The trouble with business people

2 February, 2017

I've had the good fortune to have met some truly successful business people over the years – in the public and private company realm and at the local proprietorship level. While they have succeeded in different businesses, they have all demonstrated

"There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves."

-- Will Rogers

I've had the good fortune to have met some truly successful business people over the years –  in the public and private company realm and at the local proprietorship level.

While they have succeeded in different businesses, they have all demonstrated some distinct similarities. One common thread that appears to run through all of them is their persistence and patience. They have made it by refusing to accept defeat in the face of sometimes overwhelming odds. The words, "quit," "resign," "give up" and "fail" are not in their vocabulary. Every entrepreneur that has been successful has done so, in most instances, by facing those problems and finding ways around them.

But wait. Take many of these same common-sense, battle-scarred successful entrepreneurs to the stock market and you'll observe a totally different, often opposite set of attitudes and actions than those they exhibit in managing their own business. It's as if they have had a frontal lobotomy. Half the brain is still in the world of business, acting in a rational business-like manner. But, partial ownership (shares) in a business they purchased at the stock market is viewed through the other half of the brain.

Unfortunately, this half has lost the connection with reality they have used so effectively all their business life. Gone is the patience and 'stick-to-itivness' they have adhered to all their working lives as they have built their own business.

Instead, they have become impatient and demanding. Gone is their gritty persistence and endurance – they want returns now. One year to them has become an eternity. In short, they have joined the majority of investors – the ‘crowd’ of market followers who spend their time mechanically reacting instead of thinking. And it drives professional planners crazy.

Business smart, investment dumb

Why does this happen to these otherwise intelligent, successful entrepreneurs – the one group you'd expect to observe the stock market in a rational way? Here are a few possible reasons I can offer to explain why this irrational dichotomy takes hold:

They don't have their own business valued day-to-day. To paraphrase Warren Buffet, the players have shifted their attention from the game on the field to the score board. Players don't win games by consistently watching the score. Successful business people have their eyes firmly focused on what's happening in the game with the occasional glance at the scoreboard. Sure, the tally is important, but it doesn't deserve to be fixated on as stock market jockeys typically do.

Unlike publicly traded companies, people who possess their own businesses don't have a ticker tape running across the front of their premises, continuously shouting out the shifting estimate of value. Nor would they likely want such a terribly distracting "scoreboard" present. It would send the wrong picture to employees and customers alike.

They don't know what to do with their excess capital! Great business people are masters of running their own business and producing wealth for themselves. This wealth is often in the form of surplus corporate cash. Over time, this cash piles up, but the sad truth is many of these same people don't know what to do with it.

Great businesses don't need all of this surplus capital reinvested back into the operations of the company. It just joyfully mounts on the balance sheet in the category of "Cash and Other Marketable Securities." Many entrepreneurs know how to create this surplus wealth, but haven’t a clue where to begin to deploy it productively and safely.

That’s because successful business operators are experts at running the operations of the business successfully. Why should they understand the investment universe? When did they have the time to learn financial planning and investment techniques and strategies? That's why they consult with financial professionals, people with expertise in the area of reinvesting all this liquidity in an intelligent and safe manner.

These otherwise intelligent, often brilliant business people are subject to the same pressures from Wall St. and Bay St. to buy and sell. The newspapers and business shows on TV are constantly focused on the "here and now:" what is happening right now with prices; and current news with little if any discussion of the longer term environment.

This flies in the face of how true business owners act and behave. They don't buy a whole business, run it for three or six months, or even just a year, and then turn around and unload it if they are disappointed with performance.

Business newspapers and TV business shows talk a lot about big picture items – what's happening in the general economy, where are interest rates going, the price trends of everything from stocks to currencies to commodities. All this is extraneous and distracting to operating a business. Trying to grapple with these unanswerable questions regarding buying stocks or mutual funds is opposite to real business practice.

When real business people are focused on their company, they spend most of their time on the micro-economics of their business – are the customers happy, what's the competition up to, are other companies able to compete successfully to capture some of their business?

This focus on short-term price activity leads investors, including very successful business people, to sometimes pay prices for stocks and mutual funds that they would never shell out for a whole business with which they were familiar.

There is no rational explanation except to say that there is little or no ‘business-like’ thinking going on here and these winning entrepreneurs have been swept up in ‘group-think’ along with the unwashed masses. It doesn't have to be this way.

Set ‘em straight

As a financial professional, my job is to jar business-people and entrepreneurs back to the real world of rational behavior and thinking.

The intent is to keep them focused on their long-term objectives and help them achieve their goal of protecting the wealth they have created in their businesses by deploying it in appropriate and safe investments.

As always, please do not hesitate to communicate with the writer if you would like additional information on this topic. 


Joel Attis

Joel Attis is a Senior Financial Advisor with AttisCorp Wealth Management and IPC Investment Corporation. Comments or questions may be submitted to Joel at, or he may be reached at 855-1155.


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