“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.
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
The only certainty in business is change. But change is accelerating, less predictable, and increasingly, beyond the control of organizations. As technology and unforeseen events continue to drive exponential change, businesses that can’t keep up risk being left behind.
Companies struggling to generate growth and stay relevant amid rapid transformation often look to new leadership. A growing number of companies are also looking to a different kind of leader—one who specializes in change and embraces the challenge of helping companies solve their biggest issues. Enter the interim executive, a new breed of on-demand leadership that brings outside perspective, cutting-edge thinking, veteran experience, and a laser focus on results.
There are marketing challenges, and then there is the challenge of marketing a product no one wants to admit they use, much less talk about it in public.
Enter Whitney Vosburgh. He’s an expert, interim Chief Marketing Officer who believes that building community can be a successful marketing strategy.
It worked for ConvaTec, a company that makes something no one ever wants to buy (but many people have to): colostomy and ostomy pouches. Those are the bags used by people who have a bowel blockage, which means they must eliminate bodily waste outside their body. It’s collected in pouches like the ones made by ConvaTec.
Not surprisingly, this is not something people want to chat about with strangers. But, Vosburgh hypothesized, putting them in a room with others facing the same challenges could make all the difference.
Technology is the most disruptive force in the business world today. It transforms everything that it touches, creating new opportunities while at the same time threatening incumbents and late-adopters.
Futurist Peter Diamandis describes the technology paradox in the following way: “Entrepreneurs will create more wealth in the next decade, than we have in the entire past century. We’ll also experience the reinvention of every industry. Understanding how to navigate accelerating technological change is essential for every leader. The problem with such dazzling change is that most people fear the future, rather than being excited by it. And fear is a terrible mindset from which to create and leverage the opportunities ahead.”
InterimExecs recently held a webinar with Chief Information Officers (CIOs) David Mitchelhill and Kevin Malover about how you should be thinking about technology and your business strategy as we enter 2020. Among the topics discussed were ways to navigate disruption to stay competitive, the value of outside viewpoints in technology, when to pursue new technology versus maximizing current assets, and balancing the fear of change with the fear of falling behind.
Our world, our universe is characterized by constant change. Stars are born and die, storms transform the landscape, nations rise and fall, people change over time. In the business world economies grow and collapse, business models evolve, industries transform and even the Top 100 list of leading companies completely changes in a matter of a few years.
But sometimes the speed and scope of change is extremely rapid, its consequences unforeseeable and unpredictable. This makes planning and decision making highly risky because it is so difficult to see what the future holds. “Everybody has a plan,” said championship boxer Mike Tyson, “until they get punched in the face.”
To help explain the often sudden, fluid, rapidly evolving and dynamic forces of change – that “punch in the face” — the U.S. Army War College created the term V.U.C.A. to describe and ultimately deal with highly dynamic, shifting and challenging situations.
At the beginning of my career, I was involved in a lot of startups. I was starting with nothing – zero, zilch — so I’ve always had a lot of respect for entrepreneurs because you start from an idea and not much else. To be honest, in the beginning, I somewhat discounted my friends who were inheriting family businesses. When they’ve been at it for generations, I thought ‘well, how hard can this be?’
Thing is, the older I get, the more I’ve gotten to know various family offices and family run businesses and now, I’ve come to realize that running a family business is harder. Much harder. It’s a legacy that in some ways can be so overwhelming to continue to build, and not screw up, whereas with startups you have the luxury of low or no expectations.
Compare that with the legacy/obligation/burden handed to the second, third, or fourth generation, and there can be incredible pressure on the business and family to do well. And it’s even harder now, when no business – no sector – is immune to the kind of disruption, to the kind of disintermediation that technology has introduced into every industry and market. Nothing can be taken for granted, regardless of longevity.
“CFOs are retiring at the fastest pace in at least a decade,” reports a Wall Street Journal article citing that the increasing complexity of the role and for public CFOs, the lure to cash out shares in a hot stock market, make it even more attractive to make the change. An analysis of 12 years of regulatory filings by Audit Analytics for The Wall Street Journal showed that “one in six executives who left the CFO position at a U.S. public company in 2018 did so to retire, the highest share since at least 2007.”
In addition to many baby boomers simply being of retirement age, CFOs are facing new demands professionally. Historically, a CFO’s workload was focused on compliance, best accounting practices, and financial reporting. As the financial world grapples to evolve at an accelerated rate with the onslaught of digital transformation, so does a CFO’s job description. Today CFOs are faced with even more complex responsibilities that include making strategic decisions about investments, understanding and leveraging technology to streamline accounting practices, and developing financial disaster recovery plans to deter risk and cybercrime.
U.S. Banks are growing concerned — if not alarmed — and are reevaluating just how lax they are when it comes to handing out commercial loans. With sour loans on the rise, that’s not a pretty picture for companies that rely too much on credit lines or commercial loans. This is, in essence, a self-imposed business risk, as they are more dependent and susceptible to any fluctuations that occur.
A recent Financial Times article reported that non-performing loans increased by 20% at ten large commercial lenders. How much of an impact is that on the bank industry exactly? According to the Financial Times analyst, that’s a hefty $1.6B in the first quarter alone, a significant shift from credit quality since 2016, an era where the dust had settled from crashes and subsequent defaults on loans. The future started looking bright. Lending portfolios and credit quality began to improve.
With merely three years of positive momentum, fast forward to present day and all that has changed and not for the better. “Since most businesses utilize a credit line or other commercial loans, any slowdown will impact all types of commercial lenders – banks, asset-based lenders and factors,” said Yoav Cohen, an interim executive who has spearheaded eight turnarounds and liquidations, each one successful in paying off secured lenders in full. Cohen has seen it all, serving in roles as varied as interim CFO, COO, and a Chief Restructuring Officer.
In the tsunami of digital transformation, it has dawned on boards that disruptive technologies pose not only a great opportunity, but also bring inherent risks. New technologies bring great promise to help businesses grow, improve efficiencies, and seize new markets. On the other hand, when an organization decides to embrace new technologies, they will come face-to-face with new business models and regulations that are unlike what they have ever seen before.
Boards may not be fully equipped to face the onslaught and speed at which new technologies are infiltrating the business sector. In fact, according to the 2018–2019 NACD Private Company Governance Survey, 80% of directors say that boards need to expand their knowledge of the challenges and risks of emerging technologies.