Wednesday, October 7, 2009

David Rubenstein: Investments and Life Lessons

David Rubenstein, Co-founder and Managing Director of The Carlyle Group, was incredibly informative if not a bit robotic here at the World Business Forum. We forgive his fast-paced monotone for the gems of information and insight he provided. Before we go into what he said, let us give you a better sense of The Carlyle Group, so you understand the weight of his words.

Today, The Carlyle Group is one of the largest private equity firms in the world. The group has about $100B under management. They’ve experienced a 33% annual return on their investments since inception, which is simply jaw-dropping (if you invested just $1,000 thirty years ago, you would have $4 million today). The firm is one of the most influential (very much behind-the-scenes) forces in the world of business and politics. They’re not market leaders, they’re market movers.

Here’s where David would invest right now:
a. Distressed investments… beaten down companies… likely turnarounds
b. Industries with support of US government
c. Energy – traditional and alternative energy
d. Healthcare – “Boomers will spare no expense for fake hips.” Healthcare will continue to grow more than its fair share, as a percentage of GDP.
e. Natural resources – oil and water… water in particular
f. Emerging markets – China, Brazil, India, … “If you don’t think of China all the time, you’re not living in the real business world.”
Of course, not all companies in these areas will represent good investments, but as a core principle, David believes in focusing investments in high growth areas and avoiding even normal levels of leverage (particularly now).

He also shared his career learnings, many of which surprised us because of how human they are:
Persist. Don’t take no for answer. Keep pushing. Take entrepreneurial risk. If you don’t, you’ll sit at your desk for 20 years.
Persuade. Improve your skills of persuasion.
Partner. You can’t build a business by yourself, so find a partner (or several) whom you can trust.
Passion. If you don’t love what you’re doing, do something else, your wasting your time and your career. You’re good at what you love. You’re not good at what you don’t.
Think about activity, not money. Money will flow.
Think like a leader, not a follower. If you think like follower, you will be a follower. If you think like a leader, you’ll be a leader. In related advice, Rubenstein implores you to think like an owner, not an employee. It has been the most important quality he’s learned in all his experience.
Luck. Everyone makes their own.
Deathbed. You never say “I wish I worked harder,” on your deathbed. You say, “I wish I could have given more to my family, to my community.” He urged the audience to “Give back to your community. Don’t just think about your business career.”

It’s worth noting that David had failed three times in his career before striking it out on his own and becoming a huge success. This is a recurring theme among the industry luminaries at this year’s World Business Forum. The Popped Kernel does not believe it’s a coincidence and plans to write more on it – and other broad themes of the Forum – in the coming days.

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