Inspiration for CEOS and Business Owners From Our Founding Fathers

They were lawyers, farmers, merchants, writers and physicians. Those are some of the professions of our Founding Fathers, a topic I wrote about in “Professions of Our Founding Fathers.” Some were wealthy. Some lost everything during the Revolutionary War.

Thomas Jefferson left behind a mountain of debt when he died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which he primarily wrote.  His rival John Adams, who died just hours later that same day, died free of debt and the owner of 275 acres of land.

No matter their financial situations, these men were successful in creating a new country, one with the largest economy in the world. At $18 trillion, the economy of the United States is close to one-quarter of the economy of the entire world.

As we approach the 241th celebration of that fateful day in Philadelphia, when 13 colonies started the process to create our country, here are some quotes from our Founding Fathers that can inspire any business owner or CEO along with some of their beliefs I find to be self-evident.

founding fathersThey believed in hard work and persistence.  

“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Diligence is the mother of good luck.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages.” – George Washington

“Energy and persistence conquer all things.” – Benjamin Franklin

“A people…who are possessed of the spirit of commerce, who see and who will pursue their advantages may achieve almost anything.” – George Washington

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Applause waits on success.” – Benjamin Franklin

They believed in keeping their minds sharp and continually learning.

“Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order. – John Adams

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

They believed in the power of principles, confidence and reputation.

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; it is better to be alone than in bad company.” – George Washington

“The circulation of confidence is better than the circulation of money.” –– James Madison

“Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.” – Alexander Hamilton

“One man with courage is a majority.” – Thomas Jefferson

“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Tis more noble to forgive than to revenge an injury.”  – Benjamin Franklin

They recognized that we the people are only human and it’s important to forgive.

“A fondness for power is implanted, in most men, and it is natural to abuse it, when acquired.” – Alexander Hamilton

“I never expect to see a perfect work from imperfect man.” –  Alexander Hamilton

I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from Thomas Jefferson, as I make a living as a consultant and turnaround authority. It’s always good to seek help on matters where you need it.

“He who knows best knows how little he knows.”

The #1 Reason Businesses Fail

Around 80 percent of businesses make it through their first year. In five years, only half of those have survived. And only about a third make it to their 10th anniversary.

I’ve written before about the reasons startups fail in my post, “The Top Reasons Startups Fail.”  These include a founder who is inflexible during the startup process, has no contingency plan and who fails to bring in a partner when necessary.

Another major reason startup businesses fail is there is no real need for the product or service they are offering. Many companies fail to do the proper research to determine whether that product or service is really needed prior to launching it.

But well established companies fail too. According to the 2015/2016 Global Entrepreneurship Report, which is published by Babson College and other organizations, more than half of businesses ceased operations due to lack of profits or financial funding. George Bernard Shaw said, “The lack of money is the root of all evil.” It’s also the number one reason businesses fail.

Starting a business without sufficient capital is a major reason startups fail. Even if a business thinks it has enough capital, it needs a contingency fund and a plan to obtain additional funding when needed.

But it’s not just startups that run into funding problems. I tell the stories in my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me,” about a few companies I worked with that faced major funding shortages. Some of these may be short-term cash flow problems, like needing to cover payroll for a few days. Or they may be more severe. I once worked with a company that relied on its Christmas catalog sales for 65 percent of its business. But UPS wouldn’t deliver the catalogs because the company had consistently broken promises about paying past-due invoices.

A similar situation happened with a company that manufactured oil products. It was behind on its payments to one of the vendors who supplied a key ingredient. The company couldn’t get more of that ingredient to complete a large contract because they didn’t have the funds to keep up with its payment schedule.

Fortunately, I helped both companies overcome their financial shortfalls and both are thriving today.

There are so many other reasons businesses fail. They have the wrong team in place. They didn’t anticipate changes in the market. Their business plan was poorly executed. The senior management is ineffective.

As a turnaround authority, I can evaluate the situation of struggling companies, implement a plan to get them back on firm financial ground, and see them go on to prosper. That’s why I do what I do. But many wait too late to ask for help, or sadly, never ask for help at all. So I’d add that to my list of why businesses fail. They don’t ask for help or they ask too late.

If you think your company could use help, don’t wait to ask for help. An outside consultant has the experience and knowledge to help you find solutions, whatever your issues may be. CEOs need to be proactive to survive.

5 Tips for Running a Healthy Family Business

 

Family-owned companies make up between 80 to 90 percent of businesses in the United States. But only 30 percent of new family businesses survive into the second generation. Here are some tips to help make sure yours is one of the those that survives to the second generation and beyond.

