Monthly Archives: December 2012

How Can You Reduce Costs By Consolidating Services? Four Suggestions

Situation: A small company wants to reduce costs by consolidating accounting and operational communications between remote divisions, with home office coordination. Can you more effectively reduce costs by consolidating services or is it better to set up parallel but complimentary accounting and operational communications in each division?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There are a number of things that need to be considered, including:
    • Whether the existing legacy system is off the shelf with modifications or was custom designed for your operation.
    • Does the current system meet your needs, and do operators understand it? Is operational understanding diffuse or can only one or two people operate it?
  • How similar are the divisions in terms of product, customers and operations?
    • Do divisions serve distinct, non-overlapping customers with different product lines?
    • Are there important operational differences, for example are some divisions union, and others non-union?
    • On an ongoing basis, except for accounting, do divisions function as complimentary or distinctly separate businesses?
    • How complex are the product and pricing offerings? Could you consider a simple solution like QuickBooks or are there are complexities to your business model and accounting that the off-the shelf or web-based systems can’t address?
    • How much historical data from your current system is needed to support ongoing and future operations?
  • The simplest solution may be to run your current system off of a server, with multiple nodes connected to the system – a direct connection at your home office, and point-to-point lines connecting your remote offices. This will solve both your data transfer and communications needs.
    • Hire a computer consultant to set this up and assist you in establishing a link. It will cost some money, but will save you time and money in the long-run.
  • If you decide to change your accounting system, do so at the end of your current fiscal year. Trying to change accounting systems in the midst of a fiscal year creates an accounting nightmare for a small business.

Do You Lead with Your Head – or Your Heart?

While doing some last minute holiday shopping this weekend, I noticed a book, The Spell of New Mexico, by one of my favorite writers, Tony Hillerman; a collection of essays by renowned authors with reflections of their visits to the state. Perusing the Contents I saw an essay “The Pueblo Indians” by the famed Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung, whom Sigmund Freud called his “crown prince and successor.”

Jung’s essay is about a visit to Taos Pueblo in 1924-25. He recounts a conversation with a Taos chief in which the chief described his perception of the Europeans and European Americans that he had met.

“See,” said the chief “how the whites look. Their lips are thin, their noses sharp, their faces furrowed and distorted by folds. Their eyes have a staring expression; they are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something; they are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want. We do not understand them. We think that they are mad.”

Jung asked the chief why he thought the whites were all mad. “They say that they think with their heads,” he replied. “We think here,” indicating his heart.

Jung then reflected on the history of European civilization. Instead of seeing the “sentimental, prettified color prints” that artists painted he saw another view of European culture. “What we from our point of view call colonization, missions to the heathen, spread of civilization, etc., has another face – the face of a bird of prey seeking with cruel intentness for distant quarry – a face worthy of a race of pirates and highwaymen.”

We who pursue the practice of business sometimes fall into this face. We think about technology, numbers like ROI, ROE, growth of sales and profits, and profit per employee. We don’t always consider the impact of our focus and actions on our employees, customers, business partners, and the community and world in which we live. We don’t see the bigger picture that we might see if we thought with our hearts instead of just our heads.

So throughout this holiday season and as you enter the coming year, consider spending more time thinking and leading from your heart instead of just your head. It may soften your face and actually improve both your business and your business model.

Arbitration or Suit to Settle a Dispute? Five Factors

Situation: A company has a long-term client that stopped a project suddenly 6 weeks ago with no explanation. Later, the client called saying that they do not intend to pay for work completed to date. Would you pursue either arbitration or injunctive relief to settle this dispute?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • If you have evidence of acceptance of a project contract or other documentation that the work proceeded under agreement with the client, this strengthens your position.
  • There may be other circumstances of which you are unaware such as financial or cash flow difficulties. Inquire through discrete channels to clarify this. Knowledge of the inside situation provides leverage as you negotiate a settlement.
  • Do you want to retain this client? If they have been valuable over the years this may just be the behavior of a single individual. If this is the case, work with your key contacts to bring this situation to light and try to solve the problem without legal action.
  • Because you have a long-term relationship with the client, focus your communications on the President rather than the VP who shut down the project.
    • Established your documentation, and complete your research on whether the client has cash flow problems; then call the President to work out an amiable resolution.
    • While you are justified in feeling miffed about the situation, business is business, and in this case it appears that your long-term relationship and the value of the ongoing business with the client outweigh the emotion of the present situation.
  • Focus on resolution of the dispute between the parties and do everything possible to resolve it between the companies rather than through legal avenues. This will help preserve the relationship with the client. Provided that you continue with this client, clean up the portion of the contract specifying notification and acceptance requirements and other areas of the contract that require attention.

How Do You Align Expectations Across the Company? Five Suggestions

Situation: A company is doing well, but the CEO is concerned about emerging hurdles that may stall momentum. The key issue from a systems development perspective is changing a “one-off” project based focus towards a modular mindset – essentially shifting a short-term to a long-term view. How do you align expectations across the company and transition to a broader focus?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Start by clearly communicating your expectations. Work with your managers so that they communicate a consistent message to developers. Look for organizational changes to better align talents of individuals to roles taking advantage of these talents. You may want to refresh the gene pool by bringing on additional people.
    • One company with multiple teams creates healthy competition against performance objectives between teams with recognition and rewards to the top team.
    • If the change involves creating greater alignment between functions, create opportunities for individuals from different functional areas to work together. For example, have an engineer accompany a sales person on a critical call to close a deal. If the deal meets spec objectives, is closed, and the project completed on schedule and on budget, the engineer is bonused on the sale.
    • One company rents a lake cabin every year. Use of the cabin goes to teams recognized for meeting objectives, deadlines or other outstanding performance. An added benefit is that on the way to and from the cabin as well as while they are there, teams spend time talking about the next performance coup that will get them the next use of the cabin.
  • Look at your organization – both your Org Chart and the physical space. One CEO found that his engineering organization was stove-piped both in terms of reporting and incentives, and physical barriers prevented groups from easily interacting with one-another. To create better coordination between design engineering and manufacturing engineering, the teams were relocated to a new shared space, without physical barriers. Also, the Org Chart was adjusted to increase incentives for collaboration between the functions.

How Do You Maximize Shareholder Value and Liquidity? Four Factors

Situation: A private company creates a liquidity event every 3-5 years: selling pieces of the company, product-based spin-offs, or potentially the whole company. Most frequently, engineering efforts spin off opportunities for new product-based companies. How do you measure company or business valuation with the objective of maximizing shareholder value and liquidity?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Look at a model to create productized service offerings that are replicable and predictable. This can create a stream of spin-offs to generate ongoing liquidity events. Jack Stack’s company, Springfield Remanufacturing has done this very effectively over the past two decades. He describes his methods in The Great Game of Business.
  • Regarding selling the whole company, the most important measure is strong company performance in recent quarters. Focus on internal metrics as well as revenue and profitability performance. Put together a solid 3 to 4 quarters of profitability with an upward trend to increase appeal to potential acquirers. The current market requires both a longer history of profitable performance and more data points of performance than was required in the previous decades.
  • To compliment internal measures develop a relationship with a business broker who can help you assess the value of either product or company spin-offs. A broker can determine the current value of the opportunity as well as a timeline and critical actions to enhance opportunity value.
  • Consider a roll-up of your company and one or more of your business partners.
    • Look for similar or compatible financial structures and complimentary capabilities.
    • A roll-up can broaden your range of products and services. As a bigger entity you have more options, and can enhance your ability either to generate spin-offs or become a more interesting acquisition candidate.
    • The downside is the time that it takes to complete the roll-up if you feel you have a short window of opportunity.