A little while ago Portfolio ran this great Felix Salmon article about Chris Wyser-Pratte, a 1972 Stanford MBA grad who spent the next 23 years as an investment banker, and the seven principles he was taught at Stanford Business. When I read through them, I was struck by how timeless they are, and how readily applicable to value investing. Here is Mr Wyser-Pratte’s list in its unadulterated form:
I learned exactly seven things at Stanford Graduate School of Business getting an MBA degree in 1972. I always used them and never wavered. They were principles that enabled me to put the cookbook formulas that everyone revered in context and in perspective. I think they served my clients (and perhaps me) rather well. Here are those seven principles, and who taught them to me:
Don’t use many financial ratios or formulas, and when you’ve picked the few that will actually tell you what you want to know, don’t believe them very much (Prof. James T.S. Porterfield);
Remember that any damn fool can compute an IRR or DCF. The trick is to find a business that can return 20% after tax, understand its critical indigenous and exogenous variables, and then run it so it meets its return target. (Prof. Alexander Robichek.)
Always ask what can go wrong (Porterfield);
Never extrapolate beyond the observed points of a distribution, you have absolutely no information outside the observed range (Prof. J. Michael Harrison);
Remember that you can always break the bank at Monte Carlo by doubling your bet on red at the roulette table every time you lose. The problem is it will break you first; It’s called “the takeout.” Therefore, always manage your financial structure so that takeout is not an issue. (Porterfield.)
Big M (today Nassim Taleb’s Black Swan) is never a part of the optimal solution. If it shows up in the answer with any coefficient greater than zero, you have the wrong answer and have to continue to do program iterations. (Harrison.)
There is never any excuse for looking through the substance of an economic transaction, whatever the accounting, and if the accounting permits you to do so, it’s wrong (Prof. Charles T. Horngren.)
Read more at Portfolio. I’d love to hear any other great lessons you might have learned in business school or otherwise.
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