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7/4/2020  Buffett Looses $10 Billion+ on $13 Billion IBM Investment over Seven Years.  Small Comfort to Those of Us Struggling with IT industry careers.    For the period 2011 to 2018, he disclosed a loss of $2 Billion.  (Dividends of $1.7 bb were paid but not sure if included in his loss calculation.)  The OPPORTUNITY COST was a much bigger hit.  Berkshire earned 15.9%/year return over the same period.  If he had invested the $13 billion in Berkshire, he would have gained $10.34 billion.  (($13bb x 15.9% x 5 years (he did not hold $13bb all 7 years) = $10.34bb in lost investment returns.)  Sources:  CNN Business David Goldman November 9, 2015:  Purchased $13bb over 4 years beginning in 2011. Announced loss as of this date.  The Motley Fool, Jeremy Bowman Feb 18, 2018.  Exited IBM - sold down to just $300 mm.

 

 

March, 2020 Tom Quick Survey on GENERAL DECLINE IN COMPETENCE of internal IT people and contractors at large companies.  Summary Answer:

 

1. Yes, the competence of internal, external IT people is down in big companies and contractors / outsourcers and it will continue for what I call “commodity / hygiene work”.  Internal cost pressures, technology fascination, profit motives of vendors and consultants, failures of human nature and immaturity of IT as a industry will continue to devastate projects for the foreseeable future.  The true project success rate (on time, on budget, percent of features promised vs. delivered) will remain at 33%-35% until maturity emerges.

 

2.  High value / high impact work (10x and higher payback) will continue to get competent people.

 

3.  The competence decline is a result of complex and near irresistible forces as IT matures as an industry.  I suggest you skim the bold items in all responses below to get a sense of the forces at work.

 

4.  Bottom Line:  As individuals we are going to have to regularly retool with relevant skills to find work over 50  – likely - on our own (employer won’t pay.)  Opportunities will emerge where we can bring excellence, focus and maturity to IT non-performance (not by accident.  Will be intentional – and hard to do.)

Click for full study

 

 

35%+ of all Public Companies Unprofitable, have much greater interest rate risk and volatility.  Profitable companies returned avg 16% annual shareholder return in last five years. Unprofitable companies showed 4.2% over same period. Will always be those that invest in “latest, greatest, fashionable companies” but they will pay the price.  EXTREME RISK during downturn – first to go.  Study by Dr. Horstmeyer 3/9/2020 WSJ.

 

 

Authority / Responsibility Matching: On Franklin and Washington, greatest of our founders:  "The acute exasperation that both men experienced at the feebleness of Congress during the war convinced them of the need for an effective federal government, with the power to levy taxation. This conviction, we are told, “propelled them on converging paths toward the Constitutional Convention of 1787.”  WSJ book review 2/29/2020 of Friends At the Founding, Franklin & Washington By Edward J. Larson Morrow

- SOME EVENT IS REQUIRED BEFORE START TO GUARANTEE AUTHORITY / RESPONSIBILITY MATCH: Appears universal for those that have solved the problem.  WE CANNOT JUST DIVE IN AN GO TO WORK!!!

 

 

Excesses of big tech on display – collapsing. Personally witnessing the fall of a"grow grow grow tech hype arrogant" $1 billion firm bought by private equity (overpaid)

2/24/2020 Confidential client - lessons learned TBD.  Currently participating in outsourcing and layoff of thousands of employees.  Initial thoughts:

- “We only sell contracts“. Entire focus seems to be not showing one offs –designing the business for repeat sales Good!!!?

- Band-Aids in baling wire problem in spades

- Rapid no code solutions left undocumented, techies gone wild, sophisticated stuff – just not economic for the business to continue

- Star, cash cow,?, Dog triage will be forced by the financial guys if company doesn't do it first.

**BIG QUESTION:  WHAT BUSINESS UNITS, PRODUCT LINES KEEP vs DIVEST???

*****DOING TRIAGE EARLY, BEFORE FORCED PRODUCES 10X BETTER RESULTS!!!?  (per valued Colleague Pete S. has had numerous engagements where triage was too late, contaminated by politics, favoritism)

** KEEP THOSE THAT CAN RAISE PRICES, EARN ABOVE INDUSTRY AVERAGE MARGIN

**SEVERAL BUSINESSES RAZOR THIN MARGINS, CANNOT RAISE.  Will have to go.

 

REMEMBER:  American model of decisions at lowest level + competence of those leaders consistently wins.  Centralized, top down, "dictator" planning and control can prevail in very short term but mid and long term success of American model wins over and over.

- China Corona Virus 2020:  China built hospital to react in 10 days. Great -  but top down, unaccountable control over centuries set stage for the disaster which would never occur in West.  WSJ  2/15/2020

- WWII:  Hitler was devastatingly good at first, but American / Western methods won war because in fog, ambiguity, change, complexity of middle and later war most decisions had to go to Hitler personally.

- WWII:  Japanese were unstoppable in early war, when fighting their battle plans on their chosen ground at chosen time.  U.S. found that early disruption, countering their initiatives left them confused, unable to react until direction came from top.  Admiral Halsey memior.

- WWII:  MacArthur's "hit 'em where they ain't" strategy disrupted, confused Japanese until direction came from top.  RESULTED IN 90% REDUCTION IN U.S. CASUALTIES vs. island hoping frontal assaults when Japan knew they were coming.  MacArthur memoir.

