How a Turnaround is Like Founding a New Company


Once I took a position as the chief financial officer of an organization with a history of over 100 years. The institution in its early years thrived because of its location bordering a city nearly the size of Chicago with a booming coal mining industry. The location bordered on the one of the Great Lakes cutting off half the circumference of the target market.

Eventually, the coal mining industry declined and the city bordering the organization dwindled in population because of lack of other industry in the area. Recreation supplied the next biggest industry in the area because of ideal conditions for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and other winter sports. In the summer, the area provided ideal conditions for hunting and fishing. These industries failed to provide enough jobs and opportunities to keep the city alive.

The organization I worked for had its numbers drop by nearly 70% because the organization depended on people within a hundred mile radius of it. When I arrived I found the finances in a shambles and an accumulated deficit resulting in a negative net worth. At first, this condition alarmed me, but I knew I had a calling to turn this ship around.

A turnaround of this magnitude is like starting a new business because it needs a radical transformation. Fortunately, the executive team committed to a radical transformation of finding a new model for the organization that would turn around the organization and create positive cash flows. Weekly we explored new ideas and acted on cutting drains on the organization’s cash flows. In this way, the turnaround is more difficult than starting a new business because a new business does not have to deal with getting rid of existing programs causing a drain on cash flows.

The result of these efforts balanced the organization’s budget and identified new programs capable of producing positive cash flows. When I did my doctoral research I discovered that many companies that go public have accumulated deficits of the same magnitude and about 70% of them eventually fail. This revelation surprised me and I thought about how many companies can use the same help a turnaround expert provides. Big and small companies have similar failure rates. ‘

Although the cause is different, the need to identify a working model is the same. Without transforming an organization by finding a working model that produces positive results any organization will subject itself to failure. This revelation also caused me to think about the benefits of going public versus remaining private. Often, companies go public far before they rightfully should and prematurely remove the founder whose role it is to find a working model.

Public companies start to create more bureaucratic settings, while the organization needs to stay nimble enough to allow the working model to develop and meet consumer needs. Bureaucratization adds costs and reduces flexibility to adapt to make the model work. I believe many companies act too fast to go public because they believe it provides a safety net for raising capital. I believe a slower more deliberate growth may benefit many companies and allow the founders to keep their company and learn how to manage it instead of getting shown the door.  Founders work hard and if they are serious should hold on to their creation and learn how to improve it.

I believe other consultants place too much emphasis on getting big too fast. Companies might do well to slow down and grow organically than fall prey to seeking the safety net of a public company. Slowing down allows the founder to start to see the forest from the trees and build a sustainable model without risking the founder’s position.  

My company works to build organic growth by building on gaining the experience and education needed to grow organically. I believe a serious entrepreneur has an attachment to his or her creation and needs a different focus to preserve an identity with the company the founder creates.

What is your goal in founding a company? Would you prefer to stay involved in the company you create or do you want to exit and put the company in someone else’s hands? Please leave a comment to let me know your view.

If you are serious about preserving your identity with the company you want to create I urge you to try the services of my company by signing on now.

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