Tuesday, February 15, 2011

You certainly wouldn't grow a business that has no return.

An interview with David Sokol:

Five years from now I'll wager all of us will look back at 2008 and say it was the best thing that ever happened to the aviation industry because it's forcing innovation that wasn't going to happen.


NetJets at the time was 7,500 employees. That's not a family. And I don't mean you shouldn't treat people properly. But Warren said it well in his annual statement last year that had Berkshire not been here, this company would be bankrupt. It was spending money faster than it made it by a large proportion, and Berkshire stood behind it. Now that's family.

On the other hand, the business has to be run properly. And so when I sat down with employees I said my job is to bring balance. Berkshire is not entitled to an unfairly high return, and 4% and 5% on revenues is not a huge return. But we've got to run the business in the most efficient method we can. That means buying airplanes and fuel at the right price, and doing everything to run the business so that the owner is getting exactly everything he paid for and hopefully a little more, and we properly pay and provide benefits to our employees, and Berkshire makes a fair return.

If we can't do those things, if Berkshire went 11 years without a return, how much longer are they going to go? Berkshire will never walk away from a business — we still redeem Green Stamps, we still print World Books, we don't walk away from commitments. On the other hand, we would just start shrinking the business. You certainly wouldn't grow a business that has no return.
And so my job was to really explain to the employees, you don't have to like me, but respect the equation here. Because if I tried to continue what was going on for another year, then it was going to get much uglier.

I've been out and met with more than 600 of our pilots, and I think they feel great about things. I think the morale around here is actually quite good. People feel very accomplished at what they've done. And we're back growing again.

Continue Reading

Shop at Amazon.com and support My Investing Notebook!