Leadership: Ideas, People, & Culture
Over twenty years of investment experience has taught me that ideas, people, and culture are the primary ingredients in successful companies. What company exists without people? What purpose would the people have if not for great ideas? How would these people and ideas be sustained over time without culture?
Elon Musk, Tesla and SpaceX are great examples of ideas, people, and culture. Tesla and SpaceX both have been cash constrained for most of their existence. They both offer relatively low pay, long work hours, and a very demanding leader that isn’t known for kindness in the workplace. How does Elon Musk easily attract people to work in this environment? Tesla and SpaceX offer the one thing human beings crave most: mission-driven, purposeful work.
Tesla wants to change the world through electric vehicles. Similar to Steve Jobs during his time at Apple, Musk did not invest in consumer surveys to find out what buyers would want in a car. There were no attempts to improve the already existing designs at major automotive companies. Musk asked this fundamental question: “What should consumers want in a car?” The result is a beautiful piece of art that functions as a high performance automobile with unrivaled energy efficiency. SpaceX is even more cash constrained than Tesla, yet it attracts some of the smartest people in the world to leave high paying jobs with reasonable work hours for lower salaries and vastly longer work schedules. Why? Only SpaceX delivers the mission-driven purpose of getting people to Mars, which excites many of their employees.
Most of my early years in finance were spent at some very large, well known Wall Street firms where virtually all my colleagues made extraordinary sums of money – but they were completely miserable. I’m not aware of anyone who felt love or loyalty to the firm or their co-workers. Our small team left to form a new company, one that would create a new financial firm opposite of everything we had experienced. We couldn’t know how it would turn out in the beginning, but it is now clear that we are building something totally unique with positive momentum. We find ourselves significantly happier and eagerly engaged in our new work environment. What is our secret sauce? It is the people we hire and the purpose-driven culture we foster. We believe people are relational beings created for lives of purpose. Purpose is derived through shared common goals, integrity, and teamwork. Teamwork is the core of who we are, and having a meaningful impact in the world through our work gives us purpose. We are building community for our employees, clients, shareholders, and anyone else that wants to join us in magnifying the impact we may have in the world.
“Purpose is derived through shared common goals, integrity, and teamwork. Teamwork is the core of who we are, and having a meaningful impact in the world through our work gives us purpose.” – Brandon Taylor
Americans have come to love material possessions in the vain belief that they bring purpose to their lives. Our team believes people will happily trade material possessions to work for mission driven organizations that enable them to do purposeful work. For proof outside of Tesla and SpaceX, one need only look at the men and women in the U.S. military. They put their lives on the line every day for relatively low pay, but their work absolutely fulfills the purpose of serving our country. Additional evidence within the military can be found in the Navy Seal program. Seals are an elite team of individuals who are some of the most driven, resilient humans on Earth. Their candidate assessment program makes the IronMan competition look like a walk in the park. It is highly unlikely that a Seal would go through all that pain and suffering for money. Instead, they are enabled to do the genuinely purposeful work of accepting the most dangerous, highly classified assignments to protect our country and its international interests.
The primary investment strategy at our firm is to identify great businesses at attractive prices. Our investment process utilizes a lengthy checklist, which ultimately finds companies already successful as expressed through their balance sheet and income statement. I’m fascinated with business strategy and thoroughly enjoy the challenge of finding companies whose value is not yet obvious to others.
I read voraciously in my passionate pursuit of excellence and am often excited to convey what I am learning to family, friends, and co-workers. My intent is to more efficiently share what I learn from books through this series on leadership. For example, I relied on books I have previously read for my earlier remarks on leadership including, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson and Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance. Sharing what I learn from books about leadership publicly gives me purpose as it may encourage other business owners to be mission-driven or may encourage employees to seek out mission-driven, purposeful work. At a minimum, it lays out a high standard for our company to live up to.
Our company has a habit of hiring increasingly more talented individuals, following the advice of Warren Buffet. It’s even better to have people around you whose version of ethics and morality challenges you to higher standards.
“It’s better to hang out with people better than you. Pick associates whose behavior is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.” – Warren Buffett