  1. Have clearly defined roles

Family businesses should be like others with job descriptions, goals and regular reviews. As the article “6 Steps for Maintaining a Thriving Family Business” points out, “Family firms tend to be more informal than other companies, and that can lead to misunderstandings about expectations.”

With clearly defined roles, each family member can act independently, without feeling the need to fight for territory or worry about stepping on someone else’s toes. A business can be much more nimble and responsive if everyone knows what their role is.

  1. Try to separate your business life from your family life

This can be one of the hardest things to do. It’s natural when any co-workers gather to discuss business. But when it’s a family business, that talk can tend to dominate.

Some families have rules and set boundaries. No business talk at the dinner table or at family gatherings. This can be especially important for couples who work together.

Francis and Susana V. Ptak co-own Gascoyne Laboratories, an environmental testing lab. In the article For Couples Working Together, Setting Ground Rules is a Must, she says, “Two things have helped us not kill each other. One is that we don’t do the same thing (Francis is a chemist and handles the analytic end of the company; Susana takes care of the business side), and the other is that we don’t talk business at home. In the car, yes, but once we’re actually at home, we just talk family stuff.”

  1. Make sure each family member is trained and suited to the position

Working at a family business shouldn’t be seen as an entitlement. Any family member should face the same screening and testing as any other applicant. They should also receive any training necessary to excel at their job. I’ve seen family members hired and promoted to senior positions despite their lack of necessary skills or suitability for the job.

This article, “Avoid the Traps That Can Destroy Family Businesses,” addresses the issue of family members working for a business as a last resort.

“We’ve encountered many companies that are populated by next-generation members who failed in other businesses or spent their 20s (and sometimes their 30s) as aspiring athletes, artists or musicians before signing on to the firm as unprepared 40-somethings. Despite their lack of experience, these offspring may ascend to leadership positions because of the family connection, increasing the chances that the business will fail.”

  1. Encourage innovation by having several generations involved

Research has shown that family firms are actually more innovative despite a reputation for sometimes relying on old, traditional ways of doing business. One way to encourage continued innovation is by involving members of the younger generation as soon as possible.

Identify younger members of the family who have an interest in the business and get them involved early with internships and entry-level positions. Let them rotate among different departments to see where their interests and talents are. Encourage them to work for other companies for a few years if they’d like and bring that experience and knowledge back to yours. 

  1. Have a clear succession plan 

Having an updated succession plan is crucial for any business. It is even more vital for a family business as family feuds may erupt upon the death of a business founder. In one memorable case in my career, the one I refer to as Crazy Charlie, a business owner died and his daughter became CEO as there was no board-approved succession plan in place. Son Charlie was unhappy about this, primarily because he had been stealing money from the company and we confronted him about it. He expressed his unhappiness by threatening his mother, who controlled the board of directors, with a kitchen knife.

The greatest threat to a family business is the failure to plan and manage succession well. Read more about creating a succession plan in my post Don’t Miss the Exit: Make a Succession Plan.

The Top (Self-Serving) Reason You Need to Keep Your Employees Happy

 

 

Why should I thank my employees for coming to work? Why do we need employee appreciation events like lunches, dinners and parties? I gave them a job, which they are lucky to have these days. Isn’t that enough?

You may have heard these sentiments expressed by CEOs and business owners. Or perhaps you’ve had similar thoughts yourself. Isn’t every two-hour lunch event decreasing your employees’ productivity and costing your business money?

The answer to that is yes. But if these events help keep your employees happy and prevents them from leaving, you are saving money. A lot of money when you consider the high cost of turnover for filling any one of those jobs.

You can find out just how much that cost is with this Turnover Calculator  from The Predictive Index, a workforce assessment company.

This six-step calculator takes into account items such as the cost of covering the position during the time it is vacant, the hiring manager’s time, advertising for the position, resume screening, company time spent interviewing and background checks.

Other costs include the time to onboard the new hire and time for that person to obtain full productivity.  (To obtain the full report on this site, you will have to give your name, company and email at the end. There are other online calculators available as well.)

A study done last year by the Society for Human Resource Management, the 2016 Human Capital Benchmarking Report, concluded the average cost-per-hire is $4,129. And that doesn’t include the additional cost associated with onboarding the new hire.

Whatever the final figure is, it’s indisputable that losing an employee is expensive. So, next time you find yourself concerned about the cost of yet another employee outing or party, remind yourself that if that event helps keep people happy and engaged, it’s a bargain for your business.

The good news is the biggest thing you can do to help retain employees is also the simplest. Show appreciation. Say thank-you. These simple gestures can contribute to your bottom line as well. In an  article in the Wall Street Journal about showing appreciation at the office, it was reported that more than half of human-resource managers say showing appreciation for workers cuts turnover, and 49 percent believe it increases profit.

