Category Archives: Strategy

How Are Your Relations with Your Bank? Seven Points

Situation: A CEO’s company is short of cash to make a scheduled payment against a line of credit. They have been notified that if the payment isn’t made, the bank will transfer cash from the company’s checking account to satisfy the payment. This would compromise their ability to meet payroll and pay vendors. How are your relations with your bank?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • What the company needs is time, so that they can pay down the line of credit from cash flow. It is best to compartmentalize any discomfort with this situation. Remember that any bank action generally takes time.
  • Advice from the company’s lawyer is that if they stop making deposits, the bank will notice and react negatively. Given that the current interest rate on the line is low, a negative reaction from the bank could lead to an increase in the rate.
  • The company has a bargaining chip. The bank does not want to show the company’s line as delinquent. If they admit that a delinquency exists, it puts them in a bad place.
  • Develop a contingency plan to guard against the company’s biggest risk – inability to make payroll. Assure that this can be covered.
  • Use checks paid by customers to move a portion of company assets to another bank.
  • Secure a new line of credit with another bank to cover credit needs, including salary coverage if the current bank acts adversely.
  • Assure that any conversations with the bank are documented in letters to the company’s contact at the bank.

How Do You Prepare for a Potential Acquisition? Three Areas of Focus

Situation: A CEO has been approached about a potential acquisition of his company. The offer was a surprise, and the team within the company is split on whether they are interested in a sale. They are currently very happy with what they do. How do you prepare for a potential acquisition?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • How does a company best position itself in advance of discussions?
    • Rebrand the company to boost the value proposition. Make what the company does best the focus of its value proposition. Position the company as the “experts” in this area.
    • Look at a series of possible scenarios that could develop and determine who on the team can best contribute each scenario. This will help to evaluate the implications of each scenario and to rank them in terms of favorability on the company’s terms. It will also help to quickly exclude certain scenarios if they come up during discussions with acquirers.
  • What research should the company conduct on the acquirer?
    • Do a deep dive into the potential acquirer. Research is simplified if the acquirer is public. Go online and look at their SEC and public filings. Look at their revenue trend as well as their profitability or losses.
    • What is the acquirer’s history of acquisitions? Interview people from companies that they have purchased.
    • Don’t pitch anything to the acquirer until you understand what they want to buy – this is critical so that the company positions itself well.
  • What is the best approach to take once the conversation starts?
    • Quick first step – send the company’s financials to the acquirer with a 3-year projection. Ask them, based on this, for a price range that they would consider for the company. If the range is outside of expectations, the conversation is over.
    • Determine whether this looks like a strategic vs. a financial buy. A strategic buy yields a higher price.
    • Cut a deal structure with a bonus tied to success post acquisition. This means a reasonable upfront payment with big payments for future success. This creates golden handcuffs to motivate the company’s staff to stay post-acquisition.
    • There should be multiple options on table – addressing both financial considerations and the future of team.
    • Always be ready to say no!

How Do You Create and Communicate Urgency? Seven Solutions

Situation: A CEO perceives that the company has a conflict between performance and planned timelines. Of concern is performance against key metrics like pipeline performance and closing new business. A sense of urgency isn’t present. How do you create and communicate urgency?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Management knowledge of company financial status and performance against key metrics – particularly key drivers like pipeline performance – is critical to their being able to assist the company.
  • A company decision to focus on project profitability may have the unintended consequence of exacerbating the lack of urgency. If revenue growth lags, the only option for managers who are tasked to hit a profitability target is to cut expenses. This delays projects and can negatively impact morale.
  • Accountability comes from meetings. Not 1-on-1 meetings but team meetings. Peer pressure is an important component of accountability. Nobody wants to be the individual who is consistently behind on projects or initiatives.
  • The challenge may be more external than internal. When business closes more slowly then everything else slows down: hiring, new development, investment and profits. All of these are driven by new business acquisition.
  • Another CEO has same issue with her contracts. All contracts include a timeline. If work or deliverables slip, the customer wants to slow down delivery and billings. Her solution is to include stop work and delivery delay fees in the contracts.
  • What actions would others take to address this?
    • Institute progress payments. For example, instead of charging 50% up front and 50% on contract completion, shift to, for example, 50/30/20 with the 30% due on completion of project framework. This way, only 20% can be delayed due of customer timing issues.
    • Built financing into total pricing. The customer is free to delay projects, or aspects of projects, but there is a charge calculated into delayed delivery which covers the cost of money and additional management.

