Register For Our Mailing List

Register to receive our free weekly newsletter including editorials.

Home / 292

The 'founder' mindset of an astute investor

Investing is about understanding businesses and as with all things business-related, nothing is ever clear-cut. Businesses are comprised of a set of strategies which have been selected and implemented by management. However, no one can guarantee the success of a business strategy - not even management themselves. So what hope does an investor have?

In this article I’ll explore the characteristics of a certain type of investor who holds an advantage. I’ve termed them the ‘entrepreneurial investor’.

Business owners think differently

In 1947, Benjamin Graham coined the term the ‘enterprising investor’. He outlined how an edge could be gained by delving deep into the numbers to determine the true underlying value of a business. But that edge is harder to find these days. There are simply less cigar butts and more people looking for a free puff. It’s a tough game if you’re relying only on that strategy.

So, if studying the numbers won’t give you an edge, what will? One of the answers I believe, lies in the saying ‘walking a mile in one's shoes’. If you’ve ever run a business or grown a business, big or small, you have an edge over those that haven’t. You are an entrepreneurial investor. You possess an understanding of business that can’t be appreciated through research alone. As important as the numbers are, they are only the first step of analysis. What’s more important is being able to judge which numbers are important and knowing when to use intuition.

So, put yourself in the shoes of a founder - someone focused solely on growing the business over the long term. What truly matters to you and how you operate your business will be drastically different to a fly-in CEO chasing a bonus.

If you haven’t owned a business or run a business, all is not lost. You just need to understand a few principles of how good business owners think, then apply them in your judgement as an investor.

Seeing opportunities when conservative investors don’t

Running and growing a business involves the optimisation of multiple levers, such as decisions about the best allocation of fixed resources for maximum long-term return. If you have been in that position, you will know what constitutes good capital allocation.

I’ll illustrate this by way of a real-life example of a company we are currently tracking.

Consider a dominant furniture retailer going through a transition period. After many years of leading the market, lower consumer sentiment has led to a recent decrease in sales. In addition, customers are increasingly heading online for homewares. Investment analysts have punished the stock for its recent earnings decreases. In response to the evolving market, the founding family and majority shareholder recently appointed a new CEO with a mandate to spend significant resources on a new digital online store. This expenditure has led to an even greater short-term cost blow out.

Conservative investors would steer clear of this investment. On the surface it seems like a dinosaur industry set for extinction. Investors would look instead for the ‘safe’ cash cow blue chip that pays a high yield.

However, for entrepreneurial investors, this represents a clever investment opportunity. Sentiment is low and the stock has not been this cheap for many years. The significant investment in the online store is a shrewd move by the founders. The direction towards digital distribution has been managed prudently and early results are promising. The once-off investment cost has masked the imminent turnaround and transition opportunity.

Entrepreneurial investors understand that allocation to growth projects is not optional, it is a necessity. Risk is part and parcel of improvement. Improvement is not a choice; if you’re not improving, you’re a sitting duck. What’s most important is that the allocation of capital to this project is thoughtfully considered and prudently managed. Look for favourable risk/reward trade-offs even though conservative investors may see differently.

Betting on moats, not news

Anyone who’s started their own business venture knows that new initiatives take time. Usually longer than anticipated. Jeff Bezos of Amazon, one of the world’s most successful founders, outlines his thinking on results,

“Today I’m working on a quarter that is going to happen [three years from now]. Not next quarter. Next quarter for all practical purposes is done already and it has probably been done for a couple of years.”

For most fundies, Bezos’s three-year time frame is too long. A fundie could change careers multiple times in that period. Fundies need to pick up quick results and so they favour a quarter-to-quarter game of news arbitrage. It relies on betting on news announcements, rather than betting on business moats. For investors to truly bet on a business moat, they need to allow ample time for the growth initiative to crystallize.

One such business I visited recently in Japan transformed itself from a printing company into a data provider. They now dominate the Japanese food industry - a slow moat-building process which has taken them 10 years to establish. Initially starting by digitising print data for their customers, they developed software that now owns the pricing data of the Japanese food advertising market. It is difficult for competitors to cross the moat.

Some strong Australian examples

Business owners understand the power of human nature. People, when aligned and motivated, can achieve great things. Drive, heart and nous are the most important things in a business but are instead often overlooked in favour of well-credentialed management teams with little vested interest.

When Warren Buffett took over Berkshire Hathaway, it was a struggling textiles business. Although you wouldn’t have backed the original textile business itself, you would have backed Buffett’s ability to change the core business.

Australian visionaries Roger and Andrew Brown (ARB Corporation), David Teoh (TPG Telecom), Andrew Hansen (Hansen Technologies), Frank Lowy (Westfield), Barry Lambert (Count Financial), and Graeme Wood (Wotif.com) have been the heart and soul behind their companies. These founders have demonstrated an incredible ability to compound shareholder wealth, i.e. their own wealth. Those who have invested alongside them have been repaid handsomely. They’ve all demonstrated a shrewd ability to take calculated risks and look for hidden opportunities.

