Category Archives: Strategy

How Do You Transition from Doer to Leader? Four Suggestions

Situation: The Founding CEO of a professional services company has always been deeply involved as a service provider and rainmaker in addition to his role as CEO. As the company has grown he sees the need to spend more time as leader of the company instead of being a doer. What can be done to facilitate this transition, and what expectations need to be created? How do you transition from doer to leader?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Another CEO removed himself from day to day business development activity by bringing in a new rainmaker. These were the adjustments made to facilitate the process.
    • During the first year he worked with the new individual in a team or partnership role.
    • Compensation was results-based. Discussion of equity consideration was deferred until the individual proved herself.
    • The CEO moved himself out of the individual contributor role except as needed to support the new rainmaker’s efforts.
    • All of this was accompanied with clear communication to clients: “this adjustment will provide better service to you; here’s my number if you need help.”
    • Rainmakers are a different personality type. To be most effective, they must be able to say “my team.” Allowing this will ease the transition and improve the relationship.
  • Create teams to deliver solutions that have traditionally been provided by the founder.
    • Identify skill sets behind the roles that are being delegated.
    • Build an organization that will fill these roles.
    • Participate in team meetings, but as an advisor rather than as principal decision-maker.
    • Adapt role and behavior in phases to ease the pressure of the change on both the CEO and the team.
  • How does the CEO manage his own expectations as well as those of the company as he makes this transition?
    • Delegation initially takes more time and effort than doing the work yourself. Be patient and let the investment pay off.
  • Larry E. Greiner of USC was an expert on the study of organizational crisis in growth. Per Greiner’s model, the company is currently at stage one – moving from principal and founder to initial delegator. It may be a useful to study this model.

How Do You Finance Site Expansion? Three Recommendations

Situation: A company wants to expand to new sites. It’s business model relies on high levels of customer service, with high customer retention and efficiency. The challenge is that the model is low margin, because only a few employees are billable. How do you finance site expansion?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • To evaluate profitability and start-up time create a low-cost prototype site to test the model and collect data.
    • Develop a template with a high likelihood of survival over the first 6-12 months when investment will outweigh income.
    • Consider a SWAT resource team to accelerate early success for new sites.
  • Key areas of focus:
    • Understand the value of the business. For example, is it:
      • Improving client operational efficiency?
      • Building the team?
      • Response time to client needs?
    • From experience define the most important variables for success:
      • What is front office, what is back office?
      • How important are the dynamics between key people? Is it better to hire key people as the number of sites expands or grow them internally.
      • Determine what is being sold, with a reasonable prospect of return – methodology or services?
  • Consider a franchise model. The model must show a reasonable return to the prospective owner, including the cost of franchise purchase and start-up costs.
    • As franchisor, it is important to know what this model looks like to a prospective franchisee; however, take care not to create a representation to which would be bind the franchisor as a promise.
    • A successful franchise should have a branded presence.
    • Offer potential franchisees a guarantee: if after one year the net costs to establish and maintain the site are below a certain level, the franchisor will credit the difference between their estimate and the actual net costs in Year 2.
    • MacDonald’s does not allow franchisees to choose store locations. Similarly, the franchisor can choose locations, determine the availability of key talent, select anchor clients, and develop a reasonable estimate of the value of a new franchise before selling it. This increase the value for the franchise sale and creates a more predictable ROI for new franchisees.

