Henry Singleton: Teledyne & A Study Of An Excellent Capital Allocator [Case Study]

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Henry Singleton: Teledyne & A Study Of An Excellent Capital Allocator [Case Study] via CSInvesting

Case study edited by John Chew

Teledyne and Dr. Henry Singleton, Case Study in Capital Allocation – Introduction

Many students of investing know about the great investment record of Warren Buffett but few even know of the man Buffett called one the greatest capitalists and capital allocators of all-time, Dr. Henry Singleton, who built Teledyne Corporation from scratch during 1960 to 1986.

The best investors are avid students of history of the market, companies, and great investors. The more you learn from others, the less expensive your own tuition will be. Not to study the Teledyne story and the managerial success of Dr. Henry Singleton and his management teams would be tragic.

Excerpts are from the book, Distant Force, A Memoir of the Teledyne Corporation and the Man who Created it by Dr. George A. Roberts (2007).

Dr. Henry Singleton was more than just a great capital allocator, he was a visionary, entrepreneur, and excellent business person who believed that the key to his success was people—talented people who were creative, good managers and doers. Once he had those managers in place, he gave them complete autonomy to meet agreed upon goals and targets.

He and his co-founder and initial investor, George Kozmetsky, bootstrapped their investment of $450,000 into a company with annual sales of over $450 million, an annual profit of some $20 million, and a stock market value of about $1.15 billion.

An investor who put money into Teledyne stock in 1966 achieved an annual return of 17.9 percent over 25 years, or a 53x return on invested capital vs. 6.7x for the S&P 500, 9.0x for GE and 7.1x for other comparable conglomerates. Teledyne’s investors were rewarded with a triple whammy of increasing earnings with a shrinking capital structure along with an expanding P/E ratio. As the single largest investor in Teledyne, Dr. Singleton chose to make money alongside his fellow investors not from them. He never granted himself options like the heavily compensated Michael Dell of Dell, Inc (DELL), for example.

Dr. Singleton thought independently while making astute capital allocation decisions, he chose the right managers and aligned them with the proper incentive structure, and he imposed strict capital allocation on his operating companies. Managements of those companies were encouraged to focus on generating high margins, cash flow and with returning excess cash to headquarters.

There are many lessons to be learned from studying a great businessman like Dr. Henry Singleton. Unfortunately, no business school—that I know of—has done a case study on the Teledyne story. You will read several articles on Mr. Singleton and Teledyne including a case study and letter written by an investor in Teledyne, Mr. Leon Cooperman. Then you will learn more about the company from an insider, Mr. George Roberts, before pondering several questions.

Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger on Business and Chess Master, Dr. Henry Singleton

“Henry Singleton has the best operating and capital deployment record in American business…if one took the 100 top business school graduates and made a composite of their triumphs, their record would not be as good as Singleton’s – Warren Buffett, 1980.

Sharing Buffett’s admiration for Henry E. Singleton, Charlie wonders, “Given the man’s talent and record, have we learned enough from him.”

– Henry E. Singleton (1916- 1999)

Singleton was co-founder of Teledyne, Inc. and chief executive of the Los Angeles-based conglomerate for three decades. He attended the Naval Academy, then transferred to MIT where he received Bachelor’s, Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering. An enormously skilled chess player, he was only 100 points below the Grandmaster level and could play without looking at the board.

From 1963 to 1990, Teledyne returned an astounding 20.4% compound annual return to shareholders—a period in which the S&P 500 returned 8.0%. Adroitly repurchasing 90 percent of Teledyne’s outstanding shares primarily between 1972 and 1984, Singleton built a record as a manger and capital allocator with few peers in modern business history.

Emulate Dr. Henry Singleton from Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, February 28, 2003:

Something went haywire with American capitalism in the 1990’s, and we think we know what it was: There weren’t enough Dr. Henry E. Singletons to go around. In truth, there was only one Dr. Henry Singleton, and he died in 1999. He could read a book a day and play chess blindfolded. He made pioneering contributions to the development of inertial navigation systems. He habitually bought low and sold high. The study of such a protean thinker and doer is always worthwhile. Especially is it valuable today, a time when the phrase “great capitalist” has almost become an oxymoron.

Singleton, longtime chief executive of Teledyne Inc., was one of the greatest of modern American capitalists. Warren Buffett, quoted in John Train’s The Money Masters, virtually crowned him king. “Buffett,” Train reported, “considers that Dr. Henry Singleton of Teledyne has the best operating and capital deployment record in American business.”

A recent conversation with Leon Cooperman, the former Goldman Sachs partner turned portfolio manager, was the genesis of this essay. It happened in this fashion: Mr. Cooperman was flaying a certain corporate management for having repurchased its shares at a high price, only to reissue new shares at a low price. He said that this was exactly the kind of thing that Singleton never did, and he lamented how little is known today of Singleton’s achievements as a capital deployer, value appraiser and P/E-multiple arbitrageur. Then he reached in his file and produced a reprint of a critical Business Week cover story on Teledyne. Among the alleged missteps for which Singleton was attacked was his heavy purchase of common stocks. The cover date was May 31, 1982, 10 weeks before the blastoff of the intergalactic bull market.

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