 

 

Why 40% of Public Companies Are UNPROFITABLE, Pretax Profits are Down 13% in Last Five Years for  All Public Companies while S&P 500 After Tax Earnings are Up 31% in Five Years.  Pre-tax profit measured by the Bureau of Economic Analysis looks at all public companies - not just top 500.

- SEE  NEXT ARTICLE DOWN FOR ADDITIONAL DETAIL

- Big successful companies which make the S&P 500 are much better at tax minimization (e.g. offshore domiciles)

- Recent tax cut helps bigger companies more.  (5% reduction overall vs. 8% for big companies.)

- Big tech (riding high right now) is over represented in S&P 500.

- S&P 500 really are best companies - not representative.

- Concern is widening of the same gap happened right before tech bust of 2001.  Likely in long expansion.

- Some is accounting shenanigans - will be shaken out by next recession.

- Warning:  When S&P can no longer hide profit problems, nation-wide earnings are really in trouble.

WSJ article 12/16/19 by James MacIntosh

 

 

MARGINS AS NEW FRONTIER, INCREASING PRESSURE TO BE PROFITABLE. (In my view, because focus has been growth, stock price, appearances instead of high value for customers - indicated by above industry average margins.  ACID TEST:  Can you raise prices without losing customers?)

- 40% of public firms are UNPROFITABLE - highest since late 90's, before tech bust.

- GE, poster child for traditional businesses struggling to make a profit.  Has lost 2/3 of its value and profits from its businesses will never justify recovering.

- Tesla, poster child for investors tolerating losses, no Economic Value Add - to build market share.  Only four quarterly profits in 12 years.  Huge gamble.

- GOOD LEADING INDICATOR OF INVESTOR DEMAND FOR PROFIT vs TOLERANCE FOR LOSSES: IPOs made by unprofitable companies.  75% unprofitable in 2019.  42% were in healthcare.  17% in tech stocks.

- SEEING AN INCREASE IN SMALL COMPANY LOSSES: I think this is because many small companies are competing on price, in the wrong niches, against bigger, better funded companies who are often willing to tolerate losses.  Author has alternate view.

WSJ article 1/10/20 by James MacIntosh

 

 

Bad Experiences 4X as Powerful as Good Experiences.  Solid research confirms, helps overcome.  Wall Street Journal 12/28/2019 CLICK for full article.  Explains several realities of life:

  • NUANCE:  It appears that negative consequences work best for major one-time events that only have to be done once (e.g. install fire alarm or immunize children.)  Rewards better when repeated action required.  Study supports.  WSJ 2/29/2020
  • Why bosses use fear more than reward
  • Bad first impressions are far more powerful than good ones
  • Fear of financial loss has far more impact than financial gain
  • Pain of criticism far greater than reward of praise
  • Risk avoidance 4X more common than risk taking
  • Relatively small reward for doing more, BIG PRICE for falling short of expectation
  • Negativity is our built in bias, contagious, dangerous e.g. the Battlefield
  • Journalists, academics, others get 4X better response forecasting disaster
  • Avoiding BAD far more important to us than doing GOOD
  • The RICH are more pessimistic, gloomier, poorly informed

ALL THIS, DESPITE REALITY THAT:

  • Humans are astoundingly resilient, usually see adversity as making them stronger, better
  • Crime has plummeted in U.S., yet our screens blast a different story
  • Almost every measure of human welfare is significantly improving - except HOPE

USE THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY TO TEACH, MOTIVATE:

  • Fear of bad grades, loss of job, embarrassment, demotion is (unfortunately) far greater than rewards.
  • No one likes this but decades of the "self-esteem" and "everybody gets a trophy" movements have resulted in rampant grade inflation - As and Bs for mediocre/poor work - and poor performance in the workplace

TIPS FOR OVERCOMING:

  • Positivity Ratio:  e.g. Successful marriages work hard on keeping the positive 4X the negative [paraphrased]
  • Four Good Things to Overcome One Bad (one bit of good will is not enough to atone)
  • Manage Your Screens, Inputs, Long Term View:  Look for 4 good for every one bad.  The long term is far better than the disaster of the moment
  • Accentuate the positive, downplay the negative (trite but true)
  • Share the good with friends, church group - enjoy other's blessings
  • Older people learn to get better at this
  • Remember the good, be grateful.  Improves future outlook

 

 

McKinsey Consulting Former Head Alonzo McDonald Turns Back To Jesus 2019-12-21 Wall Street Journal Rejects his "former idols of money, recognition and power."    See also Jude 1:11 (RSV)  Woe to them! For they walk in the way of Cain [killed brother over appearances, recognition], and abandon themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error [greed, money], and perish in Korah's rebellion [taking power from Moses]    CLICK

 

Summary:  Why Strategy Execution Unravels-and What to Do About It

Harvard Business Review · March 2015  by Donald Sull, MIT, Sloan School of Management, Rebecca Homkes and Charles Sull

 

Link to Full Article (Caution:  Do not publish or distribute.  Have interested parties get their own copy from https://hbr.org/2015/03/why-strategy-execution-unravelsand-what-to-do-about-it )

 

Authors conducted big study on execution.  Surveyed 7,600 middle managers, 250 companies – mid size and larger.  Key Points for IT Projects:

- 65%+ of the time, conventional strategy execution does not work for computer projects.

- 84% say boss and direct reports perform as promised all or most of the time.

- Only 50% say they can rely on those outside their department / chain of command to perform as promised (ROUGHLY SAME AS RELIABILITY OF VENDORS, DISTRIBUTORS, PARTNERS.)

