The Daily Dose: Get That Passion Back

 | Jun 30, 2014 | 10:00 AM EDT  | Comments
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For a financial geek such as myself, there is nothing like sitting down to talk to an executive at a well-known institution -- so I have never been more inspired than I am right now. You might think your knowledge base is so amazing on a particular subject simply because financial statements and annual reports are easy and free to access. However, if you talk with an exec of a large company, you'll be surprised by how limited your knowledge in fact is. After all, these folks shape the financial documents that we all read.

I, for one, had no idea that rapidly growing gym chain Planet Fitness gives bonuses to workers for gym cleanliness. I did not know that these gyms lack plastic swipe cards so that an employee can greet a member by name when punching in their identification number. How'd I learn this stuff? The CFO told me inside of a New York City location. These tiny stories get lost in the headlines and the obsession with a single quarter of earnings, though ultimately it's these details that determine whether the shares are driven higher.

After talking with the founder and CEO of a hot, up-and-coming restaurant chain (or "group," as the new breed of restaurant owners like to call it), I realized a key ingredient has gone dormant in big American business, and this is too bad for investors. That ingredient is passion. I'm talking about the sort of passion that means the C-suite painstakingly looks over every detail of their operations, from employees on the ground to an overseas supply chain.

Granted, it would be hard -- probably impossible -- for the CEO of McDonald's (MCD) to visit all of the restaurants in the world and spend a day there. But I believe investors are getting a raw deal from the lame existing crop of executives at many of the gigantic companies that they may hold long-term. The passion just isn't there. Neither is the willingness to take a risk for fear of a stock rout that may cost them their sweet $20 million-a-year gig.

In contrast to all that, here are the three characteristics I am detecting in my generation of business leaders:

1. Money, believe it or not, assumes a back seat to solving a societal issue or a massive hole in a given industry. As a result, there is a greater degree of risk-taking, along with the development of widgets that facilitate real change in the world.

2. Executives thoroughly understand every facet of the business. For these folks, simply receiving reports on these areas of the company is not OK.

3. These execs have idolized certain businesses, such as Chipotle (CMG) and Starbucks (SBUX). They are carefully plotting ways to attack these businesses -- and they aim to be noticed, three years from now, for having done so.

So here's my message to big company execs: You'd better start beefing up teams devoted to industry analysis and acquisitions. It also looks like you'll have to go on a buying spree very, very soon in order to protect your dividend payments.

Stock Thoughts of the Day

• The current bull market has lasted 63 months. That compares with the average of 58 months for the 11 previous bull markets since 1949 per S&P Capital IQ, as cited by Barron's.

• Keep an eye on Best Buy (BBY). I have a feeling the stock could run further right into the early-August earnings report in anticipation of furthers announcements that the company will be installing more shops-in-shops.

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