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 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.

Should the CEO Be Fired? That Depends

In the wake of multiple problems splashed across headlines worldwide, speculation has run rampant that Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick may be on his way out. Issues include claims of sexual harassment at the company, massive loss of users and even a widely circulated video of the billionaire getting in a fight with a driver over fares for black cars.

In an article on Mashable, 5 Ways to Save Uber From Itself, the number one suggestion to save the global company is to fire Kalanick. “If you cut off the head, the body can function … at least temporarily,” the writer claims. Other business analysts claim that while he was once the ride-sharing company’s biggest asset, he is now their biggest liability.

But is firing the CEO the best solution? I advise companies that the decision to fire a CEO is never a simple one and should not be done in haste. There are several factors to take into consideration. And firing a CEO can often set the company back, especially in a time of difficulty.

A recent article in Fast Company, “Why Uber Shouldn’t Fire Its Bad Boy CEO,” made the case that Uber may actually benefit from keeping Kalanick in the CEO’s chair.

The article references this article on the Harvard Business Review, “Holes at the Top: Why CEOs Firings Backfire,” which explains why CEOs are often swiftly shown the door when times are bad.

“When companies do well, their CEOs are showered with money, perks, and adulation. When they do poorly, they’re given the blame—and the boot.”

The writer, Margaret Wiersema, is a leader in corporate strategy and CEO replacement and succession. She studied all instances of CEO turnover for a period of two years and found most CEOs were replaced not by the board after careful thought and deliberation, but at the insistence of investors upset over returns.

She compared performance of the companies from two years before a dismissal to two years after, compared performance with industry averages and then compared the performance of companies whose CEOs had retired as opposed to those whose had been fired.

Wiersema came to the same conclusion that I have after decades of working with companies in turmoil. “Most companies perform no better – in terms of earnings or stock-price performance – after they dismiss their CEOs than they did in the years leading up to the dismissals. Worse, the organizational disruption created by rushed firings – particularly the bypassing of normal succession processes – can leave companies with deep and lasting scars. Far from being a silver bullet, the replacement of a CEO often amounts to little more than a self-inflicted wound.”

I’ve seen companies where CEOs were fired for far fewer infractions. For example, perhaps the CEO didn’t make the numbers for a year or two. The business was still profitable, but it was below expectations and not as profitable as projected. Those CEOs often get fired within 3-6 months, rarely leading to the increase in profits that was hoped for. As for Kalanick, while Uber may be in a public relations crisis, and thousands of users have protested conditions at the company by following the instructions on the social media hashtag #deleteuber, the company is still growing. The head of North American operations claimed growth during the first 10 weeks of 2017 was better than the first 10 weeks of 2016. So maybe he is here to stay. At least for now.

Firing a CEO is not an easy or simple decision and shouldn’t be rushed, especially if big changes are being made to turn a company around. Those changes can take time.

Ultimately, it’s up to the board of directors. They have to make the decision based on a number of factors. But more often than not, it pays to keep the CEO because he can be a part of the solution, even if he was originally perceived as part of the problem.

My book “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” is now available as an ebook.

You Can Fight Fraud. And Win.

We all know Smokey the Bear’s slogan. “Remember – only you can prevent forest fires.” You can use the same slogan for fraud: only you can prevent fraud in your company.

I couldn’t let National Fraud Awareness Month slip by without mentioning a major contributor to revenue loss for a company. In its 2016 Global Fraud Study, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) reported that a typical organization loses 5% of its revenue in a given year as a result of fraud.

Let that sink in a minute – 5% of your total revenue. Billing schemes and check tampering pose the greatest risk. And here’s another thing to think about, the perpetrator’s level of authority is strongly correlated with the size of the fraud. The higher up the thief, the bigger the theft.

I have written extensively about fraud as it can severely damage a company, and can even cause it to fail. While you can’t prevent fraud 100 percent, you can lessen its effect on your business. Does your company have strong enough fraud prevention measures in place? Here are a few articles to get you started.