- 66% of the time, conflicts with people outside their department / chain of command are handled badly or never.

- They are three times more likely to miss performance commitments because of people outside their department / chain of command.

- Systems for managing performance of people outside their department / chain of command LACK TEETH. Only 20% of managers believe these systems work well.

- #1 Issue Facing Company:  30% cite difficulty of adapting to changing customer needs. THIS IS WHY WE REQUIRE RAPID RESULTS METHODS.

- 33% think executives are in factions and focused on self interest ahead of company interest.

- 80% say their companies fail to kill unsuccessful initiatives quickly enough.

- TRAP:  TRYING TO DO TOO MUCH WITH TOO LITTLE:  Only 11% say all strategic initiatives in their companies have the funding and people needed.

- Computer projects get off track IN A HEARTBEAT:  Only 50% of CEO;s direct reports are clear on strategic priorities.  Only 30% of their direct reports are clear.  Only 16% of front-line managers are clear.

- TOO MANY CORPORATE PRIORITIES AND INITIATIVES: Cited as four times more likely to be the problem than lack of communication / understanding.

- Frequent Change of Direction / Message:  25% flagged as a problem.

- 78% of companies do a terrible job dealing with poor performers.

- 80% of managers believe poor cooperation from those outside their department / chain of command will not be effectively addressed.

Match Authority to Responsibility, As Close to the Work as Possible.  Micromanagement can work in short term but quickly breaks down.

- About 30% of Middle Managers Really Get Things Done. 90% of them hold team members accountable for results.

- Boundary-less Behavior Rewarded or Penalized:  Jack Welch at GE measured and rewarded.

 

A Win For Organic Sales, Margin Growth, Avoiding Deal Fever:  Honeywell declines over priced, bad acquisition of United Technologies, stays focused.  Aerospace division organic sales up in 11%, margins up.  Organic sales also up in performance materials and building technologies but down in safety and productivity solutions in latest quarter.  Stock up 70% since walking away.  WSJ 7/19/19

 

A Loss for Organic Sales Growth and Margin Improvement, A Win for Financial Engineers.  7/20/19  A PE firm I have been watching for five years just sold a portfolio company it had grown to $250 million for "serious multiples" of its investment.  Through acquisition in $50 to $80 million chunks, this firm became the largest refinisher of metal parts for the airline industry in the U.S. "without a single dollar of organic sales" and "serious margin leakage throughout the company."  In my view, the buyer was the greater fool - we'll see how their investment turns out.

 

WSJ Article February 23, 2019 SUMMARY: ACQUISITION C0ST CUTTING MANIA STRATEGY FAILING, BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY TAKES BIG HIT, POSSIBLE SEA CHANGE?  Brazilian investor, 3G acquire Kraft, Hines, numerous other consumer brands, mandate zero-based budgeting, drastic focus on cost cuts and consolidations.  Buffett invests with them for Hines take over.  Just resulted in $15 billion write-down for 3G and cut Berkshire’s per share earnings in half from $35.22 to $17.26.  Appears Berkshire announced a loss for the year, first time in a long time.  Investment Firm 3G Capital, Once a Disrupter, Is Reeling

