Financial Myths: 80% of Success is Showing Up – Part I

Michael McTague  |

Attributed to Woody Allen, this myth clearly bears investigating. The “showing up” factor is widely accepted among executives as an indicator of business and career success. While the maxim flies in the face of mathematical modeling and elaborate market plans, plenty of evidence backs it up.

On the corporate level, just showing up accounts for the extraordinary success of many of the world’s largest and most profitable companies. This is truer in stable industries with established market leaders. Let’s start with an industry that may fly under the radar: chocolate. Candy making lacks the panache of super computers and high technology aircraft. Even so, it remains large and profitable. According to recent statistics published by Bloomberg News, Mars inhabits first place with 14.6% market share. Next is Nestle ($NESN) with 12.6%, followed by Kraft (KRFT) at 8.3%. Mars, a privately actually family owned business that began over a hundred years ago, leads the worldwide corporate giants Nestle and Kraft.

That means “showing up” requires creating and maintaining a high quality, attractive product. Clearly, Mars excels in this area based on Snickers, Milky Way and M&Ms – long term favorites. Investors will realize that chocolate is not just a sweet candy with fancy wrapping. You can get gold foil at the dollar store, but dollar store chocolate lacks the Mars prowess.

Also key to “showing up” is consistent delivery of an outstanding product. Mars’s hundred years plus track record helps. Much like Coca-Cola, they hit on the perfect formula. Except for Coca-Cola’s (KO) peculiar U-turn into New Coke, when they actually removed the original product for a period, both companies have continued to roll out the first of the first.

That’s Where the Money Is

The Willie Sutton – famous bank robber of yesteryear – joke holds up well. Supposedly, he was asked why he robbed banks and he replied, “That’s where the money is.” According to a report by SNL Financial, the five largest banks in the US – JP Morgan Chase (JPM) , Bank of America (BAC) , Citibank (C) , Wells Fargo (WFC) and US Bank ($USB) – increased their total assets and total banking market share significantly from about 10% in 1990 to 44% in 2013. This is more evidence that “showing up” connects with success.

Despite the economic downturn and the bad assets and foreclosures, the big five banks increased their presence significantly. Classical music devotees will be miffed that none of the so-called Big Five Russian composers made Jamie Frater’s list of the 15 greatest composers. If Cui, Balakirev, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin had only been banks!

Very obvious examples that also verify the myth are oil and beer. Exxon Mobil (XOM) , Budweiser (BUD) and Miller (SAB:LSE) resemble Mars – showing up decade after decade – consistently rolling out an attractive product.

Is Success Long Term?

Investors who know that “buy low and sell high” and investing for the long term make sense also realize that many corporate giants fade. Some fall on hard times; a few are acquired; and still others are absorbed by other organizations. To those investors who avoid trends and focus on the long term, turnover among the Fortune 500 keeps them up at night. For 2014, the 10 largest on the Fortune list are,

  1. Walmart (WMT)

  2. ExxonMobil (XOM)

  3. Chevron (CVX)

  4. Berkshire Hathaway ($BRK.A) ($BRK.B)

  5. Apple (AAPL)

  6. Phillips 66 (PSX)

  7. General Motors (GM)

  8. Ford Motor (F)

  9. General Electric (GE)

  10. Valero Energy (VLO)

For 2000, the elite list was,

  1. General Motors (GM)

  2. Wal-Mart Stores (WMT)

  3. Exxon Mobil (XOM)

  4. Ford Motor (F)

  5. General Electric (GE)

  6. Intl. Business Machines (IBM)

  7. Citigroup (C)

  8. AT&T (T)

  9. Altria Group (MO)

  10. Boeing (BA)

A 50% change in 14 years. Half remained; half left: a glass half-full enigma. This calls for a Myth Buster analysis. The 2014 list confirms a concept close to the heart of the 80% of success myth – the centrality of oil and automobiles in the US economy. The 2014 list carries six, while 2000 held three. Despite the federal governments pronouncements on energy independence and alternative energy, the same auto makers are on the list along with the sugar daddy of gas guzzlers: ExxonMobil. Wal-Mart also sells auto supplies. Number 10 Valero Energy sells oil and owns eleven ethanol plants. Wait! Could the Myth Buster be wrong about oil? In 2013, ethanol blending costs hit Mach 2. By November 2013, the U.S. was exporting ethanol at near-record levels, nearly two million barrels a month according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Valero is doing well, but a good deal of renewable energy is leaving the country.  

Is America Becoming Even Greater?

Given the gloomy observations on America’s decline, here are a few more reflections on the top ten. Some will be pleased that Altria – a notable “sin” company – fell off the list. Still others will appreciate Boeing – a military defense industry powerhouse – falling from the superstar list. Investors will also be pleased that Berkshire Hathaway made the elite ten.

So, summarizing these results, and someone had to raise this issue, is the US now more locked in to automobiles and oil, more admiring of good investing, less invested in defense technology and less immoral? The companies that showed up – to use the language of the myth – with the right products have reached enormous success.

An intriguing myth: “80% of Success is Showing Up.” Maybe Woody Allen was right. This bears more Myth Buster investigation: Who is showing up and not performing and who else finds success as easy as falling off a log?


Michael McTague, Ph.D. is Executive Vice President at Able Global Partners in New York, a private equity firm.


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DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to:

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