Tom Russo - The All-Important Power of Consumer Brands


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Today’s conversation is with the master of consumer brand investing, Tom Russo. Tom is the Managing Member of Gardner Russo & Gardner LLC, Partner at Semper Vic partnerships, and he oversees more than $9 billion through separately managed accounts and Semper Vic partnerships. Tom is also a board member of the Heilbrunn Center for Graham & Dodd Investing at Columbia Business School.

Growing up in Janesville, Wisconsin, home of the Parker Pen Company, Tom saw first-hand the impressive prospects of family-controlled consumer brand with global appeal. Since then, he has become well-known as the go-to person for all things consumer brands. Whether you’re wondering about the development of a beer business in Africa or the strategy for developing a brand in a new market, Tom’s three decades of experience has given him extraordinary insight.

On this episode, Tom and I dive into how he developed his investment philosophy, what he learned about investing during his early years before starting his career, the huge impact Warren Buffet had on his career and specializations, the main investment principles Tom follows, what you need to consider about a company before investing, why under-spending is a key risk factor Tom looks out for, and so much more!

Key Topics:

  • How Tom’s early experiences while growing up in Janesville, Wisconsin influenced his thinking and perspectives (2:47)
  • Why Tom believes in challenging ideas and continuous evaluation (4:21)
  • The importance of considering multiple angles and opinions to mitigate risk (6:27)
  • What Tom learned about himself as an investor in his first jobs after Dartmouth (7:52)
  • Tom’s introduction to Warren Buffett and the concept of value investing while studying at Stanford (10:41)
  • How Tom’s investment philosophy developed (12:21)
  • Why you need to consider a company’s management structure and incentives in determining whether to invest (14:17)
  • The two main investment principles Tom learned from Warren Buffett (15:58)
  • Why Tom decided to focus on investing in family-controlled, international, consumer brands (17:06)
  • The fascinating history behind evolving consumer habits (18:16)
  • The connection between consumer brands and population and prosperity (19:15)
  • How the long-term perspective of family-controlled companies can reduce agency costs (21:28)
  • What Tom considers in assessing the ability of a company to succeed in a new international market (26:08)
  • What we can learn from Home and Garden TV about the value of investing in full-force to facilitate long-term profits (31:36)
  • Why Tom has high confidence in the power of specialization (35:40)
  • How Tom approaches the issue of maintaining alignment with management (38:04)
  • Why you need to be aware of the blind spots you may develop based on specialized expertise (39:56)
  • How Tom analyzes a company’s valuation to determine the best time to invest and when to exit (42:42)
  • How much does regulatory risk factor into Tom’s investment decisions? (49:32)
  • Why Tom is concerned about the risks associated with Brexit (50:30)
  • Tom’s approach to investing in companies in emerging markets (56:01)
  • Tom’s thoughts on the future of value investing (59:06)
  • And much more!

Mentioned in this Episode:

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11 episodes