As we’ve said many, many times before, at Bluestone we view business and investing as two sides of the same coin. The same philosophy and approach can be applied to both, it’s simply that in business the owner is also the operator. Whereas in investing, the owner hires a manager or management team to run the operation.
We love owner-operators (aka entrepreneurs) and that’s who we focus on with our advisory services. Business owner-operators live in a different world. Seeing the vision and the opportunity, they must also bring it to life. Seeing the big picture, they must also get the details right. Creating ownership through a combination of cash and sweat equity, they must also figure out how to mix inputs for productive output.
Every day offers the possibility of challenge and reward; stress and exuberance; failure and accomplishment; frustration and mastery. A microcosm of life? Maybe, but certainly more intense, condensed, accelerated, saturated.
Every day also offers the possibility of possibility. To serve a new audience; create a new product; even create a whole new market! To create a better organization, team, and culture. To find new vendors, service providers, and other partners that see the same opportunity. There’s a dynamic aspect and an energy to being an owner-operator that’s hard to find anywhere else. And that’s a big part of why this is our audience.
Occasionally, great owner-operators can be found in the public markets. One such individual was Henry Singleton, who in 1960 co-founded what became Teledyne, Inc. Over the next three decades, Singleton put together one of the most impressive records of value per share creation in corporate history (as expertly profiled in the book The Outsiders by William Thorndike1). And he did it in very unconventional ways, by being patient, by grabbing opportunity when presented, by never becoming too rigid or wedded to one approach. The combination of technical brilliance, market savvy, non-promotion, and focus on value per share created something truly exceptional.
Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Singleton: “My only plan is to keep coming to work every day. I like to steer the boat each day rather than plan ahead way into the future. I know a lot of people have very strong and definite plans that they’ve worked out on all kinds of things, but we’re subject to a tremendous number of outside influences and the vast majority of them cannot be predicted. So my idea is to stay flexible.”2
Stay flexible – pretty good advice for navigating the vagaries of life as an owner-operator.