Book Review: The Outsiders by William N. Thorndike, Jr.
The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success by William N. Thorndike, Jr. details the commonalities among the 8 CEOs (also referred to in this book as the outsiders) who significantly outperformed their peers. William stated the commonalities right off the bat and used the remaining chapters to go over each outsider’s experience much more in-depth.
You can tell that a lot of work went into this book. Many interviews were conducted and a lot of financial data were analyzed and presented.
Capital allocation: the process of deciding how to deploy the firm’s resources to earn the best possible return for shareholders
CEOs have 2 key responsibilities: running their operations effectively and deploying the cash generated by those operations
CEOs generally have 5 choices for deploying capital:
- Investing in existing operations
- Acquiring other businesses
- Issuing dividends
- Paying down debt
- Repurchasing stock
And 3 options for raising it:
- Tapping internal cash flow
- Issuing debt
- Raising equity
The outsiders are focused primarily on making capital allocation decisions and usually delegate running the company operations to a trusted partner. When making capital allocation decisions, these CEOs are very aware of the various tax implications. And contrary to their peers, they did not avoid repurchasing stocks and also did not pay any meaningful dividends.
There is no right option for deploying capital. The key message here is to evaluate all the available options and its implications for your organization.
Develop and Trust Your Analytical Skills
One of the key differences between the outsiders and their peers is that the outsiders trust and act on their own analytical skills. They do not fall prey to the Wall Street’s conventional wisdom and their decisions aren’t impacted by the public opinion. The outsiders have their own method of determining whether a business including their own is under or overvalued. Once they determine a business is underpriced, they are able to act swiftly and acquire the business or its shares if it’s the best capital allocation option.
William examined the stock repurchases events made by the outsiders and these events all happened when the share price was undervalued. On the other hand, when the shares were expensive, they often used it to buy other companies or to raise inexpensive capital to fund future growth.
There is a fundamental humility to decentralization, an admission that headquarters does not have all the answers and that much of the real value is created by local managers in the field.
Besides allocating financial resources, CEOs also need to allocate human resources. The outsiders all emphasized decentralization except when it comes to capital allocation decisions. They hire the best people and give them the responsibilities and authority to do their job. The goals set for the local managers are clear and if they meet their goals they often won’t hear from the headquarters.
Turnovers are costly. So when you hire great people, let them do what they do best. Giving them the responsibility and opportunity to learn and grow will be one of the best ways to retain your talent.
In both insurance and investing, Warren Buffett believes the key to longterm success is “temperament”, a willingness to be “fearful when others are greedy and greedy when they are fearful”.
What set the outsiders apart from their peers is their temperament. There are numerous CEOs who have the analytical skills who make poor capital allocation decisions. Like in life, it’s one thing to know what the right thing to do is, it’s another thing to do it. Going against the public opinion isn’t easy and this is what the outsiders have done throughout their careers.
Often times, the popular decision is the wrong decision. Be able to evaluate the options yourself and understand that your job is not to please the public but to bring value to your company and its shareholders.
The book is very organized and does not stray away from the key messages. However, I also find that too many examples are used to convey the same key messages. It’s not a book I’ll recommend but if you are interested in the insights I discussed and the numbers behind it then this is a book you might enjoy reading.
I’m currently reading The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham.