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Chip Conley Headshot

You Get the Investors You Deserve

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That's paraphrasing a wisdom Warren Buffett once uttered (by the way, Warren Buffett's lunch auction sold for a record $2.63 million last weekend in the annual charity fundraiser for Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco; this is the highest winning bid in this 11th annual event so maybe the economy is coming back!) Bill George, former CEO for Medtronic when that medical instruments company experienced the largest capitalization growth of any New York Stock Exchange company in the 90s, takes this headline one step further, "Do your shareholders choose you or do you choose them? Sophisticated CEO's choose their investors by defining their particular business approach and strategy and assuring their investors are aligned with that program."

This was a bell-ringing week for me ... literally. A week ago, I got the honor of standing at the podium of the New York Stock Exchange to open trading on Monday morning for the world's most well-known marketplace. On that very day, the Wall Street Journal reported that I'd sold a majority share in my company to a company owned by an heir to the founders of Hyatt. After 23 years, I was no longer the sole shareholder of my company, nor necessarily in control of my company's destiny. How did that feel? While there's a series of mixed emotions -- just like the word "surrender" has multiple meanings, both positive and negative -- I have to say that I feel like a proud father who's married his daughter off to just the right guy. Sad at the passing of an era, but satisfied that this is exactly what's supposed to be happening and I couldn't choose a better partner for my offspring.

There are three kinds of investors: those focused on winning the game of "Survivor," those focused on building relationships as their means of success, and those focused on creating a legacy who put their money where their heart is. Think of a pyramid with three levels. At the base of the pyramid - the widest point on the triangle -- is the vast majority of investors, those that see investing as one constant set of transactions. These investors tend to focus on optimizing the most amount of return on their money in the shortest period of time. It is the fundamental principle behind return on investment (ROI) or internal rate of return (IRR) calculations and it is part of the basic language almost all investors use to determine whether they've survived in their investment practice. But, there are some investors who take a little longer view of their relationship with the company they invest in. If the "survival-driven" investor is focused on obtaining as much "milk" as quickly as possible, the relationship investor in the middle of the pyramid is more focused on the "cow" because it's the cow that creates the milk. Happy cows make more milk. Warren Buffett says most investors forget that it's the relationship with the cow that creates the success of maximum milk, or "moolah," and he applies this long-term perspective to the businesses he invests in.

But, then there are those few, unique investors at the peak of the pyramid for whom investing creates pride of ownership. For them, investing could even be an exercise in self-actualization. Yes, they may be interested in return on investment and relationships may be fundamental to whom they invest with, but these "legacy" investors seek to change the world by the means of how they invest. The best advice I could ever give an entrepreneur is to create a purpose that's so compelling and has benefit to the world beyond enriching yourself and see what kind of investors pop up in your life as a result of manifesting this kind of dream.

Over the past couple of years, I've met with dozens of investors who've done their due diligence on our company. The process isn't a whole lot different than a beauty pageant with judges measuring your body parts and asking you open-ended questions. Some judges saw us purely as a vehicle for maximizing return. They were looking for "36-24-36." Others saw that our history of creating loyal relationships with our employees and customers drove long-term results for the hotels we manage. I guess they were looking for "Ms. Congeniality." But, in the end, literally out of the blue, the ultimate suitor who won the contest to own a majority share of this company is someone who profoundly understands that our name -- Joie de Vivre -- is also our mission, creating joy of life, and this investor realizes how truly powerful that purpose is to a company in a service industry like hospitality. This investor was looking for beauty beyond our stats or our ability to smile well. They gave us the crown because they could see the halo that comes from creating a purpose that's meant to make a better world beyond the sloganeering that often comes with those words. I feel incredibly lucky to have found a primary investor who wears this pair of glasses when they make their investments.