  • CONSUMER BRANDS INDUSTRY FOLLOWED 3G’S COST CUT MODEL LIKE LEMMINGS.  Result is drastically underfunded aging brands that have almost no ability to recover.  Being decimated by nimble competition willing to invest in new customers and new products.
  • BIG LESSONS FOLLOW, HELPS UNDERSTAND THE MERGER ACQUISITION COST CUT MANIA AND WHERE TO FIND OPPORTUNITIES.
  • SUMMARY:  RELENTLESS COST CUTTING, FAILED TO SPEND ON NEW IDEAS
  • HYPER COST CUTTING STRATEGY, ZERO-BASED BUDGETING STRATEGY, WIDELY IMITATED, “APPEARS TO BE RUNNING OUT OF JUICE.”
  • FLAWED FUNDAMENTAL ASSUMPTION:  Rested in assumption investors could ride legacy food brands forever – slash costs, reap big profits.
  • NOW BEING DISRUPTED BY NATURAL, ORGANIC, NIMBLE SMALLER COMPETITORS:  THIS IS PREDICTABLE BASED ON THE COST SLASHING NO INVEST STRATEGY.
  • SHOULD BE ABLE TO PLOT, 3 TO 5 YEARS AFTER ACQUISITION A COMPANY OR BRAND’S CUSTOMERS WILL BE RIPE FOR THE POACHING.
  • EXECS ARE LAMENTING, VERY COMFORTABLE AND PROFITABLE FOR YEARS.  NO IDEA WHAT TO DO NOW.  “We bought these brands and thought they would last forever.”
  • ZERO-BASED BUDGETING, HYPER FOCUS ON FINANCIAL STRATEGY:- FALLACY:  3G believed that savings from hyper cost cutting would fund, marketing, R&D and new customers.  THEY WERE WRONG.
  • 3G NOW PROVIDING EXTRA FUNDING FOR NEW PRODUCTS AND CUSTOMERS:  Investors complaining this is eating into profits and diminishing their return.  (Choices have consequences!!!)
  • APPEARS THIS STRATEGY IS BASED ON EARLY SAVINGS FROM ACQUISITIONS AND COST SLASHING, BUT REQUIRES AN ADDITIONAL ACQUISITION EVERY 1 TO 2 YEARS TO CONTINUE THE STRING OF APPARENT PROFITS.
  • STRATEGY NOW FAILING BECAUSE VERY FEW ACQUISITIONS AVAILABLE WITH LOTS OF FAT TO CUT AND QUICK EASY PROFITS
  • FINANCIAL, COST CUTTING CRAZY CULTURE DISCREDITED IN ARTICLE, NUMEROUS ACQUISITIONS AND THE BEST PEOPLE ARE NOT INTERESTED.
  • APPEARS 3G’S MODEL CHANGED THE INDUSTRY’S STANDARD APPROACH AND WAS WIDELY ADMIRED BY BUFFETT, ACKMAN AND OTHERS
  • EXAMPLE:  Anheuser Busch purchased when very fat, drastic slashing of perks and unnecessary costs.  Ultimately created InBev, which now has 40% worldwide market share of beer, but is a lumbering giant unable to adapt to changing customer tastes.
  • 3G AND OTHERS ARE NOW CONCEDING THAT MILKING THE PROFITS AND COST CUTTING IS A MISTAKE.  MUST INVEST THE MONEY IN NEW PRODUCTS AND GROWTH.
  • THIS BIG WSJ ARTICLE, VISIBLE FAILURE BY BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY, MAY PRODUCE A SEA CHANGE AMONG INVESTORS.
  • WATCH FOR CHANGING TREND!!!
  • WHY THERE ARE NO MORE FAT, EASY COST CUTTING TARGETS TO ACQUIRE:  Mondelez, Campbell, Kellogg, Unilever, General Mills, and other competitors have been pressured and followed suit to slash costs.
  • 3G FOLLOWED THE SAME STRATEGY IN RESTAURANTS WITH BURGER KING, TIM HORTON’S, POPEYE’S.
  • SAME PATTERN, EARLY BIG PROFITS, THEN COMPANIES STARVED INTO IRRELEVANCE OR REQUIRING HUGE INFLUX OF CASH
  • 3G HAS RECENTLY BEEN FORCED TO SPEND TONS OF MONEY ON THESE RESTAURANTS TO KEEP THE INVESTMENTS VIABLE.
  • FALLACY OF GROWTH:  3G DEFENDS ITSELF WITH CROWING ABOUT GROWTH IN RESTAURANTS AT IT’S CHAINS
  • 3G CANNOT EVEN PRODUCE A COMPETITIVE EBITDA, LET ALONE EVA OR OWNER EARNINGS THAT ACCOUNT FOR COST OF CAPITAL.
  • APPARENTLY 3G LED THE CHARGE RESULTING IN WALLS REMOVED IN OFFICES AND CUBICLE BEING REPLACED WITH OPEN SEATING
  • “3G HAS REALIZED YOU CAN ONLY GET SO FAR WITH COST CUTTING, FINANCIAL MANIA”
  • EXAMPLE OF BIG SPENDING NEEDED TO REGAIN COMPETITIVE VIABILITY:
  • In 2018 Kraft Hines spent $300 million on new products and better service to retailers.
  • CONTRIBUTED TO $15 BILLION WRITE DOWN AND LOSS FOR BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY!!!
  • STATED AGAIN, ACQUISITIONS, PARTICULARLY THE TIMING OF NEW, FAT ACQUISITIONS WERE INTRINSIC TO 3G’S STRATEGY AND SUCCESS
  • ZERO-BASED BUDGETING ESTIMATED TO BE DOWN FROM 16% OF U.S. COMPANIES TO ONLY 7%.  “You can’t save your way to prosperity.”

 

2/28/19 Too Much Corporate Debt, Interest Rates Too Low for Too Long contributing to Stock Market Volatility - Be Ready for the Tide To Go Out. WSJ article.   Whenever the Fed talks about raising interest rates a tiny bit - the stock market goes whacky - down - hopefully back up.  Reason is the interest cost on too  much debt owed by corporations can kill their profits - and the company - in a heartbeat. We've had a long, very slow rising tide for 10+ years - raising all boats.  WHEN THE TIDE TURNS THE COMPANIES WITH HIGHEST DEBT WILL BE THE FIRST TO FAIL or shrink rapidly.  Heaven help the companies that are using massive amounts of debt to produce modest profits (or break even or worse - taking losses now hoping growth will drive up their stock prices.)  KNOW YOUR EMPLOYER AND CUSTOMER'S DEBT TO EQUITY RATIOS!  Ben Graham says 2 to 1 max.  Most agree no more than 3 to 1.  Get some help to penetrate the financial engineering that most public companies use to make statements look good.  Make hay now, while the sun shines - but don't be surprised by how fast and hard the tide goes out.

 

2/7/19  Huge Trend, Outside Sales Becoming "Hybrid with Inside Sales".  Pure outside sales almost extinct.  Outside sales now spends 50% of their time selling "remotely".  "Remote Sales / Inside Sales growing 15%/year - 800,000 new jobs last year. It is NOT customer service.   NOT telemarketing.  Best to call it "Remote Selling"  Full Article

 

2/7/19 WSJ Article "Good Riddance to Low Margin Industries"   Courageous article by Andy Kessler  Tom Summary:  Indicators of persistent low margin industries: Price, price, price – only element of deals

- Tariffs, international trade, allegations of unfair competition take center stage

- Easy, simple for analysts, investors, competitors to understand

- No / low barriers to competition

- Profitable, better run businesses exit the segment (e.g. Intel and AT&T exited memory chips)

   o Over time, the Japanese lost market share to Korea, especially Samsung. China is now taking share.