Entrepreneurial investors understand that backing the right people is just has important as backing the right business. To do this sensibly, investors need to ensure there is genuine motivation and desire to further the growth of the business for the long term.

For this reason, we favour investing in founder-led companies

Investors with experience owning and running their own business have an edge over the typical conservative investors. They are 'entrepreneurial investors'. They’ve been in the shoes of management. They know what’s important and they’re comfortable backing the right people with carefully considered strategies. They recognise that business success requires continual improvement and calculated risk-taking. By drawing on this experience and combining it with financial analysis, they have more strings to their bow than the typical conservative investor.

Happy compounding.

 

Lawrence Lam is the Founder of Lumenary, a fund that uncovers the best founder-led companies in the world. We invest in unique, overlooked companies in markets and industries beyond most managers’ reach. The material in this article is for general information only and does not consider any individual’s investment objectives.

 

banner

Most viewed in recent weeks

How to enjoy your retirement

Amid thousands of comments, tips include developing interests to keep occupied, planning in advance to have enough money, staying connected with friends and communities ... should you defer retirement or just do it?

Results from our retirement experiences survey

Retirement is a good experience if you plan for it and manage your time, but freedom from money worries is key. Many retirees enjoy managing their money but SMSFs are not for everyone. Each retirement is different.

A tonic for turbulent times: my nine tips for investing

Investing is often portrayed as unapproachably complex. Can it be distilled into nine tips? An economist with 35 years of experience through numerous market cycles and events has given it a shot.

Rival standard for savings and incomes in retirement

A new standard argues the majority of Australians will never achieve the ASFA 'comfortable' level of retirement savings and it amounts to 'fearmongering' by vested interests. If comfortable is aspirational, so be it.

Dalio v Marks is common sense v uncommon sense

Billionaire fund manager standoff: Ray Dalio thinks investing is common sense and markets are simple, while Howard Marks says complex and convoluted 'second-level' thinking is needed for superior returns.

Fear is good if you are not part of the herd

If you feel fear when the market loses its head, you become part of the herd. Develop habits to embrace the fear. Identify the cause, decide if you need to take action and own the result without looking back. 

Latest Updates

Economy

The paradox of investment cycles

Now we're captivated by inflation and higher rates but only a year ago, investors were certain of the supremacy of US companies, the benign nature of inflation and the remoteness of tighter monetary policy.

Shares

Reporting Season will show cost control and pricing power

Companies have been slow to update guidance and we have yet to see the impact of inflation expectations in earnings and outlooks. Companies need to insulate costs from inflation while enjoying an uptick in revenue.

Shares

The early signals for August company earnings

Weaker share prices may have already discounted some bad news, but cost inflation is creating wide divergences inside and across sectors. Early results show some companies are strong enough to resist sector falls.

Property

The compelling 20-year flight of SYD into private hands

In 2002, the share price of the company that became Sydney Airport (SYD) hit 80 cents from the $2 IPO price. After 20 years of astute investment driving revenue increases, it sold to private hands for $8.75 in 2022.

Investment strategies

Ethical investing responding to some short-term challenges

There are significant differences in the sector weightings of an ethical fund versus an index, and while this has caused some short-term headwinds recently, the tailwinds are expected to blow over the long term.

Investment strategies

If you are new to investing, avoid these 10 common mistakes

Many new investors make common mistakes while learning about markets. Losses are inevitable. Newbies should read more and develop a long-term focus while avoiding big mistakes and not aiming to be brilliant.

Investment strategies

RMBS today: rising rate-linked income with capital preservation

Lenders use Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities to finance mortgages and RMBS are available to retail investors through fund structures. They come with many layers of protection beyond movements in house prices. 

Sponsors

Alliances

© 2022 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer
The data, research and opinions provided here are for information purposes; are not an offer to buy or sell a security; and are not warranted to be correct, complete or accurate. Morningstar, its affiliates, and third-party content providers are not responsible for any investment decisions, damages or losses resulting from, or related to, the data and analyses or their use. Any general advice or ‘regulated financial advice’ under New Zealand law has been prepared by Morningstar Australasia Pty Ltd (ABN: 95 090 665 544, AFSL: 240892) and/or Morningstar Research Ltd, subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc, without reference to your objectives, financial situation or needs. For more information refer to our Financial Services Guide (AU) and Financial Advice Provider Disclosure Statement (NZ). You should consider the advice in light of these matters and if applicable, the relevant Product Disclosure Statement before making any decision to invest. Past performance does not necessarily indicate a financial product’s future performance. To obtain advice tailored to your situation, contact a professional financial adviser. Articles are current as at date of publication.
This website contains information and opinions provided by third parties. Inclusion of this information does not necessarily represent Morningstar’s positions, strategies or opinions and should not be considered an endorsement by Morningstar.