How Do You Structure a Small Company Board? Five Suggestions

Situation: A small tech company’s Board of Directors is made up primarily of founders and advisors. The CEO wants to know how other companies structure their Boards. Concerns include increasing accountability of management, obtaining an objective view of company operations so to counteract group-think, and accessing opportunities for strategic alignment. How do you structure a small company Board?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In a small company, the fewer the number of board members and owners, the better. There are two considerations: control of the destiny of the company and complexity of the transaction in case of an investment or buy-out opportunity.
  • It is important to differentiate major from minor shareholders, including incentive-based owners.
  • What are the advantages of a Board of Directors?
    • Sounding Board – a group that can help management evaluate product and market opportunities.
    • Accountability – Board meetings provide an opportunity to assure that leadership and management are focusing on the best opportunities for the company.
    • Exit – knowledge of the industry, ties and introductions to potential acquirers.
  • Given new Federal regulations, the proper role of a Board has changed. Key responsibilities of Boards include:
    • Oversight of Corporate Governance.
    • Fiduciary Responsibility – to the shareholders.
    • Work with local or regional experts on Board role and structure. Experts can provide introductions to potential Board members that fit the company’s needs.
    • Good Board members will want Directors and Officers Insurance coverage.
  • Consider developing an Advisory Board, to compliment a stronger Boards of Directors.
    • Look at the key talents that the company is missing internally.
    • Ask friends, business partners and associates who they know who can add these talents.
    • Before kicking off a formal Advisory Board, start with informal discussions. Consider a facilitated dinner to share ideas.
    • One company has eight outside advisors who each receive 1/8 of a percent of the shares of the company for three years of service. The share offer required for service may be a function of the eventual forecasted exit value of the company.

Special thanks to the late Bill Rusher for his insight and contribution to this discussion.

How Do You Balance Core and New Businesses? Five Guidelines

Situation: A company has built a solid core business and wants to expand its product portfolio by adding new business. Core functions can serve both existing and new business, reducing overhead on individual businesses. What pitfalls must the company avoid? How do you balance core and new businesses?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • New business activity cannot impact core business. The core business is the company’s bread and butter. It is important to make this clear to both employees and clients and to structure the handling of new business opportunities accordingly.
  • From a staffing standpoint, new business opportunities cannot impact marketing, service and operations staff supporting the core business. New business development activity and operations cannot result in a pull from their focus on the core business. This separation may be facilitated by placing the staff supporting new business in separate facilities, or in an area separate from the staff supporting core business.
  • In the case of support functions that will serve both existing and new business, recruit and hire staff to support the new business to assure that both existing and new business receive proper support.
  • Hire a new person, one with experience and contacts, to develop the new business opportunities. Look for a sales person who can bring in significant new business. This will pay for the individual quickly.
  • How does leadership communicate these changes to staff?
    • Meet with key managers to identify potential concerns. These may include impact on company culture and client focus. Use the responses gathered to develop a communication plan to allay employee concerns.
    • As new business opportunities are added, it will be necessary to bring in new, experienced personnel. Previously, the company brought in experienced personnel to build the current business. Be open and up-front about this and explain that as the company grows there will be new opportunities for existing employees.
    • The company’s objective is to improve the quality of the organization and to raise the boat for all. Current owners and managers will automatically benefit from the efforts of new people to expand the business.
    • Building new business opportunities as separate businesses diversifies the company and reduces the risk of overdependence on existing clients and key vendor relationships. This enhances the job security of current employees.

How Do You Choose Between Opportunities? Five Thoughts

Situation: A growing technology company is faced with several opportunities. The CEO is too busy to devote the time to analyze each of these. In addition, the CEO wants to develop her staff so that they can take on more responsibility and mature into a full organization. How do you choose between opportunities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Everything starts with a strategic plan for the company. Either the CEO or an outside consultant should coordinate a strategic planning session to develop and rank the opportunities facing the company. The ranking exercise is best done as an open departmental or company-wide exercise so that everyone is involved in the process. This helps to build consensus and commitment to the opportunities developed.
  • Once the opportunities have been identified assign one to each of the employees that you want to develop. Each of the employees will be the champion for that opportunity.
  • Ask each champion to develop a business case and plan for their opportunity. This will include a development plan and ROI analysis. Allow each champion to access all company resources as they develop their plans. Set a deadline for all champions to complete their plans.
  • Once the plans have been completed, reconvene the group that participated in the strategic planning session and have the champions pitch their plans to the group. The group will provide feedback and suggestions for each plan. At the end of the session repeat the ranking exercise based on the new information developed and presented.
  • This will provide a wonderful training opportunity for the champions as well as valuable insight into their talents and potential for future development. In addition. Because the strategic planning sessions will be conducted as a company-wide exercise, they will act as team-building exercises and excite everyone about the potential facing the company.

