MBA Mondays: One More Thing On Sustainability Before We Move On

I'd like to tie together two posts and make a final point on Sustainability.

In my first post for the Sustainability class, I wrote:

Clay Christensen talks about this kind of thing all the time. Big company executives are asked to calculate an return on investment (ROI) on the investments they want to make. If the ROI isn't greater than some minimum hurdle, the company doesn't make the investment. And so along comes a smaller competitor who makes the investment and they eat the big company's lunch.

ROI is not the right framework for companies to evaluate investments. ROI is for the wall street folks. They will use it to decide if they want to invest in your company. But when you make investment decisions in your company, don't use the tools that wall street uses. Use the tools that animals use. Survival instincts. What will it take to ensure that your company is around in ten years, fifty years, 100 years? That's how to think if you want to stay in business.

And then the man himself, Clay Christensen, went and wrote a post for the NY Times yesterday which I highlighted in yesterday's What I Am Reading post. Clay wrote:

So we taught our students how to magnify every dollar put into a company, to get the most revenue and profit per dollar of capital deployed. To measure the efficiency of doing this, we redefined profit not as dollars, yen or renminbi, but as ratios like RONA (return on net assets), ROCE (return on capital employed) and I.R.R. (internal rate of return).

Since this is called MBA Mondays and we are supposedly teaching a MBA style curriculum, I want to emphasize this point. Do not use Wall Street tools to evaluate investment decisions in your companies. Use the tools that animals use. Survival instincts. What will it take to ensure that your company is around in ten years, fifty years, 100 years? That's how to think if you want to stay in business forever.

But Clay's post for the NY Times yesterday makes a broader point. If the folks who allocate capital in our society – venture capitalists, hedge fund managers, mutual fund managers, etc – are using IRR, ROCE, RONA, then they are going to allocate capital to companies that are making efficiency oriented investments, not empowering investments. And our society will continue to be awash in capital with no game changing  empowering investments that create new industries.

Clay suggests that we measure our returns in "dollars in dollars out" and forget about time, " profit as dollars, yen or renminbi". That's they way I was taught the venture capital business back in the 80s. Cash on cash, dollars in dollars out. That's what matters. If it takes a decade or more, who cares? The slow capital approach.

So if MBA Mondays is a school of business, then I hereby outlaw IRR, RONA, ROCE, from our lips. We aren't going to teach those tools and we aren't going to talk about them either. We are going to talk about making money the old fashioned way. In gobs and gobs, but slowly over time, with our survival instincts fully engaged. Let's hope others do the same.