Category Archives: Team

How Do You Free Up More of Your Time? Four Observations

Situation: The CEO of a successful small software company is snowed under by day to day tasks. She wants to focus more of her time on business and infrastructure development. However, the company’s departments are not strong enough to run without her supervision. How do you free up more of your time?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The first priority is to develop infrastructure that will allow the CEO to focus on strategic development.
    • To build this the company needs the right people to do the work.
    • Look at the daily task list and develop or hire new managers to oversee day-to-day non-strategic functions.
    • For example, offload payroll and back-end accounting to a bookkeeper.
  • Look at the gaps between where the company is now and where you, as CEO, want to be in terms of your time and responsibilities:
    • In addition to a bookkeeper, hire an experienced executive assistant – to keep you focused as CEO.
    • The company is growing rapidly. It is time to hire a human resources manager.
  • The company’s cash flow projection for the coming year indicates a substantial surplus.
    • Use this surplus to hire infrastructure.
    • In front of key clients, keep the impression that you are available to them; however, this is primarily for client relations. The CEO doesn’t have to do all the work demanded by clients.
    • Use the lawyer / rainmaker model. The rainmaker maintains key client relationships; however, the rainmaker has staff do 90% of the work.
  • The 7 States of Enterprise Growth Model indicates that the company is now in what’s called a Wind Tunnel. The critical activities in a Wind Tunnel are:
    • Letting go of methodologies that no longer work and acquiring new methods that do work, and
    • Hiring and training additional staff.

How Do You Keep a Company Afloat Short-term? Three Points

Situation: The CEO of a service company continually finds the company short of cash. They have just hired a new accountant, but it will take time for this individual to understand the financial situation and to generate recommendations to improve cash flow. How do you keep a company afloat short-term?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Point #1: This isn’t just a question of controlling costs; the company needs to build the infrastructure to succeed.
    • If there isn’t someone on the team in a position of authority, who the CEO can trust completely, hire this person. The CEO can’t control all risks.
    • While the company has shrunk over the last two years, it is still a substantial company and needs professional management. To grow effectively, professionals are required in key leadership positions. If necessary, hire experienced outside talent
    • Look for teachable moments as challenges arrive. The CEO, instead of solving a problem, should work with employees and mentor them through discovering and implementing solutions.
    • How to communicate this to current staff?
      • Put the story together. Be able to make a clear statement to them, including the current situation and future possibilities for which the company must prepare.
      • Generate charts and metrics to support key points.
      • Use senior staff as the mouthpieces to present the story to the rest of the organization. Once they are onboard, have them help craft the message. Don’t underestimate the CEO’s authority. This is business, not a popularity contest.
      • Let others make mistakes – it is part of the learning process – no matter how critical the situation.
  • Point #2 – Return to the company’s roots.
    • The faster everyone accepts that a focused approach is the only way to survive, the faster the company will turn around. Reestablishing company presence in key markets with a new model that speaks to their desires makes a lot of sense.
    • Be very clear as to what flat-rate service pricing covers. Include this in the signed customer agreement. Don’t allow costs to creep up or it will kill the profitability of flat rate jobs.
  • Create an infrastructure nimble enough to adapt as market conditions change. Identify what really works and focus on this.

