Aug 222007

Father/Mother Knows Best?

Father/Mother Knows Best?

USA Today had an interesting article today about how founder-led companies perform better than their non-founder-led counterparts, with a 15-year stock price appreciation of 970% vs. the S&P 500 average of 222%.  That’s pretty powerful data.

The general reasons cited in the article include

founders having deep industry knowledge…having a powerful presence in the company…having a huge financial stake in the success of the business…not looking for the next job so can take a long-term perspective…being street fighters early on

I think all those are true to some extent.  And it’s certainly true, as one of the CEOs interviewed for the article said, that it’s not because founders are smarter or harder working.  But to add to the dialog, I think there are two other big reasons founders may be more successful at generating long-term returns for their companies.  One is much more tactical than the other.

1. Founders have a deep, emotional connection to the business.  For many of us, and certainly for the 15-year-plus variety mentioned in the article, a founder’s company represents his or her life’s work.  Whether or not your name is on the door like Michael Dell, as a founder, your personal reputation and in many cases (perhaps in an unhealthy way), your sense of self worth is tied to the success of the business.  I’m not suggesting that “hired” CEOs don’t also care about their reputations, but there is something different about the view you have of a business when you started it.

2. Founders have longer tenures.  The article didn’t say, but my guess is that for the 15 years analyzed, the average tenure of the founder-led companies was 15 years…and the average for the S&P 500 was something like 5 years.  And while 5 years may seem like a long time in this day and age of job hopping, it’s not so long in the scheme of running and building an enterprise.  It takes years to learn an industry, years to build relationships with people, and years to influence a culture.  Companies that trade out CEOs every few years are by definition going to have less solid and consistent strategies and cultures than those who have more stability at the top, and that must influence long-term value as much as anything else.

I’m sure there are other reasons as well…comment away if you have some to add!