By Jean-Philippe Legault, guest contributor

If you are used to reading our texts, you will have noticed that we pay particular attention to the quality of a company’s leaders. Indeed, before proceeding with any investment, we seek to determine the level of competence of the company’s leaders. However, this is not always easy since there is no data in the financial results that allows us to find this information.

To get an idea, an investor can certainly examine the history of the decisions that have been made by the leaders. One can also compare the financial performance of the company against its peers. If the performance is superior, we can deduce that the leaders are doing a good job. I also like to identify outstanding personality traits in leaders. Here are three attributes we value.


In my opinion, a business leader should seek to minimize unnecessary expenses. For example, Bruce Flatt, the CEO of Brookfield, travels economy class on short-haul flights. Joe Shoen, the CEO of U-Haul, requires his employees to rent inexpensive motels when travelling on business and to be at least two per room. I also remember a similar story where Alain Bouchard from Couche-Tard found himself in a small windowless hotel room because it was inexpensive.

I believe it is important to distinguish personal spending by executives and spending with company money. After all, it’s not uncommon to see leaders indulging in frivolous spending with their own money. Instead, we seek leaders who are frugal with shareholders’ money, but who won’t be afraid to invest large sums to grow the company over the long term. They are constantly looking for a return on every dollar spent. Travelling first class is certainly more comfortable but does not necessarily add value to the company.

Close to Employees and Customers

We believe it is essential that the leaders are close to the employees. This characteristic allows you to be at the forefront of successes and problems. For example, Alain Bouchard always made sure to visit several of the company’s convenience stores when he travelled abroad. He took the time to meet with employees and managers to understand what was working or not working.

Joe Shoen is constantly in the field. He regularly visits all his branches and takes several notes to ensure that the efficiency of operations is improved. He has already made his personal phone number public and still receives calls from customers telling him about their problems. He then makes sure to settle them quickly.

Bruce Flatt and Brookfield executives often eat lunch at their desks alongside interns.

Beyond problem solving, I believe that this characteristic also helps to spread the corporate culture. I find that being close to the big boss is rewarding for employees and probably increases their dedication.

Getting Involved

We are looking for leaders who do not hesitate to get their hands dirty. For example, Jim Koch, the founder of the Boston Beer Company, tasted all the brews produced by the company to ensure the quality of the product. We can certainly debate the health benefits, but we can’t say he was not involved!

Couche-Tard’s senior executives all pitched in when they had to review the financials of a future acquisition. On the other hand, competitors seeking to make the same acquisition instead sent a group of accountants and lawyers and did not necessarily seek to get involved in the process.

Willis Johnson, the founder of Copart, used to methodically examine all the parts in a recycling yard before bidding on acquiring a lot. His competitors looked at the yard from afar and rather estimated the value of the lot.

How does one discover such anecdotes? One must read a variety of articles and books on the leaders. A leader who possesses the characteristics mentioned above will not automatically experience market success, but he will greatly increase his chances.