How Do You Prepare for a Difficult Conversation? Three Suggestions

Situation: The CEO of a family business faces his most difficult conversation. One brother, who makes more than anyone else, is not living up to his responsibilities. A long-term key employee currently handles most of this brother’s responsibilities at a modest salary. The CEO is intimidated by this task. How do you prepare for a difficult conversation?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Call a meeting of the three brothers and the key employee. Propose putting all four into a pool. The key employee is treated like a brother. Ask: what is a fair way to split the pie and to build incentives so that each makes what their father, who built the company, made? Make it clear that all four members of the team want the same earning potential and that one team member is not more equal than the others.
    • Prepare and script this meeting ahead of time.
    • Don’t allow the under-performing brother to play the others off against each other.
    • Know what must be said if this brother says he will leave.
  • The CEO must stick with the message. If the underperformer doesn’t like the message, he is not indispensable. A replacement could be hired for far less than he is currently being paid.
  • What are the key points for the conversation?
    • Turn the question around – the brothers all joined a company model that no longer works – the three brothers, combined, make less than their father made.
    • Ask the underperformer – what are the proper incentives? What is fair? Is it fair that for years, he has made more than anyone else?
    • It’s time for each member of the team to work together to figure out how to make what their father made in this business.
    • The brothers have supported the underperforming brother for years. Any old debts that were owed have been paid.
    • Ask the underperforming brother for his voice in how to expand the company and make it more profitable.
    • This is a new game. If all members pull together everybody wins.

How Do You Fund Business Growth? Four Observations

Situation: A company is looking at options to fund growth. These include selling a stake in the company, bank financing, organic growth. or partnering with another company. There are trade-offs to each option. How do you fund business growth?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There is a question that should be answered before talking about funding: what is the vision for the business?
    • Think about building the business that the founders want to run. What size company feels comfortable from an operational perspective? What does it look like?
    • Does the company have the right people and infrastructure to support planned growth? Are current direct reports capable of taking on additional projects and monitoring both current facilities and additional sites?
    • As the company grows, can the bottom line be increased as fast as the top line?
  • Commit the 5-year plan to paper. Before deciding how the company will grow, determine the vision, the growth rate to support that vision, the organization required, and the strategic plan to get there.
  • The funding decision is an investment decision. What’s the return for a multi-million-dollar investment?  What incremental revenue and earnings will it produce?
    • Estimate how much revenue the investment will generate in 5 years. At the current gross margin, what is the incremental gross margin per year.
    • Given this estimate, what is the projected EBITDA? Does the annual EBITDA represent a reasonable rate of return on the investment?
    • The investment ROI must be known – both from the company’s perspective and for any lender or partner who invests in the planned expansion.
  • How high do the company’s relationships extend in key client companies? Do client upper management realize how critical the company is to them?
    • If the answer is not high enough, develop these relationships. This could open new funding opportunities.
    • For example, if the CEO knows the right people at a key customer, let them know that the company may want to build a facility near them. The customer may be interested in partnering with the company to finance the facility.
    • A multi-million-dollar joint venture plant investment is a modest investment to a large customer if it gains them a strategic advantage.

How Do You Train New Employees? Five Suggestions

Situation: A young company is in the process of hiring new employees. Good customer service, including excellent communication skills and empathy are the most important qualifications. Good follow-up skills are more important than educational background. How do you train new employees?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Training new employees may be putting the cart before the horse. The first task is to solidify the company’s business model. The next task is to determine what roles and positions fill that model. Only then can the company determine how best to train employees.
  • Build an organizational chart for a $1 million company.
    • Who will the company serve?
    • What are the positions and roles?
    • This is future that the company will be building and determines how to select and train people to fill the positions.
    • Suggested Reading: The eMyth Revisited by Michael Gerber – a guide to envisioning the future of the company and how to build it.
  • A word of caution. As CEO, you don’t want to be training people like yourself. This is both difficult and risky. You may be training future competition. 
    • As an alternative, think of a series of distinct roles or functions that make up the business, then select and train different individuals to handle each role. It’s difficult to find people who can do it all. It’s much easier to find people who can bring in new clients, establish and nurture relationships with partners, network to develop a referral base, or counsel new clients on alternative solutions to fit their needs.
    • Organizing this way means training and creating experts in segments of the business, but nobody knows the full business the way that the CEO does.
  • Each position within the company will need individualized objectives and performance evaluation criteria. What are the key metrics for each position? This helps to build efficiency.
  • Think about both one-time and recurring income models. This may call for different employees or at least a different sales activity to build each business segment.

