Donald Graham attributes a large part of the Washington Post's success to having the right focus.
And as for what he had to tell the audience about media today, he said at the outset: "There are several trends in the media industry, of which the Washington Post Company participates in zero."
But opting out, it turns out, was Graham's point.
The other conference participants — representing broadcast, cable, satellite, and the internet; film, music, sports and advertising; and investment banking, media consulting and corporate finance — were all preoccupied with three broad themes: international expansion, industry consolidation and multiplication of mediums.
Graham's focus was elsewhere. A key to the success of the Washington Post Company, he said, is management's refusal to join most of corporate America in its obsession to meet or beat Wall Street analysts' quarterly earnings estimates. "We don't do quarters," he said. "Quarterly earnings are not in the top 100 things you should care about if you want to value the company." Putting his money where his mouth is — he owns about 37% of the company — he added, "If you care about that sort of thing, you shouldn't own our stock."
Obviously Buffett's influence on this board has been huge. This one area, though, where I agree strongly with him. Focus on running your business, not financial shenanigans to make your quarterly numbers, and you will lay the foundation for future success.