Is the Glass Half-full or Half-empty? Five Recommendations

Situation: The CEO of a product and service company has seen her company struggle for several years. While the overall market has turned around, her company has not. She is tired of barely staying afloat and not making the kind of money that she a decade ago. Is the glass half-full or half-empty?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • What keeps you from hitting the numbers? Creating a forecast, budget and objectives allows you to establish a reward system for meeting and exceeding objectives. Once there is an upside, then not hitting the numbers means that a manager misses the upside and the financial rewards that accompany this achievement. This is often consequence enough, particularly if others are hitting their numbers and getting performance bonuses.
  • The glass is half-full. The past few years have been difficult. Review what the company accomplished during an extended recession. Look at how the company fares versus local competitors. Review positive changes that have been made and take credit for these. This will provide energy to move forward.
  • Given the company’s successes, sit down with the management and show them what the company has accomplished. Celebrate. Use this opportunity to set goals for next year. A good place to start is to set a bottom line profitability objective before taxes.
  • To be a great manager requires more than just a revenue and profitability target. People rally around a vision and a culture that they aspire to and want to enjoy. The role of the leader is to create this vision and culture. Do this, and revenue and profitability will take care of themselves.
  • Two more thoughts on whether the glass is half full or half empty to check your bearings:
    • What is your passion? If you love what you’re doing, what else would you do?
    • If you were doing something else, would you be making more money or enjoying more success?

Do You Expand Production Locally or Internationally? Five Points

Situation: A company has built a very successful specialty manufacturing business in the US. Their manufacturing operations are labor intensive, with manufacturing practices optimized using motion studies and sharing best practices developed on the production floor. The CEO is evaluating whether it makes more sense to expand production in the US or to explore international options. Do you produce domestically or internationally?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There are trade-offs between domestic and international production. Quality labor is available internationally at lower costs than in the US. However, risks include potential loss of quality control and higher levels of waste.
  • While investigating international production options, focus first on less critical operations where savings from lower labor costs outweigh the potential cost of wasted material.
  • Do not try to move highly controlled operations. These will include critical operations which require both an elevated level of operator skill and close supervision.
  • Before evaluating international options, break down the steps of manufacturing or processing to identify specific subcomponents or subprocesses that could be outsourced at reasonable risk.
    • For example, look at high volume parts where quality and variation in tolerances is less critical. These will be the best candidates for production in a lower cost, potentially lower quality environment.
  • How critical are trade secrets or patented IP to production? In the US and Europe there are strong protections for IP. However, these protections are not as strong in all countries. If production is outsourced to countries with poor IP protection, this may enable IP theft and create future low-cost competition.

How Do You Evaluate a Potential Partnership? Five Factors

Situation: A software company is developing a new solution for their B2B market. The CEO has been in discussion with a potential partner to assist developing this solution. The question is whether this partner is the right partner. Is it smarter to complete development as a partnership, or on their own with the aid of subcontractors? How do you evaluate a potential partnership?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Is the potential partner also a competitor? If so, is the partnership arrangement on or off the core focus of the company’s business. Is there potential for future development in the partnership, or is this just a one-shot opportunity?
  • What would a new partnership look like? Ask the following questions:
    • What is the long-term vision for the company?
    • Does the partnership fit this vision, and under what terms?
    • Is the potential partnership “sticky”? Will it bring in business that can be nurtured and developed under the company’s shingle?
  • Until answers to these questions become clear, soft pedal the partnership opportunity and plan for the company’s future.
    • Take advantage of situations that the partner presents as they benefit you, but do not let these become a distraction to the company’s focus unless the partner is open to working with you as a partner rather than as a source of bodies and skills.
    • Put a deadline and milestones on the partnership relationship. If they don’t pan out, walk.
    • Don’t burn bridges, if the partner takes off, then jump back in more strongly, but on terms that benefit the company’s strategy.
  • For the immediate future and until the situation becomes clear don’t let people become idle. Unless something develops quickly be ready to redeploy them.
  • An alternative is to stick with the company’s current customers and expertise. This involves investing resources and focusing R&D on solutions for these customers. If the market remains substantial and current customers are the largest players, this has the greatest potential for growing the company’s business.