Best friends, grandmothers, partners, even church ladies – I’ve seen them all commit fraud. When it comes to protecting your assets, trust no one. Don’t ever think that you know someone well enough to say, “He would never do that.” Maybe not. But don’t find out the hard way.

Sadly, the same goes for family members. Just read about the sad case of Gladys Knight and her son and what he did to her poor chicken and waffles restaurants.

I once worked with a company where the younger brother was running the business and took a salary beyond the limits allowed by the corporate minutes. Unfortunately, the fraud was only discovered after Daddy died and the statute of limitations had run out.

Fraud can occur when you have three elements: pressure, opportunity and rationalization. Knowledge of the fraud triangle is the basis of any successful fraud-deterrence program.

To catch fraud early, you need to know what the red flags are. One of these is when an employee exhibits behavioral changes, undergoes a sudden change in lifestyle or has financial difficulties. Read the article for four other red flags you need to be on the alert for.

According to the ACFE, the most common way internal fraud is detected is by receiving a tip from someone. One of the things your company can do is set up an anonymous hotline for anyone to report suspected theft. Their numbers show that organizations that had one were much more likely to detect fraud than those that didn’t – 45.3% to 28.2%.

My book “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” is now available as an ebook.

#1 Lesson for Leaders From the Academy Awards

It will undoubtedly be Hollywood’s most famous unscripted moment ever. In front of a worldwide audience of close to 33 million people, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope and presented the award for Best Picture to “La La Land” at the Academy Awards.

Except that movie wasn’t actually the winner of the Best Picture Academy Award, as we all now know. A partner with PricewaterhouseCooper had handed the stars the wrong envelope, a mistake that will follow him the rest of his life.

academy-awards

Jordan Horowitz demonstrating leadership when he stepped up to the microphone to correct the mistake at the Academy Awards.

In the midst of emotional acceptance speeches, producer of “La La Land” Jordan Horowitz learned of the mistake. He immediately stepped right up to the microphone and said, “There’s a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won best picture.” He stayed on stage during the resulting chaos and graciously said, “I’m gonna be really proud to hand this to my friends from ‘Moonlight.’”

The young producer is being heralded for his grace under pressure. He did what a good leader does under a stressful situation: he took charge and handled the problem.

In TV interviews afterwards, Jordan said, “My heart was a little broken, but it’s one of those things that just gets thrown at you. You can choose to lean into it or break away from it.”

In my career in the turnaround industry, I often deal with leaders in a crisis situation. Things do get thrown at them. They lost their number 2, their biggest customer went to a competitor, they can’t make their loan payments. Whatever it is, a business is going to face tough times.

I’ve seen a full range of responses from leaders in these situations. They may choose to be dishonest with their lenders, they may put their heads in the sand or they may continue blindly down the same path that put them in that position, hoping for a miracle.

The first step these leaders have to take is to face reality. They have to take a good luck at what the situation is so they can deal with it. Then a good leader has to take charge.

As Jordan said, “It happened really fast. Listen, I’m a producer. I gather things together and I change directions and I march things forward.”

In a nutshell, that’s what happens with CEOs. They gather the information they need, make decisions and march forward. Luckily, most leaders don’t have to do so on live TV in front of tens of millions of people.

Another company trying to march things forward right now is PricewaterhouseCooper, the second largest accounting firm in the world. The New York City-based company has overseen the Oscars balloting and presentation for 83 years, an association it takes great pride in and leverages with new and existing clients.

Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman and senior partner, was in the audience at the Academy Awards when the incident happened – that moment when two members of his firm came out of the wings and his business would soon move into the spotlight.

“I knew something was up,” he said in an article in the New York Times discussing the moment when he saw the two PwC employees interrupting the best picture acceptance speeches. “It’s not their job to come out on stage.”

The reviews for PwC’s performance that night came in and they were not good. Many people had comments along the lines of “You had one job.” Les Moonves, Chairman and CEO of CBS, said “If they were my accountant, I would fire them.”

PwC apologized for the error and took full responsibility. Monday night, 24 hours after the mistake, PwC issued a statement that read in part, “For the past 83 years, the Academy has entrusted PwC with the integrity of the awards process during the ceremony, and last night we failed the Academy.”

