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.
Situation: A technology company has established a leadership position in their niche. Nevertheless, they struggle with individual performance and buy-in to company performance. The CEO asks whether increasing ownership through stock incentives in a non-public company is an effective incentive for employees. How do you strengthen internal incentives and ownership?
Advice from the CEOs:
In the past, employees voiced a strong predilection for share ownership as recompense for the personal risk and sweat that they have put into the company.
It may be advisable to revisit this, particularly given the increased risk that comes with share ownership as a result of regulatory changes of the last 10 years.
As a substitute for share ownership, they may be open to some proxy that will provide them with value and the opportunity to have their opinions heard in the case of a buy-out.
Another company looked at this closely at the time of formation. They decided that proper recognition for contribution did not equal ownership. Ownership also entails personal liability and risk, which many don’t realize and, once they understand the implications of owners’ liability, don’t want. As an alternative they adopted a liberal profit-sharing structure that has met with employee enthusiasm.
Think about this discussion in terms of incentives:
Short Term – Annual-type incentives
Make sure that incentives align with desired behaviors so that individuals’ contributions contribute to business plan objectives and the next step for the company.
Long Term – consider the trade-offs
Broadly distributed share ownership not only complicates future flexibility but may also complicate a buy-out or merger opportunity. Consider the implications of a situation where most shares are in the hands of past rather than current employees.
Strategic Partners wishing to invest may be reticent to work with a company with broadly distributed ownership.
ESOPs, while frequently referenced, tend to eat their children. They have several complications:
They are governed by ERISA, so you cannot discriminate. All must be able to participate.
Ownership is prescribed – with a maximum of 10% per employee. Will a future CEO candidate be happy with 10% when the admin assistant gets 3%? In this way ESOPs can impair succession and recruitment plans.
Annual valuations can be expensive.
Phantom or Synthetic Equity Programs
A company can tailor these to meet changing objectives.
Valuations are cheap and valuation metrics are easy to monitor.
To work through the options, sit and talk with the employees, and listen. Ask what concerns them. Don’t try to come up with a solution until their concerns are understood. There is an array of options available.
Situation: A company has developed a number of initiatives and priorities which are important to the success of the company. All of the initiatives are daunting. What do they need to do to get all of these accomplished? How do you manage multiple priorities?
Advice from the CEOs:
Start with corporate level objectives and set these independently from your initiatives. Pick your top corporate goals and objectives – financial, performance, and so on. Once this is in place, rate your initiatives in terms of how they help to meet your company objectives.
Create an initiative list. Measure the upside and risk for each initiative. Based on the results of your analysis classify each initiative: critical, important, or nice to have. This, plus alignment between initiatives your corporate objectives will indicate which initiatives are most critical to company success.
Every company needs long and short term goals. Use these to align and prioritize initiatives. Only and your team you can tell what is important and importance is a matter of your strategic focus and objectives.
They key to accomplishing multiple objectives is focus. Focus on your top 2-3 initiatives first – if you can reasonably handle this many. Once these are accomplished, focus on the next 2-3, and so forth.
Look at your competitors – where are the opportunities in the marketplace. How will your initiatives make you more competitive?
What does your leadership development plan look like? If you plan to add new leadership, include in your thinking a transition plan to new leadership, taking into account your multi-year timeline.
Situation: A company is resource constrained and faced with a serious trade-off: do they focus on short term cash needs – immediate product improvements that will speed new product iterations to boost sales; or longer term strategic concerns – assuring that they have good IP protection on their technology before they launch new versions? When you are resource constrained, does it make more sense to focus on initiatives that will quickly produce cash or strategic concerns that will protect your future?
Advice from the CEOs:
Build two timelines – one for shoring up the patent portfolio so that you can safely build and launch new IP-protected versions of your technology and one for quickly completing product improvements to speed development of new product iterations which will generate cash. Assess both the energy requirements and the dollar risks and implications of each timeline. If you do not have the resources to do both in parallel, this analysis will help you to determine your best course of action. The risk analysis of each timeline should take into account what would happen if another company were to duplicate your technology and get to market with improvements before you do.
As a compliment to the above exercise, ask what happens if I don’t do either A or B? Do a SWOT and investment analysis on both. Which is the greater risk – launching with insufficiently protected IP or risking not being first to market?
These analyses will help you assess whether it may be feasible to accomplish part or all of either task with dollars in lieu of your own resources.
Situation: A company goes through an annual strategic planning process followed by an annual business planning process. At mid-year they do a review and correction. The challenge is that if the company is behind plan, the management team does not take ownership of plan revisions – it becomes “the CEO’s Plan.” How do you gain commitment to revisions in the annual plan?
Advice from the CEOs:
Throw out your current process and start over.
The challenge is to gain more buy-in and accountability. This only comes if the targets come from those responsible for delivering them – both for the original plan and if any revisions need to be made.
Look at who you involve within the organization – can you drive involvement deeper to generate additional buy-in across the organization?
Hire an outside facilitator to guide you through the process instead of chairing the meeting yourself. This prevents the resulting plan from becoming “your” plan. It also changes the culture of the meeting as well as the buy-in.
If you use a bottom-up / top-down process, moderate the plan results with an eye to two realities:
Bottom-up input from the sales team is rarely more pessimistic than the CEO’s input. If it is ask what is happening.
Make sure that your top-down numbers are empirical and based on the best market research that you can obtain.
If your plans have consistently fallen short over recent years:
You may be baking the targets too high.
Consider building the revenue plan optimistically, but build the expense plan conservatively. This helps control expenses and attain profitability targets.
So that the two plans are not misaligned, review them more frequently – perhaps quarterly on a formal basis with monthly reviews – so that if your revenue plan is meeting targets you can adjust spending to support production and delivery.
It is common to have one set of numbers for sales and a different, more conservative, number for expenses. As long as you conduct frequent review and adjustment of the expense number to sales performance, this works. Many companies also use different targets for operations than what they present to the Board – with the more conservative numbers for the Board.