The Collapse of Leadership in a Digital World

In a digital world where everything that can be measured is measured, do you still need strong leadership? What difference does management make when data steers the ship?

Many technology companies have the mindset that data trumps all, but are some companies suffering as a result? Look to the news to see how this is playing out:

•Zenefits’ founder Parker Conrad was thrown out for creating a culture that violated insurance laws
•Uber’s CEO resigned for multiple behavioral reasons (writing code to defy local authorities; sexual harassment allegations; staff and senior team exiting or fired)
•Volkswagen techies wrote ingenious code to defeat auto emissions testing. Smart, but illegal.

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The Six Times PE Funds Use Interim Executives

Many private equity funds hear the words “interim executive” and think the only application is turnaround or short-term fill-in. But for PE funds seeking a great return, they look to interims for their unique abilities to build and transform companies.

Here are six major use cases for interim executives in PE-owned portfolio companies:

Interim Executives in Diligence
Most funds hope to spread their wings – work beyond industries where they’ve already had success, by looking at new industries where acquisitions may cost less and produce higher returns. The further afield they go, the more they need expert leadership removed from prior operating teams.

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Business Owners Should Demand Action from Leadership

“Action and feeling go together, and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling.”
– William James

One of the biggest benefits business owners report when they take on fresh leadership, whether an interim or fractional executive is a sense of relief. Of having done the right thing. They report the feeling that someone else shouldered a burden that was becoming impossible. Just too large to handle alone, or with the current resources on hand.

The real reason behind this for all of us business owners is that the challenge is just too painful to deal with on our own. Whether it’s family dynamics, lack of future planning, or declining business, we get embroiled in the inertia of our organizations. Sometimes the pain is so vast, the only solution is to sell the company.

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It’s a big day in Helsingbord Sweden – opening day for the Museum of Failure, which features such items as Harley-Davidson perfume, Bic pens for women and Google Glass.

Failure can be very entertaining – when it hits someone else. For company leaders, failure is to be avoided at all costs.

And yet, so many company builders report that their success was achieved after a spectacular failure. You would think this leads to a lifelong lesson to embrace setbacks, but for most it doesn’t. We seem to be hardwired to avoid failure.

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Selling in a Few Years? Start Packaging Your Company Now

According to a Harvard Business Review report, the failure rate for mergers and acquisitions sits between 70 and 90%. Even before the deal closes, it’s not uncommon for deals to unravel.

If the odds can be overwhelmingly negative, what can you do to increase your chance of success if you are looking to sell your business?

Prepare.

Don’t wait for the M&A process to begin to get your team in gear – that’s a sure fire way to fail.

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Interim executives, or interims, have recently become an important tool that organizations can use to effectively address a variety of pressing needs. Having said that, many companies are either unaware that interims are even available or appropriate for their current situation. The most common understanding of the role of an interim is to fill an immediate need in the executive team caused by a sudden voluntary or involuntary departure. In this case, a seasoned executive can step right in and allow the company to progress unabated. While much of what an interim does is similar to consulting, successful execution is critical and unique to the role of interims. This blog presents seven case studies to help companies better understand other instances where interims can help. There are certainly more examples, but these are representative. While seven represents everything from the apocalypse to luck in gambling, we’ll stick with seven.

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The best private equity funds talk about backing great CEOs, entrepreneurs, and management teams. But in the lower middle market ($2-$15 million in EBITDA), what’s a private equity fund to do when the company they are acquiring lacks resources and the management skills to earn great returns?

What if serious talent doesn’t extend beyond the CEO or founder?

Douglas Song, co-founder of Prodos Capital Management and an investor in lower middle market companies, says that “there’s always a way to think creatively and unlock value in any lower middle market company.” He especially finds common themes among companies where entrepreneurs or families have built a great business over time, but are lacking in certain areas where partnering with additional resources will help them take the business to the next level.

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Interim executives deliver real results, in real time, real quick. An interim is unique in the depth and breadth of experience they bring to bear. This allows an interim to see hidden value in existing products/processes/systems, implement actionable strategies and gain true alignment necessary to optimize the business. The interim will review the investments the company has made into processes, organizational structure and systems. This will lead to a focus on the areas which can be easily measured and might yield the quickest return on investment such as profits, systems and process efficiency.

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All Distressed Businesses Have the Same 3 Problems

I am amazed how boards, when they are hit with a crisis, look for a fix from the guy who has been in the same industry for the last 15 years. While this might be important for a company on a predictable path to growth in a stable industry (something very rare if not extinct these days), it becomes a liability when the industry is being disrupted by substitutes or by an industry cycle (see recent crude oil price crisis).

In my 20 year career as an interim exec, I have worked across many industries: electronics, software, oil refining and distribution, food packaging, retail and most recently agriculture in the jungles of South East Asia. These industries have been scattered across 12 countries on 3 continents. The problems faced by an interim are never the same, but the basics are always the same. It’s always about (in this order):

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When an interim CEO or CFO parachutes into a company they have first-hand experience of what measurements and benchmarks (analytics) are useful and how to use and prioritize them. There is also solid recognition that data and numbers can eliminate a great deal of negativity and get people focused on solutions. Taking action is key, and that often begins with active listening to quickly figure out the exact condition of the company.

An interim must get the facts by asking people what they see and where their main areas of concern are. It is rare during this initial listening process that someone does not say something like “if we had better lighting in this area quality control would improve!”

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