Henry Singleton: Teledyne Case Study of Capital Allocation

The best investors are avid history students of the market, companies, and great investors. The more you learn from others, the less expensive your own tuition will be. Not to study the Teledyne story and the managerial success of Dr. Henry Singleton and his management teams would be tragic. Dr. Singleton was both a great operator as well as capital allocator.

There are many lessons to be learned from studying a great businessman like Dr. Henry Singleton. Unfortunately, no business school—that I know of—has done a case study on the Teledyne Technologies Incorporated story. You will read several articles on Henry Singleton and Teledyne including a case study and letter written by an investor in Teledyne, Mr. Leon Cooperman. Then you will learn more about the company from an insider, Mr. George Roberts, before pondering several questions.

Something went haywire with American capitalism in the 1990′s, and we think we know what it was: There weren’t enough Dr. Henry E. Singletons to go around. In truth, there was only one Dr. Henry Singleton, and he died in 1999. He could read a book a day and play chess blindfolded. He made pioneering contributions to the development of inertial navigation systems. He habitually bought low and sold high. The study of such a protean thinker and doer is always worthwhile. Especially is it valuable today, a time when the phrase “great capitalist” has almost become an oxymoron.

Singleton, longtime chief executive of Teledyne Technologies Incorporated, was one of the greatest of modern American capitalists. Warren Buffett, quoted in John Train’s The Money Masters, virtually crowned him king. “Buffett,” Train reported, “considers that Dr. Henry Singleton of Teledyne Technologies Incorporated has the best operating and capital deployment record in American business.”

A recent conversation with Leon Cooperman, the former Goldman Sachs partner turned portfolio manager, was the genesis of this essay. It happened in this fashion: Mr. Cooperman was flaying a certain corporate management for having repurchased its shares at a high price, only to reissue new shares at a low price. He said that this was exactly the kind of thing that Singleton never did, and he lamented how little is known today of Singleton’s achievements as a capital deployer, value appraiser and P/E-multiple arbitrageur. Then he reached in his file and produced a reprint of a critical Business Week cover story on Teledyne Technologies Incorporated. Among the alleged missteps for which Singleton was attacked was his heavy purchase of common stocks. The cover date was May 31, 1982, 10 weeks before the blastoff of the intergalactic bull market.


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