How Do You Define Success?

When I interview with the owners and board of directors of a company that is considering hiring me, I am sometimes asked about my batting record. I generally state that I bat over 800, which by baseball standards means I qualify for the Hall of Fame.

By the time I am called in, a company is generally in dire straits. I deal with many unfortunate situations. Companies are on the verge of failing, they have had several rounds of layoffs, shareholder value is in decline, and creditors may be banging on the door. There are also often many personal issues of the CEOs pertaining to personal guarantees, side collateral, impending divorces or medical issues.

So what would success look like? Success needs to be defined by the goals of the owners and board of directors, as it is their business and their lives that are involved. Success may be to structure a successful liquidation or sale of a business. Success may be defined by negotiating with the bank to release or lower a personal exposure on a guarantee. Success may be to downsize, invest all of the family’s capital into a re-engineered business, and refinance with another capital source.

Success may also be defined as filing for bankruptcy and working with creditors in a structured Plan of Reorganization that is fair for all of the parties. Or a CEO may just want out and say, “Here are the keys, Lee. I just want to get off the merry-go-round and save my marriage and keep my family together.”

It’s my job in those initial meetings to determine what their definition of success is and work towards that goal.

I recently spoke to a group of turnaround professionals and was asked a few questions that had me thinking about this idea of the definition of success. The first was why was one business where I was Chief Restructuring Office liquidated?

The short answer is that sometimes liquidation is the meaning of success for that particular company. Other times it’s the only option available. And in some circumstances, the owners or board of directors chose not to follow my recommendation and the company had to be liquidated. Those are the most heart breaking for me as I feel that had my recommendations been followed, we could have saved the company.

I was also asked about some of my “failed” turnarounds. Again, it may have been too late, my recommendations perhaps weren’t followed or maybe some strategies didn’t work. Turnarounds are complicated and difficult by definition and morph constantly throughout the process.

No one in this industry can claim a 100 percent success rate and I am proud of my record. Do I wish I could save every single company I work with? Of course, and I always act as if the company were my own and try everything in my power to meet the definition of success as defined by the owners and board of directors.

Even if a company being liquidated is the best-case scenario is a given situation, it’s still tough for the owners. So the next time you know of someone that has lost a business, gone bankrupt or been downsized, be sensitive to that person’s situation. They need the support of their friends, and sometimes counseling and medication to get through a rough spot in their life.

And ask yourself, what would you do when faced with a tough decision? How would you define success?

As the saying goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” The same can be said of the meaning of success.

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