What’s the Right Model for a Service Company? Four Points

Situation: The President of a professional service company and his team are considering adjustments to their business model. The alternatives under consideration are a client-centered model and a service delivery model. What’s the right model for a service company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In the client-centered model, the emphasis is on maintenance of the customer relationship by the responsible manager, with support from the group to optimize service delivery.
    • Consider the service being provided and the client’s expectations. Does the client want to have a principal point of contact – a client manager – to address their needs?
    • This model centers on the key manager creating and maintaining an ongoing relationship with the customer, including rapid response to inquiries from the customer.
  • In the service delivery model, the emphasis is on a developing and maintaining a high standard of service delivery so that multiple individuals can deliver the service rapidly and reliably.
    • As in the client-centered model, consider the service being provided and the client’s expectations. Is the customer’s principle concern functionally rather than personally oriented – for example keeping a system up and running in the fastest time with a manageable expense? In this case, the individual technician is not as important as speed of response and assurance of a quality outcome.
    • The service delivery model centers on standardized and predictable delivery of a defined service, with high responsiveness to the client’s needs. Those who deliver the service are paid variably based on their skills and assigned to deliver service consistent with their abilities. A benefit of this model is that business maintenance is not as dependent on individual service providers as the client-centered model.
  • In choosing between these models, it is important to speak with your clients and to understand their needs and priorities. Is your model a direct business to customer relationship or a business to business relationship? Is your offering perceived by the customer as a service or a product with tangible results? Is your customer more interested in meeting short-term needs or developing a long-term relationship?
  • As an example, is the customer expecting a personal, customized service and desirous of maintaining a long-term relationship? For this, a Nordstrom-like model may make the most sense – a highly personalized level of service where the relationship managers on the sales floor keep detailed records of individual customer’s tastes and past purchases and will even have items pre-selected prior to the customer’s arrival at the store.
    • This model implies that the most important assets to client development and retention will be your account managers. A business development manager may bring in a new client and then hand off that client to “one of my best managers” who will develop the long-term client relationship. The account manager will become the principal point of contact for the client; however, they will bring in other expertise or assistance to handle specific client needs. When a customer calls in, depending on the immediate need, that customer may be triaged directly to their manager or to an individual who could, for example, perform a transaction for them. Responsiveness by the manager within a defined time frame will be an important metric to monitor.

Diversify or Optimize Current Opportunities? Four Options

Situation: A company that manufactures and sells components to a large corporation has a dilemma. This customer is throwing more business their way, under favorable terms. At the same time, the company wants to diversify to reduce exposure to a single large client. The challenge is that alternate opportunities are not as profitable as those from this customer. As the CEO puts it, should they use limited resources to chase copper when gold is readily available? Do you diversify or optimize current opportunities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • It is always dangerous to have all your eggs in one basket. Dedicate resources to develop alternative business opportunities, knowing that at first the new opportunities will not be as appealing as current opportunities with this large client.
    • Think back – has business from the large customer always been this profitable? In developing new business opportunities, one often must pay dues to develop opportunities for future profits.
    • Invest in business development to find new business opportunities outside of this large customer. Do this sooner rather than later. One never knows when a large customer will change strategic direction.
  • What are the company’s options and choices?
    • Stay the current course and accept the risks of this strategy or diversify.
    • Put some resources into studying options to diversify. If there is no gold out there, then maximize the cash from the current situation and invest it in something that will provide a satisfactory long-term return. If the large customer closes the door, then just shut down.
  • How could the company diversify? Geographically? Additional products to other customers? Put together a diversification plan and test it for feasibility.
  • Make sure that company’s and owner’s priorities are clear and not in conflict with each other.
    • What is the optimal size of the company?
    • How many customers are needed to support optimal company size and how much diversification is required for this?
    • What is the owner’s exit strategy and timeline?
    • If the objective is to stay small and exit in one or two years, why chase diversification? Think about what would be appealing to a potential acquirer. Perhaps it is just access to this large customer.