Contrary to the myth that good products sell themselves, behind every successful brand is a successful marketing strategy. The best products and services can fail to break through without a targeted marketing approach, especially in a time when messages blare at us from every direction, and consumers are highly sophisticated. If anything, there are numerous examples of superior products losing out to superior marketing. Companies that don’t know who they are selling to and how to message to them risk being lost in the crowd.
Marketing is part art, part science. While there’s no easy creative calculus, some basic principles can go a long way. The best marketing campaigns, such as Apple’s “Think Different,” are simple, powerful, and in retrospect, almost obvious. But there is nothing easy or obvious about crystallizing brand, messaging, and positioning. That’s why even the best entrepreneurs, like Steve Jobs, don’t do their own marketing. They turn to help from expert marketing professionals.
InterimExecs RED Team executives, Ray Smale and George McGowan, share the marketing lessons they’ve learned over their careers and when it makes sense to bring in an interim or fractional executive for a CMO or Chief Growth Officer (CGO) role. They emphasized the need for fundamentals yet cautioned that, amid rapidly changing technologies and consumer patterns, companies must be prepared to pivot.
Every day at InterimExecs we are reminded of how grateful we are to work with inspiring leaders, owners, investors, and boards. While 2020 was a year of huge challenges, we saw many companies take time to reflect on how they could do better, embrace change, and seize new opportunities.
It was a full year and we are excited to share the InterimExecs RED Team 2020 Year in Review.
We are eager to continue helping other amazing companies secure expert RED Team leadership for their biggest challenges and greatest opportunities. Let us know how we can be a resource as you charge forward into 2021.
Despite a plethora of project management software tools and project management certification programs and project management training, protocols and methodologies, there is not always project management success. Schedules slip, costs balloon, plans derail.
Cynical observers of the project management process suggest these stages of a project:
- Search for the guilty
- Punishment of the innocent
- Reward for the non-participants
Or so says William (Bill) Mince, InterimExecs RED Team member and Chief Operating Officer at iMedrix, the California-based maker of a mobile clinical-grade ECG device that connects to remote physicians in real time. Since his first job at 3M in the 70s, Mince has built a career focused on project management.
His passion is trying to improve the project management process across organizations. He’s even writing a book about it. Project Leadership: An Executive Handbook for Project Management Success is to be published in the fall of 2021.
He offers these 10 steps CEOs can take to help ensure the success of project management in their organizations.
When Barry Zekelman’s father passed away he was 19 years old and six months into college. His dad left behind a business employing 5 people manufacturing steel tubing. It wasn’t much of a head start with beat up machinery, negative $5 million of retained earnings, and losing $60,000 every month. The business was on the brink of bankruptcy. Everyone told Barry to shut it down and stay in school, but he admits, “quite frankly, school was boring,” realizing that for him he had already outgrown it. This was his shot.
Barry had to piece together how to run a manufacturing business, like a pilot learning how to fly as the plane takes a nosedive. “I learned how to read an income statement and put one together real quick. I learned that making money doesn’t mean having money. You can make a lot of income – but cash is king,” he says.
He had no sooner moved into his dad’s office when two employees came in asking for a raise. Problem was, he couldn’t afford it – and he honestly didn’t know how they were making a living off what they were paid. He told them to do that he needed more production. The cash wasn’t there. The employees pleaded, ‘well – if you gave us a $2 an hour raise, this machine would never stop.”
Barry remembers thinking: what comes first, the chicken or the egg? “If this machine never stopped, I’d be able to give you a $2 an hour raise,” he said. “If I give you a raise and nothing changes, are you going to give me the money back?” The guys looked at each other and said it doesn’t work that way. Barry told them they had to do this together to be successful.
Having a qualified and competent executive management team is integral to the success of any organization. Problems arise, however, when an executive suddenly vacates a position or there is a mismatch between the internal capabilities of a leadership team and the actual skillsets needed for a specific stage of a company’s growth.
Red flags may start to arise in an organization whether it be a lack of a clear vision, high team turnover, stagnant sales, missing innovation, or breakdowns in communication. The knee-jerk reaction of many companies is to look at a leadership change via a full-time executive search, which can take 6-9 months and include long-term contracts with added costs of perks like severance and benefits.
The world of interim management, a specialty that has grown significantly through the years, has offered an alternative route for companies wanting to maintain forward motion while re-evaluating what is needed to take them into the future. As opposed to a full-time executive search, interims can be on board in a matter of days and come with flexible contracts and pricing models.
Executives who specialize in interim management have track records building, fixing, stabilizing, and growing companies around the globe. In an executive-as-a-service model, companies can bring in an executive to temporarily fill a specific role – CEO, COO, CFO, CIO, etc. – or to serve alongside the current management team to execute on a big initiative where clear vision, leadership, and even mentorship is needed.