- EXITING BAD INDUSTRY FORCES FOCUS ON HIGHER MARGIN SEGMENTS

   o Intel focused instead on high-margin microprocessors—the 386, 486 and Pentium

   o “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China” label.

- Who cares? Good riddance to low-margin businesses, awful uses of capital. The U.S. invests up the margin chain.

- The fallacy of today’s tariff war with China: It is meant to save jobs but ends up destroying better ones.  Click for Detail

 

12/8/18 WSJ FASHIONABLE PHILANTHROPY FAILURES.  Interview with Bill Easterly CLICK  HUGE parallels between failures of fashionable philanthropic approach to helping 3rd world countries (Bill Gates, et. al.) and IT industry's history of poor project results.  ROOT ROOT ROOT issue is "how do you get the people with power to give up control so right things get done?"  ANSWER:  You can't. Find another approach to desired outcome.

 

10/13/18  WSJ Article Lampert's Non-Strategy to Save Sears.  CLICK

  • SUMMARY – NON PERFORMANCE ROOTS, OPPORTUNITIES
    • STRATEGY
      • Certainly not effective
      • Acknowledged "no grand strategy", except SPEND LESS THAN COMPETITORS, CONSOLIDATE, CUT COSTS
    • FGIC WEAKNESS, BAD ASSUMPTIONS
      • Strictly a hedge fund / financial guy
      • Assumed competitors were bloated over spenders
      • Rejected IT investments in online shopping, loyalty programs
      • Rejected store upgrade investment
      • Rejected plan to turn Kmarts into ecommerce pickup points (working for Best Buy)
      • Thought he was smarter that ALL RETAIL COMPETITORS – DID IT HIS WAY – CHEAP – DESPITE BIG EVIDENCE TO CONTRARY
        • Knew nothing about retail but HAD THE POWER – COULD NOT RESIST USING IT
      • SHAREHOLDER VALUE ASSUMPTION – turned into severe under investing, resist all spending, underfund initiatives, "PROVE THE MATH BEFORE ANY MAJOR INVESTMENT"
  • CIGAR BUTT INVESTING
    • Bought Kmart and Sears at bargain prices
    • SEARS STORES WERE RUN DOWN, INEFFICIENT, RESULT OF YEARS OF NON-SPENDING, BEING ON THE BLOCK TO BE SOLD
  • INVESTMENTS, NON-SPENDING, FINANCIAL ENGINEERING
    • WalMart spent $2 billion on ecommerce over 10 years where Sears spent 1/10 of this???
    • Attempted cheap initiatives, abandoned quickly
    • Capital Investments:  spent ¼ of what Target and Macy's spent over 10 years
    • SHARE BUYBACKS + NO INVESTMENT:  Spent $6 billion but minimal capital investing while Target spent $23 billion on buy backs + $32 billion on capital investments for same period
  • LOST SIGHT OF CUSTOMER
    • "When customer pulls up to store they don't see investor ROI.  They see lightbulbs out, potholes, banged up doors"
    • Ecommerce sales were 17% of Macy's ecommerce sales

 

 

10/8/2018  ANOTHER REASON FOR ALL THE ACQUISITIONS / M&A: GIVES OWNERS THE CHANCE TO BREAK COVENANT WITH EMPLOYEES - CONSISTENTLY REMOVE HIGHER PAID PEOPLE

  • Big opportunity for TIA, FOLLOWING M&A, AT 18 MONTHS - NON PERFORMANCE BECOMES UNDENIABLE
    • THREE REASONS FOR ACQUISITION - LOOK INARGUABLE ON PAPER / IN STRATEGY - 70-80% FALL APART IN EXECUTION
      1. LOOK BIGGER THAN YOU ARE - APPEAR FAST GROWING
      2. REMOVE A COMPETITOR
      3. BREAK COVENANT - REMOVE HIGHLY PAID EMPLOYEES

 

 

7/2/2018  Understanding Wacky Decisions Made by Financial Guys, Stock Market, Investors, WHY THEY WON'T PAY FOR NEEDED IT PROJECTS (a beginning).  I call this the "FINANCIAL GUYS IN CHARGE" PROBLEMClick for wsj article and more notes.

 

CONCLUSIONS / SOLUTIONS FOR MY PRACTICE:  Focus where

  • Paid for with OPEX – Not CAPEX
  • Management can resist SHORT TERMISM (how separate hype and reality?)
  • Clearly moved needle in 12 months
  • Financial guys like to spend vs. don't like (new CEOs, acquisitions…)
  • IDEAL:  Able to negotiate CEO jobs where free from short termism, interference

 

- CLASSES OF SPENDING VERY DIFFERENT.

  • R&D (some sectors rewarded, spending in vogue, some punished for spending e.g. mfg, pharma)
  • Capital Spending (Plant & Equipment.  Falling world-wide, trend here to stay)
  • Business Investment (headwinds increasing, see below)

 

- SHORT TERM QUARTERLY FINANCIALS FOCUS

  • Here to stay.  Avg hold period steady at 12-15 months
  • Mgmt's ability to resist short termism is critical.  E.g. Amazon strong enough to spend on long term
  • MGMT HAS RESORTED TO FINANCIAL ENGINEERING to fund R&D, capex, projects
  • NOTE:  Some companies need quarterly leash to stay in check, some barely affected.  Art form is knowing difference

 

- HISTORY, STUDIES SHOW INVESTORS BETTER OFF NOT SPENDING ON CAPEX, BUSINESS INVESTMENT

  • Mgmt track record on projects stinks, will run wild if not on very short leash
  • Prefer to acquire companies with systems / stuff in place – they understand better
  • Investing in R&D PAYS OFF MUCH BETTER

 

- PRESSURE, TREND TO TURN CAPEX INTO OPERATING COST CONTINUES: Big opportunity for no-code!

