We all know that there can only be one winner this Sunday. Somebody is going to come home from Tampa Bay a loser, maybe The Greatest of All Time, Tom Brady, maybe the most electric player in the business, Patrick Mahomes. There aren't two Lombardi trophies.
Our business? The stock business? We often think the same. We make it a contest. As a former sports writer, I can tell you, it's a lot more fun that way. People love competition and they want to bet on a winner, especially these days when betting's pretty darned legal.
But it's not like that at all in business. There are multiple winners, with multiple successful coaching trees and only those who are trying to foment something more compelling than reality will admit that.
Which brings me to last night's reports from Amazon (AMZN) and Alphabet (GOOGL) . They were tour de force stories that quickly got down to bite-sized morsels. Bezos gone! You mean it's about Google cloud Services? Give me the cheat sheet? Who won here?
The answer? You the shareholder. You won because these places are just not of this world. They are evolving, breathing enterprises that are so extraordinary that they defy the contest. There are Lombardi trophies all over the place.
I am going to do something that makes this come home a little better than the gross margins or revenue expectations or earnings deltas might illuminate.
I am going to talk about what it is like to compete against these companies.
When I worked at Goldman Sachs (GS) in the 1980s we had no illusions. We worked harder than everyone else and when we recruited we got nearly everybody we wanted. We measured ourselves by how many of the top people we got at schools and how many of the bottom people we were able to eliminate. As long as we had the single best ratio in the business we were GOING to be the best. It was how we made our own DNA.
Thirty years later and, what can I say, the idea that if were going up to a major business school recruiting the best, I don't know who would even come to the cocktail hour. I bet half of the people in the room would be thinking about how to disrupt our model. The other half would be thinking about who they should take for their start-up or even their SPAC. Worse, it seems that most of the really incredible kids don't even have time for business school.
They want to learn. And their universities are Facebook (FB) , Alphabet, Amazon, Microsoft (MSFT) and Apple (AAPL) . These universities pay them well, give them incredible benefits, but most important have instilled missions - yes, even Facebook, bear with me - and you can't compete with them unless you are so ready with some disruptive algorithm that even those places are a waste of time.
Even these places, in the end, have their limitations. If you are Jeff Bezos you can't be emperor for life. What are you going to do with the amazing Andy Jassy, the firebrand who helped transition Amazon from the greatest retailer in the world to the greatest data company in the world that works for all sorts of enterprises cheaper, faster and smarter, including your own. If you are at Google and all you ever hear about is search search search, then why not recognize that it can fund one of the top three cloud companies and bring in Thomas Kurian, the best pure cloud manager available, and give him the ball. No salary cap. Why not just take YouTube and crush regular tv. It's been yours to do, do it.
If you are at Apple, why not make devices that billions of people like more than anybody else's and have people pay a price to use them all that's simple and fair and don't measure the shooting match as a handset calculation. Oh memo to the one-way door crowd - did you sell Apple when Tim became CEO? How'd that do ya?
Microsoft? A couple of years ago CEO Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, tells me that he could make Azure, his cloud business into something that could generate $18 billion in revenue per year. I didn't laugh. He's not that kind of guy. But come on, he's up against Jassy. Few years later and he's doing that for the quarter? You want to tell him he doesn't have a Lombardi coming?
Even Facebook, the much-maligned Facebook, has figured out that there might be more budding small and medium sized businesses worldwide that are their partners, whom they can help, than there are people they can so-called exploit even as so few actually really do feel exploited anymore.
All of these companies can recruit anyone. They have amazing coaching trees. They have things people believe in and cultures that you want to be apart of. These days when I talk to my retired friends who used to run Wall Street I ask where their kids work. For some, private equity. Others, maybe a start-up. But the best? You just got the buy list.