Growing up with sisters, I longed for a brother. No such luck.
But when I got into the world, I got close to my cousins Keith and Craig Landy, and they became as close as brothers to me. The bonus with my Landy brothers was that they were growing a fascinating family-owned business, Germfree Labs, that I got to watch, and eventually help strategize over.
Germfree is a world leader in manufacturing glass and steel enclosures that contain biological, chemical, and nuclear stuff – think of the most toxic or nasty substances, and Germfree’s the go-to supplier, serving the US Army, NIH, thousands of commercial, government, and hospital customers with products ranging from small gloveboxes you stick your hands in, to fully mobile labs transportable anywhere in the world.
Private equity funds are entering a new phase that requires new tactics to be successful against many alternative sources of funds. With a vast reservoir of dry powder – $1.5 trillion waiting to be deployed – PE funds seeking the whip hand will build and pivot while the economy is reinventing and reviving in 2021 and 2022. But what worked in the past won’t work in the future. Moving forward, adding value will require more attention to management fit for the purpose of rapidly transforming portfolio companies.
“Every good private equity professional will tell you that the most important factor behind a successful investment is the management team,” said Eric Jones, a partner and member of the corporate and private equity groups at Detroit law firm Honigman LLP. Jones was a speaker at the University of Michigan Private Equity Conference held virtually in September 2020 and attended by InterimExecs. “You can have even market share, but without a very strong management team, it’s not going to be sustained. The business isn’t going to grow and the investment piece isn’t going to be realized,” he said.
“Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan” is a quote commonly attributed to John Kennedy as he accepted responsibility for the Bay of Pigs fiasco. The idea, however, is an old one. Roman historian and politician Tacitus said that, “This is an unfair thing about war: victory is claimed by all, failure to one alone.”
When things are going well, it’s easy to share credit as a team. When things go sideways, buck-passing and finger-pointing rule the day. Success has many fathers, but for companies, so does failure. The thing about business is that it is always about the people, the process, and systems already in place. And those can fail over time, even at the most successful organizations. Errors, however, can actually help a business move forward – if the problem is identified and fixed. It’s how the owner and management team respond to those mistakes, misses, omissions — or even complacency — that can make all the difference.
InterimExecs surveyed interim leaders from around the world for our 2020 Interim Executives Survey. In addition to asking executives about who’s hiring them and the roles they’re taking on, we asked executives for insights into “The Biggest Mistakes Companies Make.” While their responses varied, clear themes emerged in the areas of leadership, operations, human capital, strategy, financials, and change initiatives. Focusing on these fundamentals is a good starting point for any struggling business.
COVID-19 has caused unprecedented disruptions to the healthcare sector. Since the pandemic hit, hospitals and providers have had to deal with a surge in very sick, high-intensity patients while also having to shut down a huge portion of their traditional business. As non-urgent visits and procedures were cancelled, overall surgeries and hospital admissions plummeted. The combination of lower patient volumes, cancelled elective procedures, and higher expenses tied to the pandemic have created a financial crunch for hospitals, which are expected to lose $323 billion this year, according to a report from the American Hospital Association.
These drastic developments come at a time when the healthcare industry is already grappling with challenges posed by the digital transformation happening around electronic health record (EHR) implementation, Meaningful Use (MU) standards, HIPAA compliance, and the CMS’s Interoperability and Patient Access rule. The result is a reckoning throughout the country’s healthcare infrastructure, with a need for rapid changes and new thinking.
Everybody might be in the red right now, says RED Team member John Winenger, a veteran healthcare executive. “But how much is going to come back is the big question that everybody’s rapidly trying to assess.”
We spoke to Winenger and Michael Kreitzer, an expert hospital Interim CIO, about the biggest challenges providers and hospitals are facing, where healthcare goes from here, and the moves organizations can make—including bringing in outside help—to get out of the red and back into the black.
In every business there comes a tipping point when change is needed to get to the next stage of growth. While as a company owner or CEO, you may be adept at running the day-to-day, at some point you may start to feel that you need to be more tuned into your finances.
Maybe you have a Controller or bookkeeper keeping transactions up-to-date so you can run reports for your banker from time to time. But what happens when transactions start to get more difficult to deal with or you need more insight into financial metrics that will drive strategic decisions? If the following situations sound familiar, it may be time to start thinking about hiring a Chief Financial Officer (CFO):
- You are growing fast and looking to acquire or attract new capital
- Investors or financiers are requesting more sophistication in reporting
- The company doesn’t have the internal capabilities to consistently (and accurately) close out the books every month
- The business is facing declining revenues, stagnant growth, or rising market competition that calls for someone to provide more strategic leadership and set out a direction and action plan
- You feel like you don’ have a full handle on the metrics and KPIs that ultimately drive the business and measure your progress