How Do You Respond to a Purchase Offer? Five Thoughts

Situation: A company has been approached by a larger company that is interested in purchasing it. The purchaser wants to fill a niche that they don’t currently serve, but which is important to their growth. The CEO is concerned about what will happen to employees following sale of the company. How do you respond to a purchase offer?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Questions for Preliminary Stage Research:
    • What valuation is the tipping point for an attractive offer by the buyer?
    • Determine the nature of the purchaser’s interest in the company and how it fits into their broader strategic picture. If their plan will dramatically change the market the company’s current market value may go down later relative to doing a deal with them today.
    • If the acquirer has a history of buying other companies, look at who they’ve recently bought, what they paid, and what kind of impact they had on the staff and culture of the companies purchased.
    • Check out the purchaser’s P/E ratio. If it is in the range the company’s desired multiple on EBITDA, a good deal is possible.
  • Temper the company’s response and approach to get the most from this experience.
    • Currently, assumptions about the acquirer make the offer appear unappealing. Ask questions to validate or challenge these assumptions.
    • Be open-minded so that the purchaser reveals more about themselves and the market than they would if they sensed a lack of interest in an acquisition.
  • How does the company protect itself during the inquiry and due diligence process?
    • Keep staff numbers and individuals, and customer lists close to the chest.
    • Have an LOI and ask for a breakaway clause before sharing significant information. 
      • Breakaway clause: if the two companies get into discussions and the potential acquirer decides to abandon the discussions, it will cost them $1M.
      • The potential acquirer may not agree to this, but it demonstrates that the company is serious both about the discussions and about preserving the confidentiality of its business information.
  • More Advanced Stage Questions and Research:
    • This looks like a strategic interest. If so:
      • Get assistance from an investment banker.
      • Look at what other alternatives may be available to the acquirer to assess the company’s potential value.
      • Any offer other than a high-multiple strategic valuation and offer should not be of interest to the company.
    • What restrictions will the acquirer put on the company? 
      • For example, if there is an earn-out value, will they give the company the freedom to operate to maximize this value?
    • Be careful with employee communications and how employees are informed of an outside interest. This can be difficult during due diligence.
    • If the founder remains with the company post-sale this could help lock in the value of the exit and assure the employees’ future.
  • Make the most of this opportunity.
    • Are there ways that the company can become better and smarter working with the acquirer?
    • Is there a relationship short of acquisition than would benefit the company like a collaboration or partnership?
    • Can a relationship short of sale enhance the company’s market presence and help the company to achieve national status more quickly?

How Do You Manage Conflicting Demands from a Client? Three Points

Situation: A CEO is struggling to manage conflicting demands from a key foreign client. The client frequently changes targets and priorities; however, the performance contract with the client does not allow variations from plan. In addition, the CEO and client have different expectations concerning ROI. How do you manage conflicting demands from a client?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Recruit or access expertise from an individual who knows both cultures to coach you on intercultural communications. This will help you to avoid inadvertent miscommunications where your well-intended queries are negatively interpreted by the other party.
    • Cultural interpretation is an increasingly important factor for multi-national business growth.
  • Are there elements of the client’s structure and the agreement with the client that offer significant benefit, but which are underappreciated by company staff?
    • Access to capital?
    • Access to funding or allowance on expenditures that allow the company to increase staff to meet company demands?
    • Assure that staff are aware of these benefits and how critical these can be to the company’s, and their future growth and income.
  • Meet with the client’s leadership to outline the conflicts that the company faces meeting the client’s needs and demands. Explain to them how these conflicts are compromising the company’s ability to meet their needs. Once the conflicts in priorities are clearly expressed this may help the client to understand and resolve the conflicting demands.
    • This may involve a considerable personal risk and cost to the CEO. However, if the effort is successful it will, in the long-term, benefit both companies.

