Funny, But True Stories: Keep Your Girlfriend Out of the Picture

Cheating on a spouse has been the downfall of many a business owner or CEO. Some of these stories aren’t too surprising. Consider the case of the founder of the famously hacked website Ashley Madison, created specifically to make it easy for people to cheat on their spouses. At one time the cheaters’ website claimed earnings of $115 million and a membership of 39 million around the world.

So can anyone feel surprised when it was revealed that founder Noel Biderman had cheated on his own wife, despite his claims to have a strong marriage? He called himself the King of Infidelity and in June 2014 when asked if he had ever cheated on his wife, he said, “Not yet.”

He got outed by the hackers, as did thousands of others whose extra-curricular activities were uncovered. Many divorces and some suicides have been linked to the hack.

Obviously it’s not good for anyone to cheat. Not on their taxes, not on their spouses. But it’s even more critical when you’re a CEO or business owner. You stand to lose a lot more than your marriage.

Yet, it happens. All the time. Take the case of the married president of a pipe manufacturer I worked with. In addition to running his business, he wanted to craft a racer with an innovative design.

He was successful and was asked to be on the cover of a prestigious industry magazine. Sounds great, right? Except when the photographers came to shoot the cover, his girlfriend was there, in her revealing bikini. Did he ask her to make herself scarce for a bit? He did not. And who shows up in the background on the cover with him? Yep, the girlfriend in the bikini.

It didn’t take long for his wife to figure out what’s up. And oh yeah, her husband had started the business with her father’s money. She filed for divorce and he lost control of the company. I’m not sure what he did with that magazine cover, or whether he got to keep that racer or not.

5 Reasons CEOS Wait Too Long to Address Problems

The worst cases in my career in the turnaround industry are when I work with businesses that could have been saved. If only we had been called in earlier. Those are the ones that really bother me, because these business failures didn’t have to happen. Had we been brought in earlier, we could have determined where the problems were and had many more options to fix them.

But often we are like firefighters who are called in after a home is in ashes, rather than at the first sign of smoke. Then all we can do is sift through the ashes.

Sometimes the best we can do is to get the most for a business in bankruptcy or through a fire sale, pun intended. And I always think, “If only they had called us earlier.”

The saying we have is “If the alligators are snapping, it’s too late to drain the swamp.” You have to pay attention when things are going wrong and fix them early on, before they become larger problems later, possibly even insurmountable.

If you catch a problem early, you have options. You can drain the swamp. But if you wait too late and the alligators have moved in, well, now you have to face them head on. Those alligators aren’t going to just relocate and find food elsewhere.

So why do CEOs and business owners wait until it’s too late to ask for help? Here are five reasons:

  1. Hoping the situation will change

Your sales manager isn’t meeting his quota and he is experiencing a lot of turnover in his department. He keeps promising he’ll hire more sales reps and “we’ll exceed our quota next month!” But he doesn’t and the competition is taking over your accounts. He should have been fired or refocused and now your competition is taking your accounts.

  1. Thinking you can fix it yourself

When I get time, I can focus on the problems in our accounting system, you think. It’s not working correctly and you aren’t getting the financial information you need to make the best decisions for your company. If you could only take a day to focus on where the problem is and what you need to do to solve it. Every day comes and goes, each with its own set of priorities, and you never do get around to focusing on the issues with accounting. And your business is suffering.

  1. Not wanting to admit mistakes

Sometimes with big jobs comes big egos. And an unwillingness to admit that you’ve made a mistake. Larry, the CEO of seminar company, hated change and would not admit to mistakes. He firmly believed that people were more likely to respond to the hundreds of thousands of mailings he sent if they were posted from their home states. So he had trucks driving hundreds of miles so mailings would carry a local postmark, to the cost of around $400,000 a year.

Fortunately, I was called into this company in time, and despite the fact their EBITDA was -$4 million, I was able to pull off a successful turnaround.