 

- SECTORS IN VOGUE CAUTION: Insanity can prevail for a while.  E.g. dot com bubble, current tech sector fad, big R&D spending, not likely to pay off

 

- LOW INTEREST RATE / HIGH DEBT:  Always a concern – WATCH OUT WHEN RATES RISE

 

- SHAREHOLDER BUYBACKS: Much debate, competes with IT projects for cash.  Interest rate / debt risk

 

 

7/2/2018  Why Good New Product / Service Initiatives Don't Get Funded, Are Underfunded, Plug Gets Pulled.  GOOD MONEY / BAD MONEY CONCEPT.  Click for summary from Innovator's Solution by Clayton Christenson, et. al.  GOOD MONEY is patient for growth but impatient for profit (demands rapid proof that a new product / service is viable.)  BAD MONEY demands rapid growth but is patient for profits.  Look for good money - but beware - it can turn bad in a heartbeat when company takes a downturn.  I think we need contracts guaranteeing funding... easy to say...

 

 

7/2/2018  Optimism is Respectable Again Click for WSJ article   I benefited greatly from the "positive thinking" fad of the 1970s and early 80s - though the advocates went a bit too far.  I am glad to see optimism is fashionable again - it encourages me.

 

7/2/2018  Two Tough/Bad Projects Recently, Got My Head Handed to Me. I recently landed dream projects for Boeing and for a Private Equity firm.  Both looked outstanding at the start - turned to mush - nothing I could have done about it.  Don't let me give you the impression that I've got this all figured out...  We need each other's help to understand and navigate the evolving landscape.

 

 

1/27/2018  High-end sales jobs decreasing as companies push to reduce labor costs.  DOWNSIDE:  Commoditization, low barriers to entry, low margins.  Relationship selling declining, only 7% of high performers.  Customers, spread too thin, no time, consequence is Problem (Non-performance) / Solution / Urgent Compelling Need selling is best way - by far.  Sales people controlling, driving sale through UCN solution/expertise is growing and expected by buyers.  Sales technology will continue to explode. Article on Sales Trends, 2017 by Jim Keena, Philip Petersen  Click

 

 

1/13/2017  CAPITAL AND CORPORATIONS ARE HURTLING AWAY FROM BEING PUBLIC. TOWARD PRIVATE EQUITY.  Becoming easier to raise private money than public - even $1 bb+.  U.S. listed public companies declined from  7,000 to 4,000 (42%) since 1997, largely through M&A.  Remaining public firms are bigger, more bureaucratic, BECOMING COMMODITY, LOW PERFORMANCE PLACES TO WORK, LOW RETURNS FOR INVESTORS.  No real upside to being public, much downside. PE now has tools to compensate high performing people with marketable securities - not just payouts after exit. Short term investors in public companies are driving talent to PE.  IPOs are down from 9,300/year high to an average of 200 per year, largely because the Public investors will not invest long enough to bring critical new tech and concepts to market.   Click for WSJ article

 

 

1/7/2017  Buffett, Other Models for "Fee for Performance" instead of paying flat fees, hourly rates, salaries.  In the 1960s Buffett charged no fee for managing investments until they produced a 6% return.  Above 6% he got 25% of the overage.  If the return was below 6% in future years he gave back the difference.  Currently Orbis charges a base fee of 0.45% annually and 25% of the performance over a benchmark of similar companies.  AJO charges "fulcrum fees" (fees increase in high performance years but decrease / giveback in low performance years.  See WSJ article by Jason Zwieg.  NOTE ON HOW BUFFETT PAYS HIS CEOS:  Near as I can tell, he establishes a target Return on Invested Capital for the company and pays the CEO between 15% and 25% of any overage.

 

 

12/7/2016  The "Effectiveness Movement Away from Public Company Dumb Stuff" Now Creates 30 to 50% of All Return On Invested Capital" (Tom's guess.) Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway Demonstrate Effectiveness of "PE-Like" Management and are now the 4th most valuable company (at $400 Billion). Rational management, rigorous cost containment, picking right CEO, not interfering, barriers to competition, capital invested only where total return is competitive and dozens of other points of excellence are growing and dominating.  Let's compare Return On Invested Capital for Private Equity + Berkshire Hathaway vs. all other public companies.  I think you will find PE + Berkshire account for 30-50% of total ROIC.  (Remember that public companies are often unprofitable and operating with huge capital producing marginal returns.)  Berkshire alone paid 10% of all corporate income taxes in 2010 according to Buffett's letter. See WSJ Article

 

 

12/2/2016 Why U.S. Explosion of Manufacturing in 1950s, 1960s cannot recur (rest of world's manufacturing capacity was devastated by WWII, U.S. held near monopoly for 1/4 of a century), cautions for boom times, viewing current manufacturing opportunities, returns realistically, implications for low skill workers.  WSJ article by Phil Gramm.  CLICK

 

 

11/30/16  Dumb Stuff In Public Companies:  Activist Elliot letter aiming at Cisco and Cognizant non-performance.  Pushing to increase operating margins from18% to 23%, DISPOSE of non-performing assets (don't waste energy selling them.)  Cisco took action, stock up 30%+ in 18 months.  Cognizant response pending.  I worked for Cognizant.  I have seen the non-performance there and at dozens of other public companies.  This is why I like Private Equity. See WSJ Article

