MESSAGE FROM THE CHAIR
March 28, 2023
Dear Fellow Shareholders:
With 2022 fading fast into the category of “It’s over now, who cares”, I want to take one more victory lap, the reason being – it was a very special year for our organization. Thirty-eight Business Units generated consolidated revenue of $2.0 billion, impressive especially when considering that annual revenues in 2020 were less than $1.2 billion. Profitability, the important measure shareholders pay close attention to, reached $158.6 million of net income, representing $1.70 per common share. The dividend was increased at mid-year to $0.72 per share annually, much to the delight of every loyal shareholder. We also took the opportunity to repurchase 1.86 million common shares at an average price of $12.30 per share based upon our assessment that your stock remains undervalued and not reflective of the business that has been built over the decades. It would take, quite literally, billions of dollars for any new investment group to try to replicate our accomplishments since we first entered the public markets in 1993.
Over the course of 30 years we have methodically grown a small private company into one of Canada’s largest logistics providers, accomplishing this growth by acquiring a number of high-quality brand name businesses with long histories in the transportation/logistics industry. How did we do it? By providing liquidity and a succession plan, primarily to families or entrepreneurs who were looking for a way to monetize their lifelong investments. It was not, however, growth just to get bigger. We thoughtfully invested in businesses that offered a diversity of services, a strategy we believed provided insurance against volatility in any one economic sector or region.
Another ingredient of our “secret sauce” is owning the real estate that provides an operating base for our business, taking a lesson from the success of others like Ray Kroc, an American business icon and astute investor. Everyone knows about McDonald’s, but most do not realize that Mr. Kroc was not the inspiration behind the original McDonald’s, a small fast-food joint based in southern California founded by the McDonald brothers. He simply bought the rights to franchise the business model. This business strategy allowed the company to grow rapidly. Equally important was the relentless dedication to the original McDonald’s success – high-quality service, friendly staff and clean facilities.
But with growth come issues such as a scarcity of cash. During some stressful times in the early days, Ray was fortunate to receive some valuable advice from his lawyer, who told him, “Mr. Kroc, you don’t quite understand the real business you’re in. You are not in the business of selling burgers”. Confused by what his lawyer was saying he asked, “Then what is it?” The reply: “You are in the business of real estate, Mr. Kroc.” What the lawyer meant was that the buildings and ground where the burgers and fries were prepared and sold were just as valuable – potentially more so – as the cash flow stream from food sales. The rest, as they say, is history. As a shareholder in the Mullen Group, you are a part-owner not only of our business operations but in our sizeable and valuable real estate portfolio (our equivalent of McDonald’s burger stands), the majority of which was acquired before real estate valuations skyrocketed, and which at year-end 2022 had a combined historical cost of $637.4 million.
Obviously, we are not McDonald’s, but we use many of the same approaches as Mr. Kroc. We believe in providing top-quality service. We utilize the franchise business model, referring to the independent service providers as the owner-operator. We love owning the real estate wherever possible. And we engage with our people. Today, we have a talented workforce that is over 7,000 strong. These are just a few of the attributes that define the Mullen Group and I encourage every shareholder to learn more about their company, to take an in-depth look into past financial performance, as well as review the plans we have laid out to achieve a successful future.
And in case you are not aware, I am a follower of the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, and his investment
philosophy. I always find inspiration from his words of wisdom. In this year’s Annual Message to Berkshire
Hathaway shareholders, for example, Mr. Buffett uses a quotation from his long-time business partner,
Charlie Munger, to explain the distinction between value and stock valuation: “If you keep making something
more valuable, then some wise person is going to notice and start buying.” Making the Mullen Group more
valuable continues to motivate me.
FULL MESSAGE: More
Signed: “Murray K, Mullen”
Chair and Senior Executive Officer