  1. Reluctance to ask for help

Some people see it as a sign of weakness to ask for help. As reported in the article “Why is Asking for Help So Difficult” in the New York Time, “There is a tendency to act as if it’s a deficiency,” said Garret Keizer, author of ‘Help: The Original Human Dilemma.’ “That is exacerbated if a business environment is highly competitive within as well as without. There is an understandable fear that if you let your guard down, you’ll get hurt, or that this information you don’t know how to do will be used against you.”

  1. Denial of the problems

It’s the head-in-the-sand tendency. “Calvin and Hobbes” creator Bill Watterson said, “It’s not denial. I’m just selective about the reality I accept.”

The sooner you accept your reality, the quicker you can get help. You don’t want to come face to face with those alligators.

Funny, But True Stories: Of All the Gin Joints

This story falls under the What Are the Odds? category. In this case, they were not in my favor. And I got busted.

My intentions were good. I had taken over a manufacturing company and was trying to save it from $1 million loss on one order. This company had one large client, responsible for 60 percent of its revenue. A discount mart, it provided the company with steady work and allowed it to grow significantly.

The discount mart even asked this company to change manufacturing capabilities to suit its needs, and because it was such a large customer, the company invested millions in upgrades so it could print T-shirts in several different ways for the discount mart. The investment seemed to be paying off. However, there was no written contract between the parties.

Until one day. The company had produced $1 million worth of branded/licensed T-shirts, just for this discount mart. Just prior to shipping the large order, the discount mart said, “No thanks.” That’s when the CEO knew he had a crisis, was reviewing his bankruptcy option and sought my help.

I told him it was a good thing he still had the merchandise and could do something with the T-shirts to cut his losses as there was no written contract he would be violating. But the discount mart wouldn’t have it. It was like an old lover. They don’t want you anymore, but they don’t want anyone else to have you either. If we did anything with those T-shirts, they’d say adios forever.

I figured we could still sell them in markets where this discount mart doesn’t compete, so we’d at least get 50 cents on the dollar. The strategy worked and we found a market in South America willing to buy the shirts for enough money to cover our costs and avoid a bankruptcy filing.

Everything would have been fine, except for one thing. The son of one of the discount mart executives vacationed in South America and bought dear old dad a souvenir T-shirt. You guessed it – one of those T-shirts. The discount mart made good on its threat and severed the relationship. I was able to keep the company out of a bankruptcy and the company sold six months later at a significantly reduced price.

The lesson here is about more than T-shirts, however. It’s about never becoming too reliant on a single customer, vendor or product – what I call the Big Gorilla. My rule is if a customer, vendor or product involves 25 percent or more of some part of your business, you’re dealing with the risks of a Big Gorilla…. sooner or later.

Fraud and the Family Business

Collard spring rolls. Delicious fried chicken and crispy waffles. An internationally famous singer’s name. Sounds like you’ve got all the ingredients for a successful business.

And for a long time, Gladys Knight’s Chicken & Waffles, opened in 1997, was just that. The restaurant chain had high ratings on Yelp, long lines of hungry diners and celebrities holding court in its booths. Sadly, things behind the scenes are not always as rosy.

Gladys Knight’s involvement was limited to letting her son, Shanga Hankerson, use her name. He ran the restaurant chain, which generated $8 million in sales at three locations. But he wasn’t running it too well apparently – he made national news in June when he was arrested for theft, and state revenue agents filed civil racketeering charges against him. Shanga allegedly owed $1 million in unpaid taxes and had been siphoning money from the restaurants to pay for unsavory activities. He wasn’t paying the employees and the restaurant was failing health inspections.

Shanga is out on bail and while two of the three locations have reopened, the chain made headlines again this week as it was disclosed Gladys is suing her son to remove her name from the restaurants and to stop using her recipes and memorabilia.

In addition to the financial losses the restaurant chain suffered, the Empress of Soul took another more immeasurable hit. To her reputation. Gladys has her name on seven Grammy awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One place she doesn’t want to see her name is on a business mired in scandal.

Fraud can happen in any type of business and the types of fraud are similar to those in non-family businesses. According to an article in Strategic Finance magazine, “Shattered Trust: Fraud in the Family,” common fraud schemes include stealing office supplies, providing business secrets to a competitor, diverting customers to a competing entity, paying ghost employees and as happened in this case, stealing business funds.

