Why Celebrity CEOs Like Elon Musk Don't Guarantee Profits


Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs are three of the most famous CEOs in modern history. But what’s less well known is that some of the greatest stock returns of all time came from companies being run by press-shy, demurring executives who were content to work away from the public eye. Moreover, in many situations celebrity CEOs have created stock market disasters.

Investors who are making buy and sell decisions based primarily upon the person running the company ought to consider the difference between notable and notorious, leadership versus cult status, popular versus promotional.

In William Thorndike’s book “The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success,” we learn the stories of some of the greatest CEOs of all time when measured by shareholder returns. The book talks about how, with the exception of Buffett, they tended to avoid giving interviews or talking to Wall Street analysts. In many cases, these managers stayed far away from major cities and ran decentralized operations in which regional decision makers were empowered to run their portion of the company without interference from the top. Shareholders came to appreciate these “outsider” CEOs based on the end result they saw in their stock price appreciation.

Some of them became famous along the way because of how much money they had made their investors, but fame was never the goal of these executives. They prioritized return on invested capital, and won big.

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