De Nile – A River in Egypt or a CEO’s Final Resting Place?

As managing partner of GGG and the Turnaround Authority, I get the pleasure of providing guest posts by our other partners. The following post is by our newest Partner, Vic Taglia.

In my post a few weeks ago about how to treat your bankers, creditors and vendors, I advocated telling the truth. As important as it is to tell all of these people the truth, it is even more important to tell yourself the truth.

I recently came across a company whose bankers have expressed some discomfort in their situation (no names here obviously). The loan balance has declined, and the bank wants to continue to reduce its exposure. In recent memory, the company has not satisfied its debt service coverage covenants, but the loan document has been extended on a short term basis. Since the principal owner describes his industry as “declining” the only growth will be through consolidation. Moreover, the company has exhausted its balance sheet reserves, even to the extent of taking some tax positions that will improve its book equity, but cost it millions of dollars in CASH over the next several years.

See the warning signs?

  1. Declining industry
  2. Nervous bank
  3. Bad operating performance
  4. No focus on Cash, which we all know is king

The principal owner/CEO stated that he had made some significant spending cuts, and that this year will be better than last. His projections show a slight decline in revenue with increasing EBITDA, but still not enough to cover its interest expense.

When I looked through the financial statements I noticed that payroll in some operating areas had indeed fallen by about the amount revenues had fallen, but payroll in the sales and executive departments had increased. I also noticed a monthly payment for a luxury sports car’s financing company that matched the make in the CEO’s reserved parking spot. The CEO said he had a new, more expensive model on order for summer delivery. The CEO said everything was fine; he had his business under control, and he had a wonderful, long-term relationship with his lender, even though his new loan officer needed some more time to understand his business.

I contend that the CEO is in denial about the true state of his business. As my favorite coffee mug is fond of saying, “De Nile is Not Just a River in Egypt.”

Without significant changes in his mindset and the business’s operations, the bank will continue to ratchet down its exposure. There will be fewer operating accommodations, more reporting requirements, more onerous covenants and certainly no financing for acquisitions. He will be the acquiree, not the acquirer. It’s quite likely that he will find himself out of the business and out of a job within 18 months.

While it is important to maintain a positive attitude for your family, employees, vendors and creditors – after all, hope is extremely important – it is also important to face your reality, especially when the chips are down.

You can talk to your trusted advisors — lawyer, accountant, even a banker — to share your concerns and fears and more importantly to chart a course of action to rehabilitate your business. But when your advisors can’t help, call us, and face the harsh reality rather than board De Nial River Boat Cruise to self-destruction.

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