return for stock repurchases. Require that acquisition returns meaningfully exceed this benchmark.
  5. Focus on after-tax returns, and run all transactions by tax counsel.
  6. Determine acceptable, conservative cash and debt levels, and run the company to stay within them.
  7. Consider a decentralized organizational model.
  8. Retain capital in the business only if you have confidence you can generate returns over time that are above your hurdle rate.
  9. If you do not have potential high-return investment projects, consider paying a dividend. Be aware, however, that dividend decisions can be hard to reverse and that dividends can be tax inefficient.
  10. When prices are extremely high, it’s OK to consider selling businesses or stock. It’s also OK to close under-performing business units if they are no longer capable of generating acceptable returns.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.