To read more about how appreciation helps and recognition needs to extend beyond the paycheck, please see my blog Any Time of Year is Good to Express Appreciation.

Here’s some further reading on ways to retain your employees.

How Loyal Employees Contribute to Your Bottom Line
This is a two-part series on the importance of developing and maintaining loyal employees. Part one explores why every company should focus on having loyal employees and how doing so contributes to its revenue. Part two offers tips of how to develop loyal employees.

Work-Life Balance Key to Recruiting, Retention
This two-part series is on the growing importance of offering a work-life balance to employees in your company. Having a work-life balance was ahead of money, recognition and autonomy for more than half the people surveyed in a study done by Accenture in determining whether or not they have a successful career. Part two, Work-Life Balance, the #1 Thing to Offer, discusses the one critical component your workplace must have to keep employees.

5 Things to Know About DIP Financing

If you aren’t familiar with the term DIP financing, well, that might be a good thing. That means your company hasn’t had to explore the possibility of bankruptcy.

DIP (which means debtor-in-possession) financing is for companies in financial distress, primarily for those who have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Even if you think you may never have to worry about bankruptcy, it’s good to understand what DIP financing is. It is important that you obtain financing PRIOR to filing for bankruptcy protection. To do otherwise seriously jeopardizes your ability to survive.

Remember, even if you are contemplating filing bankruptcy, that does not have to mean the end of your business. Many companies successfully emerge from bankruptcy and DIP financing can be one of the tools your company uses to get it through a difficult time.

Here are five things you should know about DIP financing.

1. This form of debt can allow a company to continue operating until the assets of the company are sold or the business is successfully reorganized. Companies in distress need money to continue operating. But they may already have cash flow problems, and once they have filed for Chapter 11, other forms of credit may dry up, they may begin to lose revenue as customers go elsewhere and they may have additional expenses related to the bankruptcy. So, they may need another source of cash quickly. DIP financing is often the best answer.

2. DIP financing can sometimes be obtained from an existing lender. Sometimes an existing lender will lend money in the form of a DIP loan. They may do so to protect their interests, finance a sale or to protect a liquidation of your assets. The majority of DIP lenders last year were interested parties, according to DebtWire’s North America DIP Financing Report for 2016.

But a current lender may be reluctant or unable to increase its debt level with a company that has filed Chapter 11. A DIP from another lender can be the answer to obtain financing when other sources are not available.

3. Unlike some forms of debt, DIP financing takes top priority, despite it being the newest form of financing for a company. Remember, “Last in, first out”. This is referred to as super priority. A DIP load will be paid back before any other existing debt. This of course is critical to the lender as they have reassurance they will most likely get paid back, even if the company ends up being liquidated. Note that Administrative Claims of the Bankruptcy could be carved out prior to your Super Priority Claim. A good lawyer can assist in this process.

4. Interest rates can vary widely. Rates in 2016 varied from 12% to 18%, according to DebtWire’s DIP Financing Report. Most had maturity rates of less than a year, while some were as short as three months. Note that interest rates for smaller DIP loans (less than $1.0 million), which have more risk to the lender could approach 20%+ range.

Amounts vary widely as well. I’ve worked with companies that needed DIP loans of less than $1million but most required millions of dollars to finance their survival.

5. DIP financing can help restore confidence to the companys vendors and customers. Knowing that a lender has examined the business and its ability to repay the money, and is willing to lend it more money can help calm concerns in the market. Customers and vendors that may have been tempted to take their business elsewhere may be reassured that the company has the funds to continue operations, keep vendors current and is committed to emerging from bankruptcy.

If you’d like assistance in obtaining DIP financing, please contact me directly at LKatz@GlassRatner.com or (404) 307-6150. We have many sources throughout the country. We also have several local lenders that specialize in smaller credit facilities.

Giving Employees Bereavement Time is Good For Business

Facebook made the news recently for adding a generous paid bereavement leave to its list of benefits. An employee can get up to 20 days of paid leave when a member of their immediate family dies and 10 days for a member of their extended family.

COO Sheryl Sandburg, who tragically lost her husband Dave in 2015 during a trip to Mexico, announced the policy on where else? Her Facebook page.

“We’re extending bereavement leave to give our employees more time to grieve and recover and will now provide paid family leave so they can care for sick family members as well. Only 60 percent of private sector workers in the United States get paid time off after the death of a loved one and usually just a few days.”

Her post got over 35,000 likes.

I’m a big proponent of employees taking time off for vacation, and have written about it several times. In “Three Reasons You Want Employees to Take Vacation I discuss how it’s better for their health and makes them more productive to have a break from work.