How Do You Balance the Demands of Work and Family? Five Views

Situation: A CEO struggles to balance time and responsibility commitments to his business with demands of his family. This is not an uncommon struggle for executives. The question is: what strategies are effective to address the needs of both. How do you balance the demands of work and family?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • One Member: It takes a plan to find a solution.
    • Decide what you want and write a business plan to get there.
    • What relationship do you want with your soul mate? Make this part of the plan.
    • Have a conversation and test whether your and your spouse’s long-term visions are complimentary.
    • Don’t take on additional work – this is good both for family relationships and the role as CEO.
  • Another Member: My spouse and I talk about this a lot – particularly around time.
    • We have agreed on how the week is carved out – family time/work time.
    • We agree to honor each other as we are – not how we want the other to be.
    • Watch work commitments because – long-term – your spouse and children more important and more lasting than work.
  • Another Member: I’ve lived through the same issues.
    • I probably erred on side of family vs. career. The benefit is that now, I can’t get enough time to play with my kids. It’s great!
    • Attention to children is very important during the early years. While infants are not as capable of communicating as they will be later, the basic emotional and learning patterns – as well as affection patterns – are created early in life. It’s like the foundation of a building – not much to look at from the street, but it allows the whole building to stand.
  • The same mind that developed your business can solve this.
    • Stay open to solutions.
    • Make a choice.
    • This is uncomfortable, but not bad. The struggle proves that you care.
  • View your spouse as somebody who cares enough about herself so that she thinks she deserves a class act from her mate. Isn’t this what you want in a mate?

How Do You Manage a Business Transition? Five Thoughts

Situation: A company is moving from sole focus on servicing a market to a split focus including developing and marketing their own products. This is a significant transition for the team. What is the best way to organize this effort? How do you manage a business transition?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • While the company’s financials are great for their market, cashflow may be insufficient to fully fund a development company.
    • Internal development of new products can create conflicts if it creates competition for resources between internal and external projects.
    • To avoid this, create an independent company or entity – in a separate location. Seek outside funding whether bank, angel or partner financing. The independent entity can then buy resources from the primary entity at competitive rates.
  • Several years ago, another CEO utilized the strategy just described. The important lessons were:
    • Assure that venture is properly resourced.
    • Assure that there is a balance between proven structure and creative application development.
    • Utilize best resources available at same rates that key customers pay.
    • Offer free guidance but not free services – peer reviews are key.
  • A third CEO had an opportunity to open a new business using the spin-off model.
    • They allowed infrastructure sharing – with proper compensation and incentives (equity ownership).
    • Ultimately both entities were successful.
    • Lesson: Properly implemented, this model works.
  • There are four aspects to the challenge.
    • Product concept
    • Talent for execution
    • Financing
    • Distribution
    • The business plan for the new venture must address all four.
  • Building internally (vs. externally) creates natural conflict. Workers will tolerate change in direction from clients better than they do from insiders.

Should You Sell or Buy Another Company? Six Thoughts

Situation: A founder CEO is faced with two options – either selling his company or buying a complimentary company. The acquisition would fulfill his dream as CEO, but he is concerned both about the synergy between the two entities and his ability to manage the combined company. Should he sell, or buy the other company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Given these concerns approach the purchase opportunity skeptically. Be more prepared to say no than yes.
  • In evaluating his ability to run a larger operation, the CEO should objectively assess his own abilities.
    • A good CEO is not a Superman. A good CEO creates a viable business model and vision and hires a good team to bring that model to reality.
    • Consider past accomplishments. In an industry where nobody makes money the CEO has created a business model that is sustainable, highly profitable, and technically superior. The only thing lacking is size in terms of revenue.
    • The new opportunity – on the right terms – can launch the company from dominance in a niche to dominance in a significantly larger industry.
  • Assess the new opportunity both as a technical and cultural match. If there is a good cultural match:
    • Fewer things must go right to add value.
    • The purchase provides a channel to a larger market.
    • The acquisition will rapidly speed company growth.
    • The biggest concern will be the time to manage both entities.
  • The most important factor will be the chemistry between the two company teams. If the chemistry is good, the combination offers reasonable assurance that the two teams will complement each other.
  • Look at the purchase as an opportunity to build a win-win with enduring value.
  • In considering outside investors to support the acquisition, be cautious about financial partners and the conditions behind each financing option.