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that Microsoft s products were immensely successful, Microsoft was a near monopoly, and the number of customers for those products would increase for many years to come At that point, it was a good growth stock worth investing in
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How Are Relations with Employees
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Good employee-management relations lead to high customer satisfaction A company may have ne products, but unless the company s employees are happy, customer satisfaction may disappear with time A conversation with the employees or some other source would reveal a great deal about employee-management relations Wal-Mart did not succeed only because it had lower prices, but because of outstanding management-employee relations In 1999, I attended the Wal-Mart shareholders annual meeting in Fayetteville, Arkansas Joining me in attendance were more than 10,000 Wal-Mart employees who are also shareholders I have never seen such enthusiasm from the employees of a company They cheered often and ended the meeting with the well-known Wal-Mart cheer that starts, Give me a W! I talked to a few of the employees and realized that the unbelievable enthusiasm was genuine The advantages of enthusiastic employees are immense: The company s expenses are lower because its employees pilfer less, customers are happy and keep coming back, and inventory does not stay on shelves for long (inventory turnover is high) Sam Walton called employees Wal-Mart associates, and most are shareholders5 In 2005 and 2006, Wal-Mart s management-employee relations deteriorated over employee healthcare bene ts This probably was one reason for a decline in the company s growth in 2006 However, Wal-Mart has responded vigorously to correct this problem and improve its image
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Is Research and Development Important
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Research and development (R&D) is needed in all companies not only high-tech ones to improve their products and services Companies such as McDonald s and Home Depot constantly improve
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buffett investing = value + growth
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themselves through customer surveys, research in human relations, market research, and sociological research Home Depot would not be a great success story without its research efforts into improving building materials or its surveys of customers on the quality of Christmas tree needles R&D in high-tech companies such as Microsoft, Cisco, and Intel is clearly even more important, and these companies can t sustain growth without a signi cant R&D effort If a company has been successful because of past R&D, a simple but meaningful question to ask is whether it is continuing those efforts at the same level When the personal computer industry was relatively new, a number of companies, including Kaypro and CompuAdd, were highly pro table but have since disappeared Sometimes, companies are highly pro table because they copied others but are not innovative With changing technology, these companies growth falters at the next juncture of product development Investors who extrapolate past sales growth into the future without understanding the need for R&D to sustain the growth are likely to suffer You might think that companies like Wal-Mart do not have significant R&D expenditures That is not true Wal-Mart has spent large sums of money developing its high-tech inventory control systems and one of the most up-to-date transportation networks Determining which companies are savvier in using their R&D dollars is a dif cult task for an investor Merely because a company outspends other companies in R&D does not imply that it will bring more blockbuster products to the market The only solution that I know of is to read about the company and learn as much as you can from various sources A case in point is Dell Computer, which spent substantially less on R&D per dollar of revenue than Compaq and IBM Dell may not do basic research, but one should not immediately conclude that Dell is left behind in product innovation This is because Dell depends more on licensing patents It spends large sums of money on development and to maintain the best direct-to-customer model Dell has been closer to WalMart in its business plan than to Compaq or IBM Michael Dell s book Direct from Dell describes Dell s R&D efforts to keep his company s cost advantage over IBM and others6 The focus was not on basic research Instead of comparing R&D expenses across companies in an effort to
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