Assessing management is a key part of the valuation analysis of a subject company. Interesting reading from the “dean of valuation”: Professor Aswath Damodaran (New York University Stern School of Business) talks about why he feels that traditional thinking about what makes a great CEO is flawed. “There is no one template that works for all companies,” he writes in a blog post, citing research from the Harvard Business School and McKinsey that leans to a “one-size-fits-all great CEO model.” For example, companies have life cycles, and they go through different stages—from startup to decline—and the CEO will need a different mindset for each stage.
Ask questions: For the valuation analyst, if, during the management interview, you get the impression that the CEO is a visionary, is that good or bad? If it’s an early-stage company, it may be a good fit because the CEO needs to think outside the box in terms of new ideas, markets, and ways to attract investors. But, if the company is in a mature stage, a visionary may not be a good fit—the mindset needs to be on maintaining market share, fending off competitors, and other tactics for “trench warfare.” The analyst’s questions should be geared toward ferreting out whether management is up to the task. If not, that may mean adjusting company-specific risk.
This phenomenon may be more noticeable in closely held companies or family-run firms where top management tends to stay entrenched as the company goes through the various stages of its life cycle.