An Unconventional Conglomerateur: Henry Singleton And Teledyne

Capital allocation involves decisions about raising and returning capital, and about acquiring and selling companies—all of which can have major effects on shareholder value. Rather than judging CEOs by growth in revenues or earnings, the author argues that they should be judged by increases in the per share value of the companies they manage and also in comparison with the returns generated by peer firms and the broader market. Successful CEOs have been able to overcome the “institutional imperative”—the tendency of managers to focus on the sheer size of their enterprises and to avoid doing things that might be seen as unconventional.

In this chapter from his recent book, The Outsiders, which provides accounts of eight remarkably successful and long-tenured CEOs, the author describes the successful management by Henry Singleton of the conglomerate Teledyne from 1963 to 1990, a period during which the company’s shareholders enjoyed annualized returns of over 20%. During the 1960s, the company produced high returns mainly by making large acquisitions funded by new equity issues. During the 1970s and ’80s, by contrast, Teledyne used massive share repurchases to return excess capital to shareholders. Thus, Singleton adjusted his capital allocation strategy in response to changes in product and financial markets—and to changes in the perceived difference between market and intrinsic values. When investors provided capital with relatively low required rates of return, as in the 1960s, Singleton was an aggressive buyer investor in a wide range of businesses. But when interest rates were high and equity valuations were low, as in the 1970s and early 1980s, Singleton used share repurchases to create value by reducing investment and limiting growth. The company’s shareholders were well rewarded in both environments.

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