The Outsiders Book Summary - The Outsiders Book explained in key points
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The Outsiders summary

William Thorndike

Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success

3.5 (70 ratings)
9 mins

Brief summary

The Outsiders is a captivating book by William Thorndike that explores the common traits of successful CEOs. Through fascinating case studies, the book provides valuable lessons on decision-making and leadership that can be applied to any industry.

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    The Outsiders
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    The idiosyncratic CEO: Henry Singleton

    The story of Henry Singleton spans a century, more or less. Born in 1916, he cofounded Teledyne, a semiconductor manufacturer which became a conglomerate focused across a range of industrial and aerospace products. He steered it – profitably – from the red-hot markets of the ’60s all the way through the ’90s downturn. How profitably? Let’s just say a dollar invested in Teledyne in 1963 would have been worth $180.94 in 1990, outperforming an investment in a comparable company ninefold.

    Here’s what Singleton did differently:

    He diversified discriminately. Unlike his competitors, who bought failing companies to “turn around,” Singleton favored high-performing companies which were market leaders.

    He was all about niche opportunities. He was a generalist – but he didn’t want a portfolio of generalist businesses. It was said of Singleton that he preferred high-margin products sold by the ounce rather than the ton.

    He leveraged stock. In the early ’60s, he perceived that Teledyne’s stock was overvalued, at nearly 60 times earnings. He used the overvalued stock to buy more subsidiaries.

    He didn’t synergize; he decentralized. Conventional conglomerates had huge management staffs, were based in centralized headquarters, and tried to find synergies and opportunities for integration among their subsidiaries. Singleton viewed each subsidiary as a separate component and drove managerial responsibility as far down into each component as possible. At its peak, Teledyne had over 40,000 employees – 50 of whom were management.

    He pioneered large-scale share buybacks. In the late ’60s, the market cooled on conglomerates and Singleton believed Teledyne’s share price was undervalued relative to its revenue. So, at a bargain rate, he bought them back. In fact, between 1972 and 1984 he bought back 90 percent of outstanding shares, spending $2.5 billion in the process. Money well spent – Teledyne saw a 40-fold increase in earnings per share.

    Singleton didn’t take on day-to-day responsibilities. His approach to time management was typically idiosyncratic. He took on no responsibilities so that he could respond to each day’s challenges and opportunities as they arose, and eschewed long-term planning, preferring to strategize on the fly. It would seem that, with a flexible and innovative CEO at the helm, even an outfit as unwieldy as a conglomerate can keep its agility and outperform its competitors.

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    What is The Outsiders about?

    The Outsiders (2012) upends conventional notions of what makes a successful CEO. It offers detailed profiles of eight out-of-left-field business leaders and shares key learnings from their groundbreaking, original, and surprising strategies.

    The Outsiders Review

    The Outsiders (2012) by William Thorndike is a book that offers valuable insights into the characteristics and strategies of successful CEOs. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Packed with real-life case studies and examples, it provides a practical roadmap for aspiring business leaders.
    • By highlighting the importance of long-term thinking and unconventional approaches, it sparks new ideas and challenges conventional wisdom.
    • The book's fascinating narratives of exceptional CEOs and their decision-making processes captivate readers, making it anything but dull.

    Who should read The Outsiders?

    • Managers and executives looking beyond conventional business wisdom
    • Early career employees with CEO-sized ambitions
    • Anyone looking to inject creativity into their leadership style

    About the Author

    William Thorndike is the founder and managing partner of the private equity firm Housatonic Partners, a best-selling author, and an occasional lecturer at Stanford Business School. 

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    The Outsiders FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Outsiders?

    The main message of The Outsiders is the importance of empathy and understanding in a divided society.

    How long does it take to read The Outsiders?

    The reading time for The Outsiders varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes a few hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Outsiders a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Outsiders is a compelling book that offers valuable insights into friendship, family, and social class. It's definitely worth reading.

    Who is the author of The Outsiders?

    The author of The Outsiders is S.E. Hinton.

    What to read after The Outsiders?

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