Situation: A company has a technology that was developed by but not of interest to a major corporation. The company continues to have significant business ties with the corporation, but the corporation wants to be assured that they are never connected to the technology in question. How do you create a Chinese wall around a product?
Advice from the CEOs:
The challenge facing the company is this: representatives of the large corporation don’t and can’t sell the services offered by the company, however exclusive clients of the corporation represent 25% of the available market for the services provided by the company. To date the large corporation has been unwilling either to reward the company for selling to these clients or to assist them in the sales process.
A solution: show the large corporation that the company provides a higher value or potential value to them than they receive on their existing products.
Show them the potential financial value to them of a symbiotic relationship.
Does the company develop the capabilities and value of the technology on their own, or do they partner with client companies in the market?
Many the potential clients in the market appreciate the technology and want to work with the company in some form so a partnership is possible.
The issue is that an open partnership might offend the large corporation who may then perceive the company as taking advantage of their clients.
How does the company establish a Chinese wall so that neither the large corporation nor the clients who purchase the company’s product are concerned about any activity that the company undertakes in the market?
Set up a separate entity and license the technology to this entity. The company would be an investor and would do some of the work but through a client/service relationship with the separate entity.
Get independent M&A advice on how to structure this entity.
Investigate other companies that have set up similar structures. Determine how they have addressed concerns such as conflict of interest, and what structures they have set up to avoid this.
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?
from the CEOs:
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.
interpretation is an increasingly important factor for multi-national business
there elements of the client’s structure and the agreement with the client that
offer significant benefit, but which are underappreciated by company staff?
to funding or allowance on expenditures that allow the company to increase
staff to meet company demands?
that staff are aware of these benefits and how critical these can be to the
company’s, and their future growth and income.
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.
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.
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?
from the CEOs:
the company’s financials are great for their market, cashflow may be
insufficient to fully fund a development company.
development of new products can create conflicts if it creates competition for
resources between internal and external projects.
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.
years ago, another CEO utilized the strategy just described. The important
that venture is properly resourced.
that there is a balance between proven structure and creative application
best resources available at same rates that key customers pay.
free guidance but not free services – peer reviews are key.
third CEO had an opportunity to open a new business using the spin-off model.
allowed infrastructure sharing – with proper compensation and incentives
both entities were successful.
Properly implemented, this model works.
are four aspects to the challenge.
business plan for the new venture must address all four.
internally (vs. externally) creates natural conflict. Workers will tolerate change
in direction from clients better than they do from insiders.
Situation: The CEO of a family-owned company has struggled to align family members with the business plan. When difficult decisions must be made, established personality patterns and family history hinder consensus on what should be done. The CEO seeks advice on whether the addition of one or more outside Board Members can help to build consensus. Can outside Board members help a struggling company?
Advice from the CEOs:
The CEO of another closely-held company brought in an outside Board member two years ago. This has added considerable focus to the Board discussions. The addition of a fresh and respected perspective has helped to clarify decisions and reduce conflicts among the founders.
First, have a conversation with the team. Give them the opportunity to straighten out things themselves. Present the addition of an outside Board member as an option. Get their support. This will make the addition of an outside Board member a company decision, rather than the CEO’s.
The experience of other companies is that compensation can range from free – a retiree who wants to help – to expensive. Arrangements and expense will depend on what the company leadership wants to achieve.
Investigate SCORE – a well-established source for outside board members for small and family businesses.
Situation: The CEO of a family business seeks to create a succession plan. One family member has expressed an interest in taking the reins of the company but has failed to take the initiative to demonstrate that he is prepared to take on this role. Another family member is now demonstrating both interest and initiative. How do you plan for succession?
Advice from the CEOs:
How should this situation be approached?
Do not view this situation competitively, but rather from the standpoint of what is best for the whole family because many family members stand to benefit from the ongoing success of the business.
Whatever decision is made, the successor will need support and assistance understanding both the financial and business sides of the company. This individual must also be aware of conflicts and challenges that face the business.
What else should be done to prepare for succession?
Given that there are two individuals interested in becoming CEO sit down with each individual and negotiate a clear boundary statement on what you, as CEO, can and can’t do, as well as what can and cannot be expected of you, as CEO, as the succession decision is made. This understanding should be documented in writing and signed, signifying understanding by both the CEO and the candidate. Each candidate should have their own signed agreement with the CEO.
In a family business, the CEO, as guarantor of the company, may be faced with a different level of financial risk than other family members. Both candidates for the CEO position must understand that if they accept this position, they also accept this risk.
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.
Situation: A company has been approached by a customer with a proposal that the two companies combine. The customer believes that the combined companies will represent a greater market presence than either presents alone. This may make it easier for the combined entity to gain business from larger customers. How do you merge two firms under one umbrella?