Fraud always involves a betrayal of trust. But in a family business, that betrayal cuts much deeper. Many business owners and CEOS are happy to employ family members because there is an assumption they can trust them beyond anyone else.

An article in Forbes listed myths of family fraud. The one that caught my eye is one I have seen over and over in my career. “Our people wouldn’t commit fraud.”

Everyone wants to hire trustworthy people and continue to trust them to do the right thing. That’s one of the reasons they like to hire family members. You should be able to trust them above anyone else, right?

The bottom line is not always. Not even your own spouse/sibling/child. Here is another story to illustrate that fact.

A physician husband set up a practice with his wife in Connecticut. The business thrived and they enjoyed a nice lifestyle. One day the wife was running some errands and the husband saw an envelope on her desk from a bank he wasn’t aware of. It contained a bank statement for an account with $200,000 in his wife’s name. He learned she was planning on divorcing him, so had been stealing the money from the practice for the new life she was planning.

Other motivations for family members stealing may be addiction problems, feeling entitled or feeling underpaid and underappreciated. Whatever the motivation, the answer is the same as it is for every company. Institute strong fraud prevention policies and enforce them for everyone, family included.

For tips for setting up fraud prevention policies, please see “My Number One Tip for Fraud Prevention” and “13 Fraud Prevention Tips.”

As for Gladys Knight, it’s too late for her. She won’t be singing “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” to her son any time soon.

 

 

 

Funny, But True Stories: The Thoughtful Thieves

 

“No way that really happened!”

You know that saying, “You can’t make this stuff up.” I’ve lived that during my career in the turnaround industry. I’ve seen the look of disbelief cross people’s faces when I’ve recounted one of my unbelievable-but-true stories. Like the one I call The Cases of the Thoughtful Thieves.

I’ve dealt with my share of messy fraud and embezzlement, cases in which I had to dig deep and do a lot of research to track down the missing funds and identify the perpetrator. That’s why I was so appreciative of the Thoughtful Thieves. They made my job so much easier.

I was sitting at a CFO’s desk one time while he was on vacation. I recommend to all my clients they encourage their CFO to take two consecutive weeks off and sit at his or her desk, open their mail and just see what happens. You can learn a lot that way.

So I decided to check out this CFO’s mail. Imagine my surprise when I found bank account statements from an account in the Cayman Islands where he’d been stashing the money he had been stealing from the company. Had I been his advisor, I would have strongly recommended having those statements sent to his home or a PO box. Anywhere other than to the company he was stealing from. But maybe there aren’t a lot of fraud consultants available with these handy tips for success.

I was poking around on the computer of another CFO and found a folder on the desktop. It was password protected, but with the blessing of the CEO, I used my handy-dandy password decoder and opened it up. And I found an Excel spreadsheet neatly detailing all of the money he had stolen from the company. Everything had a date on it and tracked the path of the funds he had embezzled. He even had an entry for paying the contractor for his home, done with company funds he’d helped himself to. It’s like he had given me a gift, one that I happily shared with senior management at the company.

For more stories, check out my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes.”

5 Business Lessons from Olympic Athletes

Earlier this week Bill Murray tweeted “Every Olympic event should include one average person competing for reference.” It’s true – when those divers leap off the diving board, gymnasts fly through the air or rowers zip through the water, they make it look almost effortless.

If you take a closer look or read their stories you’ll see how much work, sacrifice and mental energy went to achieving that level of success. Although we may never compete in the Olympics ourselves, here are a few lessons we can learn from these top athletes.

  1. You have to set goals and be focused on them.

No one achieves a high level of success without setting a lot of goals for themselves, both short-term and long-term. That’s how seven-time gymnastics Olympic gold medalist Shannon Miller claimed she reached her ultimate goal of competing in the Olympics. “It’s great to have the ultimate goal, but regardless of what that long-term goal is, you have to set short-term goals. Think about what you can do each and every day to make that long-range goal happen.

As Usain Bolt, three-time Olympic gold medalist and fastest person ever said, “Dreams are free. Goals have a cost. Time, effort, sacrifice, and sweat. How will you pay for your goals?”

