SINGAPORE (Jan 10): Like vinyl records and sideburns, conglomerates in America are a 1970s phenomenon now fast becoming obsolete. In their heyday, conglomerates like International Telephone and Telegraph Corp (ITT) commanded a massive stock market premium.
Investors in Asian conglomerates would be well-placed to heed the lessons of the hero of the golden age of American conglomerates. Harold “Hal” Geneen was not just the CEO of ITT from 1959 to 1977 but a symbol for the conglomerate asset class.
Geneen grew ITT from a telegraph equipment producer with US$765 million in sales to a conglomerate with US$17 billion in revenue in 1970. At its peak, ITT’s interests included insurance, hotels, and real estate. It controlled one of the largest private landowners in the US as well as the hotel giant Sheraton.