Do the Markets Reward Long-Term Honesty?

In the video below, Roger Martin discusses the book he authored with former Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley called Playing to Win. The book touches on the strategies that Martin and Lafley employed to help Procter & Gamble quadruple its profits and increase its market capitalization by $100 billion in just 10 years, and how these strategies translate to every organization. A full version of the interview can be found here.

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Brendan Byrnes: How about short-termism versus long-termism? You know Jeff Bezos at Amazon , notoriously long term. He doesn't care about Wall Street investors and, frankly, they keep rewarding his stock for that.

Do you think this is a good strategy, to focus more on the long term? It's another outcome of the focusing on shareholders versus not, isn't it?

Roger Martin: It is. It is very much so. My general view on that would be that the absolutely critical thing is to be crystal clear with the stock market.

If you are saying to the capital markets, "Hey, look guys, we've just had a great quarter. Our stock should go up," you can't then turn around and say, after you've had not so good a quarter, "Well, this is terrible, the way they're so short-term oriented."

If you're instead like Jeff Bezos or the Google guys, or Apple under Steve Jobs, where you say, "Our job is to do something long-term. We're not actually going to pay attention to you capital markets guys, but don't worry, it'll all be fine," and then they stick to their guns, I think the capital markets then say, "Well, this is true play and fair disclosure. They told us something. They're not changing their behavior, they're not fooling us. They were right up front."

Especially with a Google, who said, before they went public, "Guys, we will never give quarterly guidance. We're going to give as little information to you as legally necessary, and we're managing this for the long term." Then you could either invest or not.

I think some CEOs speak from both sides of their mouth on this. When things are going well they like the short-term focus. When things are going badly they say, "Oh, we have to be long-term."

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Brendan Byrnes owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends and Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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