My work as the turnaround authority has given me a front-row seat to the behavior of CEOs that led them to crises. This experience provided plenty of fodder for my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes.”
One of the mistakes CEOs make, which I covered in a white paper I wrote, is that they skew the facts to boards, creditors and constituents to “sell the deal.” Now, I often have to deal with unpleasant situations and work with companies in dire straits. But no matter how bad the situation, honesty really is the best policy. Changing the facts, or omitting crucial information to get your way is never the way to go.
Here are two stories to illustrate my point. Both these situations involved CEOs bending the facts so they could qualify for financing their companies couldn’t support.
The CEO of a hard drive manufacturer in California desperately wanted a line of credit from his bank for $60 million, so he stuffed the channel in order to make his company appear more credit worthy.
Stuffing the channel is when a manufacturer oversells product to put sales on the books, despite knowing that much of the merchandise will come back unsold. This inflates the books by overstating the top line, thereby improving the bottom line.
This strategy worked. He got the loan, but when the company repurchased the inventory on the channel within 60 days, it became out of compliance on the line of credit and the bank put the company in default.
That’s when I was brought in to salvage what I could and to hopefully restructure the company. The company survived, thanks to some hedge fund loans, but the CEO lost his job because he skewed the facts and misrepresented the true financial situation of the company.
Not bending the facts is so important that it deserves this second story. Before the technology was so ubiquitous, laser tag equipment had a very high value. A Texas-based company was seeking a large loan and claimed it had more inventory on its books than it did by adding the inventory in its Ireland-based location to the U.S. books. The auditors never verified the inventory and granted the company a far larger loan than it could handle.
When the company filed for Chapter 11, I went to the “plant” in Ireland and was not happy to discover it was just an empty lot. That inventory was just a figment of the president and CFO’s imagination and the company was now $75 million short in inventory.
I immediately went to the judge to convert the case to a Chapter 7 rather than try to bring the company through bankruptcy and be embarrassed by the fraud. The creditors ultimately sued the accounting firm and recovered millions of dollars from faulty accounting, once again highlighting the blunder of skewing facts.
Don’t manipulate data to give an unrealistic picture of your company, especially when it comes to qualifying for financing. There are reasons for the rules that prevent companies from getting loans they can’t handle, and yes, those rules do apply to you.