Bereavement leave is in a different category than vacation, of course. And there is no federally mandated requirement for payment for time off after the death of a loved one, even to attend the funeral. However, about 60 percent of all workers do receive around three days for the death of an immediate family member and one day for extended family members.

The 2016 Employee Benefits Report done by the Society of Human Resource Management reported that 81 percent of employers give paid bereavement leave for their employees.

The typical amount of leave given was one day for an extended family member or relative of an opposite-sex partner; two days for a miscarriage, relative of a spouse or relative of a same-sex spouse; three days for an extended family or partner and four days for a spouse or a child. Most companies did not provide any leave for the death of a friend or a colleague.

(Many companies are giving time off for the death of a pet. But that’s a topic for another day.)

A study done by Boston Consulting Group on a situation that also involves leave – family leave for mothers and fathers – found that “employers see a solid business case for offering paid family leave, including benefits such as improved talent retention and attraction and their own ability to manage the costs of the program through thoughtful policy design.” This study was conducted by reviewing the policies of more than 250 companies.

An article about the study, “Why Paid Family Leave is Good Business,” points to five reasons giving family leave is good for business. I believe a few of these can apply to bereavement leave as well.

  • Employee retention. When employees feel valued as individuals by being given time off when they need it, then tend to stick around.
  • Improved engagement, morale and productivity. An employee who isn’t allowed paid time off after the death of a loved one can suffer from low morale. And even though they may be in the office right after a death, they won’t be very productive. Giving them time off allows them to be with family during a difficult time.

“Companies that stand by the people who work for them do the right thing and the smart thing – it helps them serve their mission, live their values, and improve their bottom line by increasing the loyalty and performance of their workforce,” Sheryl wrote in her Facebook message.

I do have to add one caveat, however. I once worked with a company where a guy took leave three times in one year, each time claiming his grandmother had died. “How many grandmothers do you have?” I asked him after the third time.

“Oh, [expletive],” he said, realizing he’d been caught. “Yeah, you used that same excuse three months ago,” I informed him. He did not get paid leave that time.

In my career as a turnaround authority, I often employ the motto “Trust, but verify.” In the case of bereavement leave, this is a good motto to remember. You don’t want a few people who are taking advantage of a policy to ruin it for everyone else.

Giving employees time to grieve is the right thing to do. It shows an employee you care, and can lead to increased productivity. Sounds like a win-win to me.

CEOs Didn’t Start with Fancy Jobs, And Your Kids Don’t Have to Either

As a former peanut seller, I know how much I learned from hawking those bags of goobers at Atlanta Crackers games as a young boy. I also learned many lessons from being a bag boy, babysitter, gas station attendant and a paper boy.

I think of those days every time I see parents stressing over their children finding the perfect summer job, believing it will be the key to their future success. While I understand their concern, I know the most successful people didn’t start as an intern in a fancy office.

One of my first jobs was selling peanuts at Atlanta Crackers baseball games at the Ponce de Leon Stadium, now replaced with a shopping center. The Sears building in the background is now Ponce City Market.

They were baby sitters, fast food employees and vacuum cleaner salesmen. Like me, Warren Buffett started as a paper boy. In my blog, Want to Be a CEO? Any Job Can Be a Good Start, I wrote about the early jobs of the CEOs of Netflix, Dell and Yahoo. None of them included an office with a desk.

Reading about their first jobs is one of my favorite parts of the interviews with CEOs and founders in “The Corner Office” column in the New York Times on Sundays. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Lisa Gersh, former Chief Executive of Goop: After realizing she wanted more than the $1 an hour she got for babysitting, as a preteen Gersh went to classes and got a degree in umpiring girls’ softball. She blew the whistle during games on girls older than she was for $5 an hour.

Mark Nathan, CEO of Zipari: At the age of 10, he took a wheelbarrow and collected old newspapers. Then he’d tie them into bundles, throw them in the back of a station wagon and take them to an industrial market that recycled newsprint. He got $15 for a load.

Deryl McKissack, CEO of McKissack & McKissack: Descendants of slaves, McKissack’s family owns the oldest African-American architectural firm in the country. Deryl began making architectural drawings when she was six.

Ashton B. Carter, former secretary of defense. Carter worked at a carwash when he was 11, but after complaining that he wasn’t included in the tip distribution, got fired. Then he got a job at a Gulf gas station and also worked as an orderly in a hospital. His duties included taking dead people to the morgue.

Yuchon Lee: CEO and co-founder of Allego. In kindergarten Lee resold fancy stickers his father brought back from Japan. In his later years in elementary school, he sold silkworms.

If your child doesn’t end up with a fancy office job this summer, remember that valuable lessons come from any job. And they may have a great “first job” story to tell in their later years when people ask about their success.