The Software Provider Behind the 'King of Calendars'

Joel Litman

I don't recall having to juggle so many things when I was 12... 

My eldest son lives in a different world, though. Since he started 7th grade this fall, it seems like the number of to-dos on his list has jumped exponentially. 

I thought that remote schooling would make things easier for him to manage. 

However, the change in schedule created a lot of ups and downs... and there are never-ending adjustments to what "remote" or "hybrid" schooling means. In-person schooling has the benefit of teachers and kids and administrators pushing everyone where they need to be in person. Remote learning... not so much.

I've seen the look of upset roll over him as he missed a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that he had been looking forward to. Later in the same week, he sat waiting online for a class that he forgot had actually been canceled. Finally, he was exasperated when he missed the deadline on an art project. He had completed it diligently and creatively... but he didn't digitally submit it in time for a due date that had been changed. 

He's not the first kid to have issues juggling so many moving pieces (and in a few years, he won't be the first adult either). I assured him that the problem hasn't been some personal inability to memorize all these things. The fact is, no one can.

By nature, humans are great at focusing on the one thing at hand and being absorbed in the moment. Time flies when we're in the "zone," the "flow," or whatever term you use to describe those moments of deep thought and productivity.

However, our internal clocks don't make for great timepieces. We also aren't built with reliable internal calendars...

In 2009, surgeon Atul Gawande wrote The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. He discussed how avoidable failures "plague" every organized activity – from medicine to the financial industry, law, and government.

He also explained how a simple checklist – perhaps one of the "greatest inventions" – has been used to dramatically improve outcomes, increase profits... and save lives. The book shows how checklists can be used for improved efficiency, consistency, and safety in any line of work.

I shared this story in my coaching comment for Altimetry's global teams this week and noted how we need checklists as much as any other firm. When we're at our best, we're using them – from forensic analysis to Uniform Accounting adjustments. Our firm runs better with continually improving lists of to-do's and how-to's. 

So, for my son, I recommended a checklist that will benefit him greatly now... and for the rest of his school and work career. For him, nothing more was necessary than an online calendar – he now uses Alphabet's (GOOGL) Google Calendar.

Checklist items should be short, simple, and precise... 

A checklist isn't meant to be an instruction guide... And a good scheduling tool fits all those attributes. 

Over my career, I've had the opportunity to work with truly exceptional sales people who have sold products and projects in the hundreds of millions of dollars. I asked them about how they used their checklists – their calendars – in order to be so unbelievably effective. 

I heard the same basic response several times from these great professionals... "Review your daily to-do's the night before," and "Review your weekly calendar on Sunday night." 

It's critical to force a pause-point to stop and review the list.

For great salespeople, it's the night before the day or the week... So I suggested the same to my son as well.

My boy breathed a big sigh of relief knowing that he can't memorize or remember every scheduling item and due date every day.

Now he just needs to remember to use his calendar! 

For many corporations, the 'king of calendars' is Microsoft's (MSFT) Outlook...

It has been the industry standard for decades.

Many people – including Altimetry Director of Research Rob Spivey – also use the Microsoft product OneNote as a broad checklist and note-taking tool. It can be accessed and updated from anywhere, and it allows people to keep their lives and work schedules organized and in one place.

Microsoft's suite includes spreadsheets (Excel), e-mail (Outlook), operating systems (Windows), and many more tools that industries default to. 

Microsoft has even become involved in cloud computing with its Azure platform. Azure is considered the second-largest player in the space. This has helped diversify Microsoft's revenue sources and made it harder to unseat. 

Not to mention, the company is the owner of Xbox, one of the top-selling video-game consoles in the world. The Xbox One, Microsoft's last-generation console, sold an estimated 51 million units worldwide.

One might think that Microsoft's industry-leading capabilities would mean high returns. However, looking at as-reported metrics, it appears this isn't the case...

Microsoft's as-reported return on assets ("ROA") was 11% this year. Additionally, this metric hasn't eclipsed 20% since before the Great Recession.

Microsoft appears unable to convert its innovation and industry-leading position into high returns. While offering a wide breadth of products, its profitability is in line with corporate averages.

But this picture of Microsoft's performance isn't accurate...

Due to distortions in as-reported accounting – such as the treatment of goodwill – Wall Street has missed the mark on Microsoft's profitability.

The company's Uniform ROA has been nearly double the as-reported metric since 2005. Just this year, Microsoft boasted a Uniform ROA of 33%.

The company has been able to convert its market-leading products into robust returns – its Uniform ROA hasn't fallen below 25% in any of the past 15 years.

Microsoft's products have become essential to workers and have seen consistent demand... But GAAP metrics would have investors believe that the company has average profitability instead of robust returns.

Thanks to its dominant position, Microsoft should be able to continue to maintain these results and drive above-average returns.


Joel Litman
December 18, 2020

P.S. What system do you use for organizing your life? Let me know by sending an e-mail to [email protected].