May 26th 2010
Review by Neil Jenman.
My late Mother did not like Eddy Groves. Back in 2006, 'Fast Eddy' as he was known, was the owner of the world's largest childcare company. He was also reckoned to be the richest Australian under the age of 40. Well, my Mum was more than twice Eddy's age and she reckoned he was not much good - at least when it came to investing.
Unfortunately, tens of thousands of other Australians did not take Fast Eddy's business character into account when they bought shares in ABC Learning Centres. The fact that Eddy drove fast flash cars, wore crocodile skin boots, bought a multi-million dollar Gold Coast waterfront home and a basketball team didn't seem to phase them at all. Eddy was raking in the millions.
From the time that Eddy Groves first listed ABC on the Australian Stock Exchange back in 2001 at $2.00 per share, investors just kept on buying shares in ABC. By the end of 2006, shares in Eddy's company were trading at $8.80. And Eddy was driving around town in a black Ferrari Superamerica which was supposedly the fastest convertible sports car in the world. Go Fast Eddy.
But then came the global financial crisis - and as one legendary investor once said, "When times get tough and the tide goes out, that's when you get to see who's been swimming naked."
Fast Eddy had a simple but deadly method for growing his business - debt. And not just ordinary debt but margin call debt, the sort of debt that can wipe you out overnight. On August 25, 2008, Eddy's company ceased trading permanently on the ASX. All the shareholders lost their money.
But not my Mum. She never liked Eddy Groves. Nor did she like another well known corporate high flyer, a bloke called Sol Trujillo who was the CEO of Telstra from 2005 to 2009. During the time that Sol - an American with a thick black moustache - was in charge of Telstra, its share price slumped to almost 40 per cent below what it was when Sol took over as chief. And what did Sol get for his work at Telstra? In just four years, the porky pig from America pocketed more than $40 million courtesy of Telstra shareholders. Not counting his $3 million termination payment.
Did I just refer to Sol as a pig? Now, that's not very polite. But then I can't really claim the credit for calling Sol Trujillo a pig, nor Eddy Groves (who is also a pig). No, the pig tag comes from a terrific book that I have just finished reading. It's called Pigs at the Trough and it's written by a young lawyer who has three characteristics that are often lacking in lawyers. His name is Adam Schwab and he has a brain (for intelligence), a heart (for compassion) and a spine (for courage).
Adam's book is a great read about several companies and their directors who have recently caused enormous damage (about $10 Billion worth) to investors. If you're one of those investors, it'll be a painful read. But, no matter who you are, this is a book that will make you furious when you see just how much money these pigs have been pocketing while investors have been suffering.
Ordinarily, I probably wouldn't recommend this book for everyone. I mean, really, what's the point in reading about pigs and their greed? Well, Adam Schwab has gone one step further than just tell the story of a group of pigs, he has also provided important lessons for investors. In the 239 pages of the book, Schwab has provided 40 simple but oh-so-powerful lessons for how investors can avoid investing in the wrong companies.
For this reason, Pigs at the Trough is a must read for every investor.