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Goldfarb: When Quality Was Really on Sale

Sequoia's Bob Goldfarb reminisces about buying great companies at single-digit multiple valuations in the mid-1970s.

Mike Breen: Bob, you've been at the firm for 40 years now?

Robert Goldfarb: Thirty nine. Going on my 40th.

Breen: The fund is 40 years old. For background, Bill Ruane started the firm to take the investors from Warren Buffett's partnership when he was closing it down. What have you seen change over that long period of time in terms of the market or the challenges with assessing management or companies, or is it still the same?

Goldfarb: Well, it was a lot easier in the 1970s. It really was.

Breen: I'm old enough to remember that time; David's probably not,

Goldfarb: We had a very difficult period in '73 and '74. Even going back to '72, when the Nifty 50 took off--that wasn't for us, those valuations. So we were in small- or mid-cap companies. And at the bottom in '74, our companies were selling at two and three times earnings. ... Prior to '73 and '74, we usually had to choose between quality and price and value. But beginning in '74, we didn't have to compromise on quality.

So we just went for some of the best companies in United States, which we hadn't owned heretofore, because they were available at single-digit multiples. We really feasted. The only downside was that we got so accustomed to buying great companies at single-digit multiples that we weren't prepared for the day when that would no longer be the case, and logically it shouldn't be. So, I'd say that's the biggest single difference.

Breen: Fantastic. You guys have delivered for your shareholders over an incredibly long period of time. So congratulations on your award this year, the Fund Managers of the Year. It's kind of a lifetime achievement award as well, because you guys have been great stewards, and delivered a good shareholder experience, good risk-reward profile. [You] maybe [are] not going to do the best in super-buoyant markets, but you deliver solid returns and, by our numbers, lose less than half or half of what the funds in your peer group do in down markets. So it's a fund that folks can stick with and have stuck with, which is very impressive. So thank you very much.

Poppe: Thank you.

Goldfarb: Thank you.

Michael Breen does not own (actual or beneficial) shares in any of the securities mentioned above. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.