Advice from the CEOs:
For a company to merge with a customer is a tricky process, assuming that the company has more than one customer. The merger places the company in competition with its other customers who may respond by seeking alternate providers. If this happens it will create a short term hit to revenue. This possibility has to be modeled into merger financial forecasts.
Different companies have different cultures. This fact is often ignored in merger discussions because culture is difficult to quantify or measure objectively. However if you ask those who have been through mergers, culture conflict between merging entities is most often the reason for their failure.
It may make more sense for the company to focus on ongoing sales to the customer than to entertain a combination that would result in the current owners losing control. In declining the proposal, it is important to emphasize your interest in maintaining a healthy ongoing relationship with the customer.
If the customer offers terms that are appealing, an alternative to a merger is a limited scope joint venture as a trial project to test the viability of collaboration.
Establish with your co-owners a price at which you are willing to give up control. This will help you to refuse offers that are below this price.
Situation: The spouse of a CEO works in the business but has conflicts with other employees. This creates personal tension for the CEO. The CEO wants to explore a different role for the spouse, and also wants to create more balance at home. The CEO believes that working with the spouse to create a simple family charter with common values, vision and mission will help the two of them to find common needs and goals both at work and at home. How do you create a family charter?
Advice from the CEOs:
As you build a family charter, consider both your individual and your common views. Once you have established common ground with your spouse, you can bring children into the process to reinforce values and share creation of the vision.
In preparation for this discussion, both you and your spouse should start by thinking about what you each want. Once you have done this, compare notes and look for commonalities where you agree on what is important. These commonalities will form the core of your shared values, vision and mission.
Have lunch with your spouse once a month, just the two of you. Why? Because you are telling your spouse that they take precedence over your second spouse – your job, and you are taking time and attention from work to spend time one-on-one with your spouse. Do this monthly, but not always on the same day – make it more spontaneous and special.
Reinforce your family charter with regular family or one-on-one meetings with your spouse and children.
When having a conversation, focus on listening and don’t try to “fix” things.
Situation: A membership association’s revenue is largely tied to its annual conference. The primary sponsor of the conference has decided to host their own annual conference. This will disrupt the association’s access to both conference attendees and vendors. The sponsor has offered terms of collaboration; however, the conditions are unfavorable to the association. What are the best alternatives available to the association and how should they pursue them?
Advice from the CEOs:
Are the association’s mission and vision are tied to or independent of the sponsor? If there is an ongoing reason for the association to continue without the sponsor then it is reasonable to pursue alternatives.
There are at least two options available to the association:
Accept the partner’s offer of collaboration, provided that this can be done under conditions that will allow the association to survive short-term. If the partner stumbles hosting its own conference this may allow the association to recover ownership of the annual conference. The danger is that this may lead to a slow death if the sponsor further cuts revenue to the association or a fast death if the sponsor decides to abandon the association.
Shift the focus of the conference and ancillary services under a new branding scheme. A survey of the membership indicates that the majority favor a mixed-platform solution, and may welcome a mixed-platform approach. You may need to rethink and rework your model but this may offer the best chance for ongoing survival.
What steps should be taken to pursue the second option?
Conduct a second survey of the membership to evaluate their preferences on platform focus, what they want to see in a multi-platform conference, and what platforms should be included.
Shift focus of the association to multi-platform as a response to members’ priorities and desires. Court the majority of the membership that favor a mixed-platform focus and de-emphasize those who favor the single platform solution.
Develop an alternate roster of sponsors including all competitive platforms. If this model succeeds, your current primary sponsor may find participation imperative.
Situation: A company has hired a new employee with excellent skills who reports to a Director. This person is a self starter who prefers little supervision. Friction is starting to develop between the new employee and the Director. How do you resolve this conflict?
Advice from the CEOs:
This person was hired for their talent. However a successful hire takes account of talent, but also role, cultural fit, organizational placement and the needs of the company.
For example, if this person is strong in operations but they are now in client services, is this the right role?
Similarly, if the culture of the office emphasizes teamwork, collaboration and support, is this the right culture for this individual?
Be cautious before tweaking the org chart to create a new role for this person..
Consider both your current staff and the new person. You may be creating additional conflict if your actions appear as favoritism.
The dominant factor is YOUR plan. If the employee is wrong, replace the employee.
If an employee can’t get along with others it is a difficult situation to repair.
When you meet with the employee what should be said?
First, don’t try to solve the situation before you have a clear strategy.
Question and listen. “You’ve been with us a short time, and I want to check in with you. What do you think of your role?” Let the employee talk, probe for clarification of what is said. Take note of what is said. Acknowledge any requests but indicate that you will put them under advisement.
Do the same in discussion with the Director.
The key is that you are in control. Look at your objectives, and where you fit resources best within the org chart. Once you have your plan, communicate it.