(Soon after, the firm placed the blame on partner Brian Cullinan, U.S. board chairman and managing partner for PwC’s Southern California practice. I was surprised that they singled out one of their employees so quickly, which shows a lack of support for a partner of their firm.)

What happens to Brian’s career, PwC’s reputation and whether they are around for year 84 of the Oscars remains to be seen.  Both leaders stepped forward to take charge. But while Jordan handled the crisis perfectly, Tim took responsibility for the mistake, but in doing so threw his partner under the bus – which is not the way to handle a crisis.

3 Ways to Discover Your Super Powers and Your Kryptonite

 

If leaders want to succeed they need to be self aware, a topic I covered in the recent blog, “What to Grow as a Leader? Become This.” A study I referenced found that a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success.

A good leader needs to know what his super powers are. And his kryptonite.

A good leader needs to know what his super powers are. And his kryptonite.

As Anthony Tjan wrote, “In my experience — and in the research my co-authors and I did for our new book, Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck — there is one quality that trumps all, evident in virtually every great entrepreneur, manager, and leader. That quality is self-awareness. The best thing leaders can do to improve their effectiveness is to become more aware of what motivates them and their decision-making.”

To grow as leaders, we need to know what our strengths and weaknesses are, or as Tjan puts it, your super powers versus your kryptonite. So how do you go about becoming more self-aware?

  1. Feedback Analysis

In his popular book “Managing Oneself,” management consultant Peter Drucker recommended the process of Feedback Analysis as the only way to identify your strengths. Write down your expected outcomes for key decisions, then compare that with the results 9-12 months later.

This method will show you within a few years where your strengths are, which is the most important thing to discover about yourself. For example, he wrote, “The feedback analysis showed me, for instance—and to my great surprise—that I have an intuitive understanding of technical people, whether they are engineers or accountants or market researchers.”

  1. Assessment Instruments

Tjan recommends you take personality tests to learn more about yourself. Think about it – many businesses use assessment tools to test potential employees. But what about testing yourself and your senior managers? Here are three he mentions.

  • The Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment. This simple test is designed to determine your four core behavioral drives: dominance, extraversion, patience and formality. You can then identify patterns of behavior and motivations.
  • Myers-Briggs. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator identifies basic preferences in four areas. Are you more introverted or extraverted? (E or I) Do you prefer to look at logic first or interpret facts and add meaning? (S or N). When making decisions, do you look at logic or take into account people and special circumstances? (T or F) And lastly, do you prefer to make decisions or leave your options open? (J or P) Answers to the questions will determine which of 16 personality types you are with a four-letter code, such as INFP, ENTP or ESFJ. (A friend once told me she thought she was an ESPN. I told her to take the test again.)
  • Entrepreneurial Aptitude Test (E.A.T.) Tjan developed this test that measures the four key drivers for entrepreneurial success he wrote about in his book: heart, smarts, guts and luck. This brief survey measures your HSGL distribution with a graph showing the percentage of each trait.
  1. Ask for feedback from co-workers

This method can be a bit trickier than just taking a test or assessing yourself. People, especially those who work for you, can be reluctant to be honest in their feedback.

In the article “How to Get Feedback When You’re the Boss,” James Detert, associate professor at the Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management recommends constantly asking for feedback with requests for specific examples. If someone recommends you communicate more with employees, ask them for a suggestion on how to do that.

Or turn to a few trusted co-workers with this question, recommended by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith: “How can I do better?”

And when you get the feedback, listen without interruption. Ask for clarification where needed and thank them for their comments at the end of the discussion. Responding gracefully to their feedback can encourage them to continue to offer it. And putting their suggestions into action when advisable sets a good example to them of a leader working to grow and improve.

You can also enlist professional help in this area, especially as anonymous feedback is generally more honest.  Hiring a qualified professional counselor or coach can help you elicit feedback by sending out anonymous evaluations and compiling the answers for you.

With all this information, you can learn which are your super powers and what is your kryptonite.

My book “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” is now available as an ebook.