Aspire | Action | Acquire
Aspire | Action | Acquire

Principals of Profit

In his autobiography, Henry Ford wrote of the profits of business belonging to the planners [principals], the producers [partners] and, in part, to the public [purchasers].[1] Henry Ford, was according to historian Frederick Lewis Allen, “a financial maverick” who “did not distribute the shares of his company, did not collaborate with the banking powers,” and “eschewed Wall Street and all its ways.”[2]

Whilst the concept of earning a financial surplus [revenues minus costs] is relatively easy to grasp, the attributes of businesses that deliver profits are less easy to quantify. In a separate article the concept of businesses providing a sustainable benefit to society has been discussed. Economists refer to benefits to society, beyond that to the purchaser, as a positive externality; which is the opposite of the societal cost of a ‘negative externality.’

The value proposition [benefit] for the ‘planner’, using Ford’s descriptions, is different to those of the ‘producer’ and ‘purchaser’. Lammot du Pont II, who led the Du Pont company for twenty-two years after his brother Pierre S DuPont, believed a corporation has four duties: “to provide jobs, just pay, a sound place for investment, and an example of good citizenship.”[3] By contrast, the richest man in the world at the time of his passing, J Paul Getty, wrote of being told by his father “Your wealth represents potential jobs for countless others – and it can produce wealth and a better life for a great many people as well as yourself.”[4]

What constitutes ‘a sound place for investment’ has been canvassed more than once by the world’s leading billionaire investor, Warren Buffett. Buffett’s principal criteria for assessing the sound place for investment, referred to above by Lammot du Pont II, is businesses with “the right prospects, inherent industry conditions, management, etc.”[5] Significantly, in Berkshire Hathaway’s 1983 Annual Report, Buffett wrote of the importance of feeling good about company managers and their labor relations in terms of retaining equity in sub-performing businesses.[6]

The Buffett methodology described is distinctively qualitative as opposed to the quantitative price-based “cigar butt” approach upon which most Buffett commentators focus. Buffett’s long-term qualitative approach is influenced by his business partner, Charlie Munger, and by investor and author Philip Fisher. It contrasts with the short-term quantitative approach of speculators today. In the book Tailspin, its author notes that the holding period of stocks has fallen from an average of eight years and four months in 1960 to only four months in 2016.[7]  

Is it any wonder that today’s traders and commentators, placing short-term bets in the capitalist casino, are quick to criticize Buffett’s methodology? Buffett’s methodology demonstrates the principal’s, vs. promotor’s, mindset; as did Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, and Carnegie. Cornelius Vanderbilt’s contempt for those who manipulated stock prices [promotors], including government officials, has been discussed elsewhere. J D Rockefeller’s trust model, that government legislation dismantled, averted stock price manipulation.

Andrew Carnegie’s preference for partnerships, which too was a feature of Buffett’s early investments, was that they protected his businesses from stock manipulation.  While rival steel mill owners were manufacturing stocks and bonds, wrote biographer Burton Hendrick, “Carnegie was improving his plants, scrapping obsolete equipment, installing the most modern machinery, acquiring ore fields on an enormous scale, building railroads, founding steamship lines and developing an executive staff of the highest type.”[8] These are the actions of a principal and not a speculator; which is consistent with Buffett’s investment pattern.

Ironically, it was the stock market that has ultimately propelled the financial worth of all the super-wealth creators, and many more. Up to that time the super-wealth creators, who also eschewed debt, continually reinvested profits at the expense of not distributing dividends.

[1] Henry Ford, My Life and Work: An Autobiography of Henry Ford (Lockport, N.Y: Snowball Publishing, 2012), 113.

[2] Frederick Lewis Allen, and Gretchen Morgenson, The Lords of Creation: The History of America’s 1 Percent (New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2017), 320.

[3]  John D. Gates, The du Pont Family (New York: Double Day & Company, 1979), 138.

[4] J. Paul Getty, How to be Rich: His Formulas (New York N.Y: Jove Books, 1983), 9.

[5] 2. Alice Schroeder, The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life (London: Bloomsbury, 2009), 231.

[6] Roger Lowenstein, Buffett the Making of an American Capitalist (New York: Random House, 2008), 245.

[7] Steven Brill, Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America’s Fifty-year Fall–and those Fighting to Reverse it, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018), 52.

[8] [8] Burton J. Hendrick, The Life of Andrew Carnegie (London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1933), 378.