“The single most important decision in evaluating a business is pricing power,” Buffett told the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in an interview released by the panel last week. “If you’ve got the power to raise prices without losing business to a competitor, you’ve got a very good business. And if you have to have a prayer session before raising the price by 10 percent, then you’ve got a terrible business.”
Buffett, 80, accumulated the world’s third-largest personal fortune through a career of stock picks and takeovers. He has bought companies such as railroads and electricity producers, whose pricing power stems from a dearth of competitive options available to clients. Buffett has also built stakes in firms like Coca-Cola Co. and Kraft Foods Inc., which rely on the appeal of their brands to attract and keep customers.
“The extraordinary business does not require good management,” Buffett said in the interview, which was conducted on May 26 in Omaha, Nebraska.
The FCIC investigators focused on Buffett’s investment in Moody’s Corp., the bond-ratings firm blamed by lawmakers for handing out inflated credit grades during the housing boom. Buffett said he held stock in Moody’s because the company’s leading market share, along with that of rival Standard & Poor’s, a subsidiary of McGraw-Hill Cos., gave the two firms flexibility in setting prices.
“I knew nothing about the management of Moody’s,” said Buffett. “If you own the only newspaper in town, up until the last five years or so, you had pricing power and you didn’t have to go to the office.”
A dominant position can’t prevent a bad manager from destroying a company over time, said Benjamin E. Hermalin, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.
“If you have a really dominant position you can survive for quite a long time with bad management but eventually it will catch up to you,” said Hermalin. “In the short run I would agree with Buffett but in the longer-run perspective there is something to be said for having a good manager.”
Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the railroad Buffett bought last year for $26.5 billion, owns more than 30,000 miles of track across the U.S. West connecting producers and distributors of coal, grain and consumer goods. Omaha-based Berkshire’s power company, MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., sells electricity to homes in the Great Plains and transports natural gas from Wyoming to California.
Praise From Buffett
Buffett routinely singles out and praises managers from Berkshire’s more than 70 operating companies. MidAmerican Chairman David Sokol and Gregory Abel, the unit’s CEO, are “two terrific managers,” Buffett said last year in his letter to shareholders. The acquisition of Burlington Northern had the “additional virtue” of bringing the railroad’s CEO, Matthew Rose, to Berkshire, Buffett said.
Buffett criticized Kraft Chief Executive Officer Irene Rosenfeld last year for her takeover of Cadbury Plc and the sale of the foodmaker’s pizza brands. “Both deals were dumb,” Buffett told Berkshire investors in May. Berkshire is the biggest shareholder of Kraft with a stake valued at $3.3 billion at the end of December.
“In the short run, good management can make a stock pop but I follow what Warren’s saying, especially because his point of view looks at the fundamentals,” said Terry Connelly, dean of the Ageno School of Business at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, and a former managing director at Salomon Brothers. “Good management can’t do anything with a bad case.”
Tarmac is a cement and aggregates process manufacturer with operations throughout the United Kingdom. Tarmac produces aggregates such as crushed rock, sand and gravel used in construction, asphalt for roads, and cement, concrete and mortar. Tarmac is part of Anglo American, a UK-based global mining company.
"Choosing PROS was ultimately an easy decision,” according to Chris Mabbott, team lead for vendor evaluation at Tarmac. “PROS invested time in learning our business and clearly demonstrated how its solution would drive value across all our pricing objectives. PROS also proved it wanted our business by being the only vendor to visit our sales people in the regions. PROS references were also substantially better than any competitor -- the biggest differentiator for Tarmac
Tarmac will leverage the value of prescriptive pricing embedded in all three advanced pricing modules of the PROS Pricing Solution Suite, including Scientific Analytics, Price Optimizer, and Deal Optimizer. The three modules work seamlessly together to support the entire pricing lifecycle, from identifying pricing opportunities, to setting pricing strategies, to executing optimized prices.
“We’re honored to have been selected by Tarmac, PROS first customer in the quarrying and construction industry,” said PROS general manager for Europe, Wagner Williams. “Bringing Tarmac on board as a PROS customer is a sign that more companies are focusing on the power of advanced pricing technology to fuel both top- and bottom-line growth, and that PROS can deliver on the promise of pricing.”
The PROS solution will enable Tarmac, like many other B2B manufacturers and distributors, to realize significant benefits:
•Improve the accuracy and effectiveness of price setting to drive revenue and margins, and prevent price erosion
•Develop greater insight into customer profitability and enable pricing strategies tailored to specific sales channels and segments
•Improve agility and customer satisfaction through simplified and more effective pricing processes
•Gain greater clarity into sales performance management and empower sales teams to increase sales with growth customers
“One of the biggest challenges for manufacturers in commodity industries is making accurate, timely pricing decisions in a climate of increasing competition and complexity,” explained Andres Reiner, president and CEO of PROS. “We look forward to working with Tarmac to increase their ability to make smart pricing decisions that support their corporate goals and help make pricing a strategic competitive advantage for Tarmac in their industry.”
Tarmac is the UK's largest quarrying company and the supplier of materials to the construction industry, and is a market leader for aggregates, ready mixed concrete and asphalt. Other parts of the business include; Tarmac National Contracting (the UK’s largest road maintenance and contracting firm) and Tarmac Buxton Lime and Cement. The company has been involved in some of the UK's biggest construction projects including Wembley Stadium, Emirates Stadium, the M1 widening and M25 resurfacing.
PROS Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: PRO) is a leading provider of prescriptive enterprise pricing and margin optimization software products, specializing in price analytics, price execution, and price optimization. By using PROS' software products, companies gain insight into their pricing strategies, identify pricing-based profit leaks, optimize their pricing decision making and improve their business processes and financial performance. PROS' software products implement advanced pricing science, which includes operations research, forecasting and statistics. PROS high performance software architecture supports real-time high volume transaction processing and allows PROS to handle the processing and database requirements of the most sophisticated and largest customers, including customers with 100's of simultaneous users and sub-second electronic transactions.
PROS provides professional services to configure its software products to meet the specific pricing needs of each customer. Founded in 1985, PROS has implemented over 500 solutions across a range of industries in 50 countries. PROS is headquartered in Houston, Texas and has over 350 employees, more than 100 with advanced degrees and over 25 with Ph.D.s. To learn more about PROS, please visit www.prospricing.com.
This press release contains forward-looking statements, including statements about the functionality of the PROS products and their ability to manage and forecast across an enterprise. The forward-looking statement contained in this press release are based upon PROS historical performance and its current plans, estimates and expectations and are not a representation that such plans, estimates or expectations will be achieved. Factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those described herein include PROS ability to develop new products and product enhancements with the required functionality desired and PROS ability to implement and support successfully its products to the expectations of its customers. Additional information relating to the uncertainty affecting the PROS business are contained in PROS filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. These forward-looking statements represent PROS expectations as of the date of this press release. Subsequent events may cause these expectations to change, and PROS disclaims any obligations to update or alter these forward-looking statements in the future, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.