How Do You Build International Sales? Five Observations

Situation: A CEO wants to create new markets outside the US. They have investigated options and locations and are starting to plan. One question is how long it will take to start seeing results, so that they budget accordingly. How do you build international sales?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Decision timelines internationally are longer than they are in the US. For example, in Europe timelines are easily twice as long. This means that new entrants must budget for a sustained effort.
    • It took another company three years to develop traction in Europe. They have an office in Germany, but most new sales are coming from Eastern Europe. After three years their European operation is now break-even.
  • International markets, especially in Europe, can be very conservative. Job security and maintaining cash flow are the focus.
    • Labor laws encourage companies to do things themselves rather than outsource. The result is that a new entrant will face competition from internal departments of potential prospects.
  • In European the emphasis is not growth, but on conservative steady operation. Growth tends to come from acquisition.
    • Sales pitches should be tweaked for international audiences. For example, highlight reduced need for additional personnel to manage the systems, fewer breakdowns and glitches, and the ability to count on seasoned outside expertise to quickly address complications.
  • Relationship selling is very important internationally. Sales and tech support are best provided, and in some cases required to be provided in the local language.
  • In Europe, Italy can be an important lever to sales with the right partner. Italian companies can be excellent at marketing and can jump-start European sales. This will be a very personal relationship.

How Do You Bring Children into the Company? Seven Observations

Situation: The CEO of a company is looking at her succession plan. The preferred option, from a family standpoint, is to groom one of her children to eventually become the CEO. A concern is how current key employees will react to this plan. How do you bring children into the company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • As preparation for a key role at the company, have your child gain experience at a company that has been where the business is today but has grown to a higher level. Learn from them what they went through and what they would change were they to do it again.
  • How did Peter the Great become the greatest leader of Russia? As young man, and son of a czar, he apprenticed in England and Holland – in ship building and other important arts that were scarce in Russia. He was able to leverage what he learned to help build the country when he became czar.
  • Have them develop the leadership qualities and maturity that they need to run this company in another company – where there is the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. Bring this wisdom and experience back to the company. It will help gain the respect and loyalty of company employees.
  • Have them take on tasks which are not comfortable – for example, sales. Don’t underestimate the value of being able to visit a new customer. This is the key role of the principal of any company.
  • A parent/child relationship can be difficult in business. It can get tense when business, money, survival of the company and making payroll are on the line.
  • The son or daughter must be aware that in a new role one doesn’t start out in control. This may be achieved in the end, but it is not the starting point.
  • An option, once experience has been gained in another company, is to have the individual start a new branch of the company in a different location. This will provide a valuable learning experience and will demonstrate both capacity and success to company staff.

Who Owns Quality Control? Eight Recommendations

Situation: The CEO of a company has a problem. Quality control is an essential part of the company’s success, but ownership of quality control issues is proving difficult. When more than one department is involved, each blames the other for issues or deficiencies. Who owns quality control?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • At the end of the day the project owner must own this responsibility. This individual can delegate work but not accountability.
  • QC must be embedded within the company’s systems. In addition, someone has to walk in daily to ask what is wrong with this project? What can be done better? A skeptic.
  • Put a skeptic in the QC role – the job is to find what’s wrong, not what’s right – a tactical skeptic.
    • Skeptics are ideal for design reviews.
    • It isn’t necessary to hire someone for this role if there’s already a productive skeptic on staff.
    • This person needs to be vocal and will irritate some of the other staff. Coach staff to tolerate this, because the individual is performing an essential role.
  • It’s impossible to check everything. However, as issues are identified, everything can be documented.
    • As systems are reviewed, look for patterns of problems.
    • Develop solutions as problems are identified.
    • Log issues and solutions on a shared server to facilitate access by project managers.
  • Institute cross-functional design reviews – representatives from different functions offer different perspectives. Formalize design reviews in the early and start-up stages of projects.
  • Work on company culture – build anticipation of challenges into the culture.
  • Build a heuristic of the output of each program. Use this to make sure that inputs, filters and system checks will produce the desired output and the desired level of quality.
  • Ask: where is QC currently working within the company? Why is it working?
    • Operations and testers catch the errors.
    • The issue is distributing the knowledge gained. In complex systems nobody understands the full picture or the impact on the customer.
    • This becomes the responsibility of the project owner.

