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The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success
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The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  5,554 ratings  ·  306 reviews
”It is impossible to produce superior performance unless you do something different.” — John Templeton

What makes a successful CEO? Most people call to mind a familiar definition: a seasoned manager with deep industry expertise. Others might point to the qualities of today’s so-called celebrity CEOs—charisma, virtuoso communication skills, and a confident management style.
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published October 23rd 2012 by Harvard Business Review Press (first published 2012)
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4.24  · 
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 ·  5,554 ratings  ·  306 reviews

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Keenan Johnston
Jan 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
The Outsiders is about 8 CEOs who have enjoyed far better returns on company stock than their peers or the market due to their ability to allocate both financial and human capital.I really liked this book because capital allocation rarely gets talked about at the C-suite level from my experience. Most of the CEO's I interact with don't have financial or CFO backgrounds, rising through the sales or operations ranks. The result of which is a big disconnect between owners and operators on capital d ...more
Feb 20, 2017 rated it liked it
It was a well written book, with interesting stories. But as a CEO I do not agree that the entire success of such ginormous organizations have been purely because of their CEOs and how they managed cashflow, decentralized their organization and made smart capital allocations. Business is way more complex than what this book makes it seems like. There numerous internal and external factors that can move the pendulum in different direction.

Although there were interesting patterns in behaviour I d
Saurabh Shankar
Jul 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: berkshire
Its a great book focusing on some live examples of CEO's who have created value for shareholders.

The last chapter "radical rationality" in itself is worth the price of book. Some of the key pointers of this chapter and book.

1. Always do the math- not the detailed spreadsheet one but a simple one pager telling what are the assumptions made and basis that what are the returns expected from the project. The quality of assumptions tells how good or bad this decision is
2. Intense focus on value per s
Jason Schmidt
Apr 20, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: quit-reading
Extremely repetitive. Every CEO made strategic acquisitions and bought back stock when the price multiple made sense. There thats the whole book. The book also glorifies things like excessively slashing worker pay to increase return to shareholders. For a much better read check out Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business by Rana Foroohar.
Aaron Schlafly
Mar 02, 2015 rated it did not like it
A better description would be "Eight unconventional CEOs who used share buy-backs to leverage up returns while staying focussed and riding a wave of good luck." I'm not sure it is the best or most useful advice to leaders of companies.

The corporate histories are at least interesting, as they come from various times over the past few decades.
Nicolene Murdoch
Mar 13, 2019 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the chapters on Warren Buffett and Katharine Graham the most. I learnt more about Buffett’s interesting approaches to corporate governance. Katharine became CEO following the suicide of her husband. She was inexperienced but she trusted her gut. The movie “The Post” only touches on a small part of her multiple achievements. She did it all with poise, class and style. I also got confirmation again that introverts make good CEOs!
Adam Bratt
Jun 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Great overview of some amazing CEOs you've never heard of who embraced contrarian viewpoints and completely demolished benchmark returns by focusing on allocating capital.
Mar 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
If you want to run your own business, be a CEO, or get some ideas of what you should look for in CEOs of companies you want to invest in, you should read this book.

The eight CEOs Thorndike profiles all excelled in capital allocation, i.e., they knew what to do with the money their companies had.

Sounds simple enough, right? There's no simple template, however, as different circumstances yield different best moves.

He compares each CEO's returns to the results of his/her peers as well as the S&
Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
This non-fiction book cannot simply be classified in a single sub-genre. Author analyses and develops an analogy about workings of 8 frugal, humble, analytical, rational, pragmatic, cognoscenti, iconoclastic, idiosyncratic, unbiased, clear-eyed, highly understated, highly unconventional yet equally lucky CEOs.

The book goes deep in the field of financial management (stock offerings, buybacks, free cash flows, debt servicing, LBOs, capital allocation-which is one of the least discussed things yet
Liam Polkinghorne
Apr 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great book summarising the iconoclastic approach of a number of successful business leaders, using engaging case studies. They were typically first time CEOs with little prior managerial experience, focused on capital allocation rather than operations management or external communication, optimised long-term value per share rather than growth, focused on margins, returns and free cash flow rather than revenue and net income, and had a long-term orientation. They disdained dividends, made discipl ...more
Jul 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
I think this work is primarily interesting because of the emphasis it places on the selected eight leaders doing things that others did not think of and succeeding because of that. To be precise, this must not be read as the validation of doing whatever the rest of the people in the group think, but rather as proof that if one has an idea which seems obvious and provably good, the absence of others doing this shouldn’t deter one.

My main problem with this book was that it was superficial. It rare
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Even though I don’t have a strong background in finances, investment strategies and stock market, moreover I don’t run a big corporate either I found this book really interesting.

It’s about CEOs from previous century who share the same pattern for companies management which made them extremely successful. At the same time, I don’t think it is just that simple and there were also other factors about those super successful companies which are not mentioned in the book and they were not only becau
Tomas Krakauskas
Jul 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great book, I enjoyed reading every chapter. Two things surprised me, first is how outstanding was result of those 8 great CEOs compared to peers and S&P 500. All of them made yearly compound returns duoble or even higher compared to markert. Secondly, there is a clear recipe how to create shareholders' value and all of them consistently followed that path for many years, without being influenced by the general crowd behavior. A must read for every investor!
Harish Vaidyanathan
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really liked the outsider's view and the clarity of thinking that these outsiders demonstrated, never confusing progress & short-term metrics with what they believed is true shareholder value. Though there was a lot of commonality, it is apparent that that *is* the point...
Danielle Morrill
Nov 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Makes me hungry to do some deals!
Chris C
Aug 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An incredibly detailed account of major CEO underdogs filled with unexpected triumphs, many making history and major waves through the market and their industry. The numbers speak for themselves as these CEOs have documented returns well over standard S&P benchmarks.