 

 

11/1/16  Mike Fariburn, President of Latin America, eight countries, four plants, 2200 employees, used and improved SQP (Sales Quotation Process for Complex Product and Service Sales.) Resulted in dramatic improvements in margin, forecast accuracy, change order payments.  Big reduction in legal risks, "surprise costs" over 10 years.  Average Order $2.4-$7 million.  Average 500+ Orders Per Year.  30% Close Rate.  Click for details ***

 

 

9/3/2016  De-Mistifying IT:  I want to be the "John C. Bogle of Big IT":   As head of Vanguard Investments he changed an industry with competition, transparency, stewardship for owners and cost minimization.  Said "No.  We can do better." to self-firsters, big egos, razzle dazzle of complex investing and high profits at investor expense.  Stood up to those preying on fear, ignorance, desire for get rich quick, laziness and inattention.  Hard work, discipline resulted in indexed (low cost) mutual funds rising from near 0% to 25% of all investments (Almost $1 trillion since 2008.)  I'd like your help making big IT and big software transparent and accountable for serving owners - not self.  Julia Child did the same thing for French cooking - made it understandable for all. See WSJ Article

 

 

8/1/16  Make Growth an INTENTIONAL PROCESS, Chapter 10 Key Points.  From Jeff Imelt and the New GE Way, 2009.  BREAKTHROUGH THINKING.  Most growth hopes are based the happy byproduct of operating excellence, e.g. Quality or Customer Service.

 

  • Growth record under Imelt:  Between 2001 and 2007 grew revenues from $107 billion to $179 billion, profit from $14 billion to $22 billion (60%)
  • Growth as mandated, disciplined process!!!
    • NOT the happy byproduct of operating excellence, e.g. Quality or Customer Service
    • Dominate culture at GE Medical was cost cutting.  HAD TO CHANGE - INCOMPATIBLE WITH GROWTH
  • Welch drove profit growth mostly through cost control!!!
  • MAY BE ABLE TO FORECAST A LIFE CYCLE:  Acquisition - cost cutting happiness - cost cutting not enough + cannot grow by acquisition -> ORGANIC GROWTH OPPORTUNITY, willing to do what is needed
    • Standard GE Growth Tools:
  • Technology enhancement
  • Becoming as good at marketing and sales as GE is at productivity and cost control
  • Real customer focus:  Customer-driven solutions, more listening sessions
  • Geographic (global) expansion
    • Easy to get comfortable in US only.  Hard work, big rewards to grow globally
  • Boundary-less
  • Bundling services with profits
  • Linking with outside contributors (whole product solution.  Improve things for partners)
  • "Owning Spaces" (niche dominance)
  • New products
  • Develop growth leadership
    • UNDERSTANDING NICHE BEFORE ACQUISITION! - e.g. Amersham purchase by GE Medical
    • Growth Leader Selection based on:
  • External focus, success in market terms
  • Clear thinking, reduce strategy to action, make decisions, communicate priorities
  • Imagination, courage, take risks on people and ideas
  • Inclusiveness build loyalty, commitment
  • Function or industry personal expertise leading to confidence to drive change
    • Net Promoter Score:  Customers who would recommend GE minus those who would not
    • Customer 'dreaming" sessions
  • He viewed as adding disciplined growth to existing strengths of risk management, cost control and productivity
  • Items he did not mention but key from my experience
    • Queue of test market initiatives, best targeted niches, ready to go
    • Cadence - Qtrly Plan vs. Results:  "here is how I did against planned growth targets last quarter, here are my targets for next quarter"

 

 

WSJ Article 7/28/2016  Discusses Private Equity history, trends, where opportunities are for Organic Sales growth by Matt Jarzemsky

  • PE was hot, 2000-2009ish, many sustained 20%+ annual returns
  • NO LONGER ABLE TO DELIVER THESE RETURNS DUE TO
    • Rising valuations
    • Competition from corporate buyers and other PE firms “we are constantly outbid”
    • Low growth, low equity market growth (from cheap money, et. al.) reduces sale price
    • OLD FORMULA NO LONGER WORKING (buy underperformer at a bargain, improve performance, leverage with debt and sell)
      • CAN’T FIND THE BARGAINS
      • MOST DON’T UNDERSTAND BEYOND FINANCIAL ENGINEERING
  • Differentiates between PE and LBO firms
    • LBO overreach + 2008/2009 recession created BUNCH of bargains for PE.  Now gone
  • Blackstone and Apollo down 15% for the year
  • KKR and Carlyle down 35% for the year
  • PE STRATEGY CHANGES:
    • Have moved beyond just LBO / financial engineering
    • expanding into real estate, credit, public company stakes
    • AMASSING SMALLER COMPANIES IN FRAGMENTED INDUSTRIES – OPPORTUNITY!!!

