Value Creation -- Optimizing Corporate Wealth

Dec. 21, 2004
Creating breakthroughs in value demands creativity and hard work.

The principal job of CEOs is to boost the value of their companies -- for themselves, their partners, and investors -- and, of course, to increase the stock price if the company is publicly held. Everything the company does under the CEO's direction must further the goal of raising corporate value. It's why the sales force sells products and why manufacturing divisions meet schedules and deliver finished goods. And it's how the company motivates senior management. Value creation is the art of making your company worth significantly more to owners and investors in a short period of time. Results of value creation come in the form of higher valuation multiples, rising stock prices, and lower dilution rates when raising additional capital. The process demands creativity, experience in many industries, willingness to reinvent oneself, and a lot of hard work. The following strategies can create the breakthroughs in corporate value that the New Economy requires. Work with what you already have: Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner did exactly that when he engineered the Mouse's revival in 1986. During the first four years of his presidency, revenues more than doubled to $3.8 billion. Net income increased five times. The stock's market capitalization increased by almost a factor of 10 to $10.3 billion. The lesson from Eisner is to mobilize your company's assets. Disney turned its 28,000 acres of Florida swamp into a hotel, resort, and residential development. It added EPCOT, Disney World, and the Disney-MGM Studios. Suddenly Disney was a major player in the destination travel and convention business. Since then it has added cruise-line offerings. Eisner licensed Disney's immense film libraries, then rereleased Disney classics on videotape. Finally, he capitalized on the world's affection for the brand by ramping up the Walt Disney Studios production schedule and expanding its reach with a roster of movie, television, and recording partners. Then he bought ABC to serve as the conduit for all this new content. Press your competitive advantage: Being better than the other guy also causes breakthroughs in value. Competitive advantage derives from many different sources: For example, being the first mover into a market creates bonds with customers that latecomers may find impossible to break. 3Com Corp.'s Palm hand-held devices, now marketed by spinoff Palm Inc., is a classic example. Reconcile product differentiation with low cost: Being the low-cost producer is a competitive advantage. It allows the company to maintain profit margins -- albeit small -- while being the low-price leader. Value also can be enhanced by product differentiation. Many businesses use their advertising to emphasize branding, service, corporate culture, and quality. Such real or perceived competitive advantage sets the company apart and raises shareholder value. But remember, few companies have succeeded in maximizing value by staking out a position as both the low-cost leader and master of product differentiation. UAL Corp.'s former CEO Richard Ferris attempted this combination. His strategy was to create value by consolidating under the Allegis Corp. umbrella a number of travel-related companies into a single enterprise recognized for superior quality and value. The problem was that Ferris paid way too much for this group of companies. Worse still, the public failed to embrace his vision of added value, one in which consumers would select a one-stop-shop for all their travel needs. Allegis' board aborted the plan just six weeks after implementation. Enhancing corporate value marries management science with the art of seeing what's possible when others do not. It is simple in concept and complex in execution. Raising your company to a dominant market presence or distinguishing your products from the competition just scrapes the tip of what is possible in value creation. Yet, these strategies alone can double or triple your company's worth. Chris Malburg is director of value-creation services at a consulting organization in Southern California. He is the author of The Controller's and Treasurer's Desk Reference (1994, McGraw-Hill Inc.) and The Cash Manager's Handbook (1992, Prentice Hall).

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