Repetitive at times, but necessary, as the author drives home the genetic makeup of a wildly successful CEO and how they drive incredible margins for their various businesses. A field manual for C-level execs and should be includ
Tim O'Hearn
Mar 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Solid study packed with interesting tidbits of information. Inspired by Good to Great with better flow and less of the everybody's-a-winner feel. Notable is the detailed history of each of the businesses, which were all meticulously crafted. A valuable book especially for those interested in private equity.
Feb 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a great business book for any investor or anyone interested in management and leadership theory. Thorndike, a private equity investor by day, embarked on his research for this book not with the goal of writing a book but simply to see if he could identify any trends among the top performing CEO's of the past half century. What he found was a very clear trendline for what drives extraordinary returns that goes against a lot of mainstream management theory.

I started reading the book alread
Parth  Belani
May 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
The author, William N. Thorndike Jr., has mentioned eight CEOs during whose tenures the returns generated by their shares have outperformed those of industry peers and the broad market by a wide margin for very long duration of time. He considers such CEOs as truly outstanding CEOs and has explored their backgrounds, management approaches and major decisions taken by them to achieve extraordinary returns for their shareholders. Although these CEOs have followed an independent and contrarian deci ...more
Dan Kim
Mar 08, 2017 rated it liked it
Similar to the book "Good to Great", but specifically about CEO's (rather than specific Companies) that tremendously outperformed the market with CAGRs that were astronomical compared to their peers and with the S&P 500. Found that the theme was pretty repetitive; decentralized management teams, expert capital allocators, used share repurchases when the P/Es were very low, Conglomerates acquired very agressively with high P/E ratios and very picky on target companies below 12x and high margi ...more
Nadeen Matthews
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
An interesting read on the commonalities among a group of unconventional CEOs with outstanding performance track records. Katharine Graham was the lone female CEO among the 8 CEOs featured in the book and I find her story quite insightful. So I plan to read her personal memoir. She was thrust into the CEO position after her husband, prior CEO passed. She was a stay at home mother of four who while educated, hadn’t held a full-time job in twenty years. A few take aways for me based on her specifi ...more
Mohammad rouk
Apr 23, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book is only based on the idea that the most successful CEOs main focuses are capital allocation and decentralization which are undeniably very important and vital for the well being of any company, but how do you know that you've discovered something that distinguishes the successful companies from other companies, you can't know-not unless you have a control set, a comparison companies - companies that have the same founding era, similar products and markets, and are also good companies n ...more
Apr 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
Tedious rehashing of Buffettology/Intelligent Investor/Common Sense without any new insights added. About a third of the book is the book repeating itself, often in the same language. (Part of me really wants a frequency table for this book; how often can 'legendary' be used to describe a real person?)

It might have been insightful in 2012, when we were broadly still reeling from the 2009 crisis, but in 2018 it's tired, tired, tired. That said, the author probably makes more money in a year than
Ed Zhu
Jun 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Can't remember the last time I marked up a book so thoroughly. The two observations that really stuck were: (1) a CEO's most important job is capital/resource allocation and (2) businesses can be structured efficiently by centralizing capital allocation decisions and pushing operating decisions and accountability down to the local level. A must-read for left-brainers who'd like to run a business some day.
Sergio Vera
Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great book if you are a big corporation CEO and you need to alocate capital. Otherwise has some good pointers to day to day business and gives a good synopsis of some of the best CEOs throughout history.
Dec 28, 2015 rated it it was ok
This was a short read, but tough to get through because there was a lot of data about why the author considered these CEOs as outsiders - or the most successful CEOs ever. Keep your corporate employees minimal, hire the right people, and let them manage the businesses with little interference.
Dec 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Looking to build and lead enterprises at scale? This book is a must read.

Any book that changes the way you think, even just around the edges, should be cherished. This one goes further than that.
Mar 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Short but very insightful book. I read this based on Warren Buffett's recommendation in his latest annual report, and I agree with the Oracle's assessment!
Ramona Mandu
Jan 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Must read for all current and future business owners and entrepreneurs.
Patrick Lopes
May 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Best finance and business book
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“The business of business is a lot of little decisions every day mixed up with a few big decisions.” 2 likes
“Basically, CEOs have five essential choices for deploying capital—investing in existing operations, acquiring other businesses, issuing dividends, paying down debt, or repurchasing stock—and three alternatives for raising it—tapping internal cash flow, issuing debt, or raising equity. Think of these options collectively as a tool kit. Over the long term, returns for shareholders will be determined largely by the decisions a CEO makes in choosing which tools to use (and which to avoid) among these various options. Stated simply, two companies with identical operating results and different approaches to allocating capital will derive two very different long-term outcomes for shareholders.” 2 likes
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