 

 

7/29/16  Understand why the Fed, many economists believe U.S. has permanently down shifted to about 2.1% annual GDP growth.  WSJ chart shows average growth declining from 7% per year after WWII. Click Here

 

 

6/2/16  Understand the Upside of Wall Street, Financial Engineering to Help Manage the Downside:  Excellent WSJ article by Nitin Nohira, dean of Harvard Business School shows India as example of what U.S. would be like without financial services:  Can't buy a home until can pay in cash, no capital available for starting businesses except when controlled by wealthy families...  Click Here for article

 

 

5/16/16  Mike Grimes, GE and Private Equity Heavy Hitter speaks to Institute of Management Consultants Talk May 16, 2016 Click Here for recording, *** other materials to help understand Private Equity

 

 

5/16/16  BEST INFO, LEARNING RAMP UP TO UNDERSTAND PRIVATE EQUITY: Mike Grimes, Tom Ferguson, Doug Staab, Damian Thomas, Bob Alexander, Mike Lorrelli and other Private Equity veterans provide their insights, tips and stories for navigation the opaque, difficult world of PE.  Click Here for recordings, notes, summaries ***

 

5/3/16  Financial Engineering Shows Its Downside, Opportunities for Those Focused on Growing Happy Customers instead of finance.  Click for WSJ article

 

 

3/4/16, "Financial Economy Out of Gas..." Financial type's lack of understanding creating opportunities for those who can grow happy customers and profitable operations. Bill Gross, head of Janus Capital, says the "financialization of the economy" that created endless growth [for the financial engineers] over the last 25 years has run out of fuel.  Many of us who care about the fundamentals of happy customers and profits have been frustrated as the financial types have come to rule the planet.  The Fed, the Wall Street Journal and nearly everything I read from the financial types moan about a permanent shift to lower national growth (about 2.2%) and whining that they can only earn 1% or 2% on their cash investments.  I think opportunities are returning for those of us who understand the hard, diligent work required to grow happy customers and deliver profitable products and services.  The financial types have never understood this - and the cycle of opportunity is coming back to favor us.  Look for situations where the financial guys can no longer hide their failure to grow profitable businesses - especially in Private Equity.  Click Here for Wall Street Journal article  Join the "Stay Connected, Help a Buddy" network as we help each other grow organic sales. [Help a Buddy Link Deleted]

 

 

12/19/15  The Death of God is Greatly Exaggerated, Wall Street Journal article by Kate Bacheldor on Eric Metaxas, Manhattan based "happy warrior for Muscular Christianity."  An author and talk show host that prizes civility but insists on speaking out for Christian principles...  Click for Article

 

 

2/22/15  "Show Up With Your First 20 Plays Ready" to avoid common mistakes with mergers and integration (Bill Walsh). Quick-Starts shorten the cycle time for IT systems needed for process improvement. Click here for WSJ article.  Part of our Rapid Results approach with SharePoint and other tools is using "Quick-Starts" (templates / solutions I have built before where I have about 18 pieces of the puzzle ready to go.  E.g. screens, workflows, process drawings, database designs, outcomes and priorities, etc.)  Currently we  have about 15 of these Quick-Starts.

 

 

12/20/2014 God Is Not Dead In Gotham, Wall Street Journal,  Click for article by Kate Bacheldor.  Regarding pastor Tim Keller

  1. Church has grown to 5500 people in 25 years IN DOWNTOWN MANHATTAN, helped with 300 Church Plants in 45 cities around the world
  2. Keller asks questions in personal meetings.  (Finds out what people worship – what is their “god” at the moment, Plus showing interest, Plus generating relationship.)
  3. “Everyone has a god, everyone has a way of salvation, we just don’t use the term…they are putting their hopes in something and they are living for it.”
  4. “The only reason you are laying yourself out like this is because you’re not really just working.  This is very much your religion.”
  5. Hard part: “Coming under God’s authority because you have to find your identity in Christ – not in just fulfilling yourself.”  THIS COMPLETELY COLLIDES WITH WHAT OUR CULTURE IS TELLING PEOPLE.
  6. Professionals are often attracted to the idea of sacrificial love.
  7. Golden Rule is USE PLAIN ENGLISH.  Stay away from Tribe Lingo like ‘Blessing’, etc.
  8. Part of the Presbyterian Church of America, a Conservative Presbyterian Denomination (these guys regularly surprise me!)
  9. “God is not under any obligation to make me succeed.”  AGAIN, FLIES IN THE FACE OF WHAT OUR CULTURE TELLS US.

 

 

12/12/2013  Muscular Christianity (championed by Teddy Roosevelt, though his Christian record is mixed...))  Historical Basis – Turns out this has been a topic since the Victorian era.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muscular_Christianity  Wall Street Journal Article by Stephen Prothero

 

 

12/12/2013, "A Cage-Fighting Christ for Our Time" on Seattle pastor championing the concept, going a bit too far?  Wall Street Journal article

 

 

4/10/2013 High Character Leaders Produced 9.35% Return on Assets while Low Character Leader's ROA averaged 1.93%.  Study by KRW Intl, Minneapolis, MN, published in Harvard Business Review.  Study covered two years, has some rigor, some flaws and sample size is too small (84 firms).  Measured through employee surveys on leader integrity, responsibility, forgiveness, compassion.  Should have measured additional items including effective strategy, the pursuit of excellence and willingness to do the right things - even when hard.  Caution regarding things we want to hear and fuzzy, subjective hr/staff focus.    Click for summary.

 

 

3/10/2019:  Buffett On IBM Purchase:  “I’ve revalued it downward…  their projections ran into big strong competitors… [paid too much]… tech is littered with areas when you can create high growth and make no money.  That’s not us.  ”  IBM Revenues still declining, 20 quarters in a row, growth in Watson, Cloud, other new areas not offsetting shrinkage, IBM’s competitive advantages have deteriorated, Buffett no longer willing to wait,  WSJ Article

 

 

 

 

 

 

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**Success stories, client quotes, estimated costs and benefits are derived from actual projects but may have been altered for simplicity, teaching purposes or to protect confidential information.

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