  1. You have to surround yourself with people who make you better.

Top athletes are smart enough to hire the best coaches. Look at the women gymnasts. They nicknamed themselves the “Final Five” in tribute to their coach, Martha Karolyi. She and her husband have been training gymnasts for five decades on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, Texas.

As I mention in my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” I hire people who are smarter than me. Many business people like to think they know it all. No one does. When you need help, reach out to others to provide that help.

  1. You always have to be on the lookout for competition.

No matter how successful you are or how unique your product may be, you will face competition. Failure to take competition into account can be disastrous. In my book I talk about what happened with Q-Zar, initially a huge success in the laser tag field. But the company didn’t pay attention to the competition that came in the form of big-box stores selling laser tag sets for home use. That failure, coupled with massive fraud in the company, led to its demise.

You don’t have to wait for competition to come to you. The late Norwegian marathon runner Grete Waitz said, “You’ve got to look for tough competition. You’ve got to want to beat the best.”

  1. You have to persevere when the unexpected occurs.

It was heartbreaking to see Annemiek van Vlueten, the woman cyclist from the Netherlands, who was minutes away from winning a gold medal, crash on the wet pavement, and rather than taking her place on the podium, wound up in the hospital.

You’ve worked hard for years, your business is doing well, then bang. Something unexpected and unpredictable happens to derail you. You uncover massive fraud in your company. Or as happened with one of my clients, your biggest client asks to revamp your manufacturing capabilities. You spend millions to do so, then one day, the client cancels the order.

What do you do? You keep going. Olympic track athlete Brenda Martinez knows how to keep going. During the Olympic trials for her best event, a runner behind her tripped and knocked into her, throwing her off and killing her chances of getting an Olympic slot in that event. She just focused on her next event, and came in third, securing that coveted spot on the team. “The track doesn’t care about your feelings,” she said. “You’ve just got to move forward.”

  1. You have to keep your cool under pressure.

It’s hard to imagine the level of pressure these athletes feel. Many of them are just teenagers, but are carrying the weight of the expectations of their families, teammates and their entire countries as they perform superhuman feats. They have all found a way to deal with it. Gymnast Gabby Douglas said, “For the most part, I’m kind of used to it, because it has been a part of me for my whole life. I’m trained to deal under those circumstances—at the gym we do pressure sets.”

CEOs and business owners have to learn to deal with and perform under extreme pressure as well. As Mike Myatt wrote in “6 Ways to Conquer Leadership Pressure,” “How leaders deal with pressure is often the difference between catapulting an organization towards success, and contributing to its demise.”

Is it Time to Sell Your Business?

Have you been entertaining thoughts of selling your business? Many business owners keep that thought in the back of their head. But if you don’t need the money, why should you sell?

Possible reasons include that you’ve gotten a good offer, you’re ready to retire, you are tired of the risk or you feel it’s time for a change. Or, if you have a family business, there may not be a family member interested in taking over. Whatever the reason you have to explore the option of selling, you’ll want to enlist the right team to value your company correctly and help you make the right decision to get the best price.

Maybe the concept to start your business was entirely your own. But you didn’t build a successful business by yourself — you had a team that most likely included lawyers, CPAs, investors, salespeople and your employees. When it’s time to sell, don’t try to do it alone. It’s time to build another team — one that will ensure you get the outcome you desire.

You would definitely want to include your lawyer, accountant, and an expert on the tax ramifications of the sale. Also consider adding a business consultant, even if you’ve never used one before.

Acquisitions is one of our areas of expertise at GlassRatner. We guide our clients through a process that begins with valuing the company, preparing and presenting the company to the marketplace, weighing offers from potential purchasers while balancing the objectives of stakeholders, and closing with the best possible purchase for that client.

We also work with distressed companies that may have filed or need to file for bankruptcy and need a quick sale.

Whatever your reason for selling, make sure to build the right team for the best possible outcome. It took a team to get where you are, and it will take another one to create a lucrative exit.

For more information on selling a business, please see “5 Mistakes to Avoid When Selling a Business.”