How Do You Boost Company Morale? Five Suggestions

Situation: A CEO is concerned that her #2 is being challenged by others in the company. An option is to hire a technical project manager; someone who carries the CEO’s authority and who can get things done. What are the obstacles to achieving this? How do you boost company morale?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The technical project manager must have a non-threatening role – they shouldn’t challenge the technical skills of the developers. The role is to oversee schedules, progress, and to resolve barriers – both technical and personal. The job is to get things back into shape.
  • While the business involves highly technical software, operationally it is people centered, not software centered. People centered means a team that collaborates and supports one-another. The important questions are:
    • Where do the needed people skills come from?
    • How do the model and reality transition to a people centered business?
    • Look for someone who can nurture talent. People skills are more important for this role than technical skills, with the caveat that individual must be able to understand technical challenges.
  • An option is a 3rd party within company to straighten this out.
    • “COO” Responsible for Technical Direction – title is important because it conveys respect.
    • The CEO’s voice and ears.
    • Run weekly meetings and is the go-to person when the CEO us traveling.
    • The focus is to manage the primadonnas and keep them focused on their jobs instead of on interpersonal conflicts.
    • This role focuses inwardly on company vs. the CEO who focuses outward on the broader vision, key stakeholders, etc.
  • The bottom line – this is your company, your vision. Make it work. The task is teaching maturity – learning to give rather than worrying about making a name for themselves.
  • Have regular lunches with each of the developers and have frank conversations with them. What’s up and what’s wrong? Listen and let them air their concerns. Talk them through these concerns, but make sure that they understand that the CEO sets the direction both for the company and the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behavior within the company.

How Do You Monetize Your Business Model? Five Suggestions

Situation: The CEO of a start-up software company focuses on connecting potential parties to business opportunities. Early signs are that this offering has legs and potential parties have responded positively. The critical question for the CEO is how best to turn interest into revenue. How to you monetize your business model?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The first step is to segment the audience and determine both the potential for each segment to both benefit from and fund the service that they receive.
    • Individual contributors may not have a lot of financial resources but may be interested in participating as employees or providers of expertise or services. They also may know others and can spread the word.
    • Collaborating organizations may be able to offer both funding and services to help build and sustain momentum.
    • Companies have funds to support the effort provided they see value to their bottom lines as a result.
  • Suggest a fee or contribution for services from companies who will benefit. Provide guidelines or a sliding scale of fees depending upon duration of services provided to the company. Make it clear that moneys earned will be reinvested to increase the range and depth of services offered.
  • Suggest a sliding fee scale for individual contributors based on the financial benefit that they receive.
  • For companies and collaborating organizations offer levels of membership or recognition for support based on benefit received.
  • For all segments – start with small, timed fees and increase these as the model proves its benefit to them.

How Do You Maintain Company Culture in a Merger? Four Suggestions

Situation: A US-based company is in the process of merging with a foreign company. The US company has multiple locations across the US, and there are cultural differences between these locations. The CEO has worked diligently to mitigate these differences. The foreign merger presents new challenges. How do you maintain company culture in a merger?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Between some of the US locations, there has been a “we make money, but you spend money” perception. How did the company get past this?
    • The company adjusted metrics to demonstrate the contribution of each division to short and long-term profitability.
    • This information was communicated selectively to key opinion leaders within the company.
    • Use the lessons from this experience to plan post-merger communications and protocols that will contribute to team integration post-merger and improve the chances of merger success.
  • Focus on the common vision and interdependency of the teams. This accommodates differences in culture and encourages teams to appreciate each other’s contribution. Use the same technique during the merger.
  • Have lunch with CEOs of other companies that have been bought by foreign firms. Learn how they adapted to the new reality. Ask what worked or didn’t work. Seek specific details of solutions that were developed that could be applicable to the planned merger.
  • Become better educated on business culture in the country of the company with which you will merge. Seek experts who can give seminars to company employees on what to expect and how to work most effectively with workers and executives of the foreign company.

How do You Minimize Inventory Damage by an Outsourced Manufacturer? Five Points

Situation: A company uses outsourced manufacturing but is concerned about inventory damage by the manufacturer. Tests have been established to assure both visual compliance and functional performance, overseen by a company employee. Still the company is receiving too many unacceptable parts. How do you minimize inventory damage by an outsourced manufacturer?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • It is perfectly acceptable for a vendor of consigned materials to bear the risk of product that is not to specification.
    • In any contract for manufacturing, require that the vendor carry insurance to cover the full cost of materials and processing in case of damage either during manufacturing or shipping.
  • It sounds like this is a new opportunity and situation for the company. In the process they have not guaranteed that both cost and risk are covered.
    • There is no point in assuming all this risk.
    • For future opportunities like this, take on the work as a time and materials project at an appropriate hourly rate for the market, and with a significant mark-up to cover risk as the project is transferred to a contract manufacturer.
    • Another option is to take on the project under a project management contract, and to bill engineering separately.
  • This situation sounds familiar for an evolving project. In the future try to unhitch the manufacturing piece from the engineering. Engineering should be more profitable, which will allow the company to more successfully manage the project into early manufacturing.
  • Strategically, this could be a good move for the company provided they partner with a reliable vendor to facilitate early stage manufacturing. One option for paying sub-vendors is to pay for yield – particularly if early stage work has a high failure rate.
  • If the market opportunity is there do two things:
    • Set up an organization with professionals who know early stage manufacturing.
    • Be aware this group will have a different culture and approach compared to design engineers.