Priority to assessing a company is to check the top management team

The Life: What makes more of a difference to the performance of a company: its balance sheet or the performance of its top management?
Since the top management team is central to value creation, the question is how cohesive and functional a team must be. Photo illustration by Lee McGorie
Since the top management team is central to value creation, the question is how cohesive and functional a team must be. Photo illustration by Lee McGorie

Does the top management team make a difference to the performance of a company?

When I am asked to evaluate a company, whether by a management team or an equity partner for investment, my attention goes straight to the management team. It reveals the true value for any business.

This is contrary to the first action taken by most investors who focus on the balance sheet and other quantitative measures, but my experience teaches that sustained results come from having a top-quality top management team in place.

This approach reveals the distinction between the "potential oriented investor" and a "balance sheet investor". Obviously, a balance sheet investor pays attention to a business's balance sheet, cash flow, future economic climate, operating data, and markets for the products and service. Most likely the balance sheet investor does realise that it is important for a company to have a good management team, but too little attention is paid to evaluating management because it is perceived to be difficult to do.

By contrast, potential oriented investors know the top management team is the bones of the business so they give their primary attention to evaluating the management team. No matter how good the numbers are, if the management team has a flawed quality, then the sustainability of the business could be in question.

Since the top management team is central to value creation for a business, the fundamental question is: what are the characteristics, features, or attributes of effectively functioning teams?

While no team is identical, for the investor, owner, or member of a top management team there are some issues you should focus on. Here are some of the core components found in the best top management teams:

Vision:senior leadership gives employees a clear picture of the direction the company is headed and obtains "buy-in" of the employees.

Results:senior leadership consistently delivers expected results and meets customer expectations.

People orientation:senior leadership demonstrates that employees are important to the success of the company.

Quality commitment:senior leadership relentlessly measures and strives for improved quality to customers, partners and stakeholders.

Confidence:employees and stakeholders have confidence in the company's senior leaders.

Primerica, a provider of financial solutions for the middle market largely through life insurance, illustrates some of these points. The company was started in 1977 by a former high school football coach, Art Williams.

Over the years, his company grew until being acquired by Travelersand eventually merging with Citibank in 1998. Primerica last year was separated from Citi via an initial public offering, and I am optimistic about its future because the original top management team is still in place.

It just so happens that I follow the national sales director, Larry Weidel, on Twitter. Below is a sample of his tweets. You will notice they are conspicuously different from what you might expect to read from a sales leader. Instead of focusing on the numbers and pressuring for sales, Mr Weidel focuses on people and potential:

You can't push people who don't want to be pushed.

What's the hottest part of a flame? The blue. That's how hot you and your team need to be all the time if you are going to win.

Until your friends tell you that you are working too hard, you aren't working. Most people think they are working, but they are coasting.

You have to fight for people's attention, Be interesting. Be compelling. Boring doesn't work.

Tommy Weir is an authority on fast growth and emerging-market leadership, author of The CEO Shift and the managing director of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center

Published: August 28, 2011 04:00 AM


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