“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.
“More than anything else…people want to hear stories!”
― James Rosebush, Winning Your Audience: Deliver a Message with the Confidence of a President
James Rosebush knows a thing or two about effective communication. A former senior aide to President Ronald Reagan, known as “The Great Communicator,” James is a coach of public speaking who has given hundreds of speeches to audiences worldwide. In his latest book, Winning Your Audience: Deliver a Message with the Confidence of a President, James draws on his decades of experience working with presidents, politicians, and business leaders to teach others the art of impactful oration. One reviewer called Winning Your Audience “the new bible for public speaking.”
InterimExecs spoke with James about his experience working with President Reagan, the new challenges facing leaders, how Millennials’ can advance their careers, the way to command an audience even when you’re not in the same room together, and how to overcome fear of public speaking.
it’s time for a private company to go public, or fundraising is needed on a
large scale, an IPO is not the only option. There’s also a less-well-known and,
until recently, less-well-respected option: a reverse merger into a public
shell oftentimes called an Alternative Public Offering (APO).
process, which can be faster and cheaper than a traditional Initial Public
Offering, is growing in popularity and might grow faster in our confusing
Jordan (no relation to InterimExecs’ CEO Robert Jordan), an investment banker
and CFO who spent 30+ years working in biotech, engineered a reverse merger of
a biopharma company in 2019. He says that while the virus has caused capital
flow interruptions, investors in the private markets are still providing
capital to companies with novel / scientifically validated biotechnology companies.
That means reverse mergers and PIPEs (Private Investment in a Public Entity)
can still raise money needed to complete their deals. He estimates that about
20 biotech firms debuted in the public markets last year as a result of reverse
mergers and the number is on track to repeat in 2020, despite the virus.
But let’s back up a step and begin at the beginning.
Can “good” HR be a strategic advantage in a crisis?
Through the largest and longest bull market in history, many business leaders continued to dismiss the human resources (HR) function as an operational, and largely administrative function. HR’s activities can appear to be – and often are – disconnected from the “real work” of an organization. But effective HR leadership is so much more, and can be a strategic advantage as businesses deal with the COVID pandemic. Let’s unpeel the several roles of HR to better understand how it can contribute.
There are plenty of new challenges to keeping a
company afloat while the world endures the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
Here are just a few:
- Applying for
government assistance to keep paying payroll.
- Developing a
work-from-home system for employees following stay-at-home orders.
- Working out
accommodations and new digital venues with customers and suppliers that will
help everyone come through a cataclysmic crisis still in business.
Add to the list a new one: Cyber security threats.
InterimExecs RED Team executive and CISO, Zeeshan Kazmi, says times like these are prime for opportunistic hackers.
Just look at financial technology company, Finastra, to see a cyber security nightmare in action. After coronavirus hit, the company was in the middle of developing an emergency plan to operate when hackers found a backdoor into their servers. Malware quickly spread locking down server after server on their network, taking down many of their customers which include 90 of the world’s top 100 banks.
“We haven’t taken cyber security threats as seriously as they should be taken,” says Kazmi, who has spent 15 years working in the cyber security space. “Companies have been reactive. They protected their business transactions and their reputation. It became a corporate risk management function.”
While many companies are facing new challenges and increasing volatility, we’ve found that most leaders’ responses and outcomes tend to be unique. While quarantined with COVID-19, Todd Herman, author of The Alter Ego Effect, decided to interview 29 CEOs to hear how they described their circumstances.
Each company was experiencing a downturn. Herman analyzed each CEO’s word choice and language to see how they were reacting, noting the importance of a leader’s pronouncements: “words create reality.” He saw big differences in how executives were wired and reacted to the economic rollercoaster. His findings led him to divide the CEOs into three groups:
Fear-Focused CEOs – emotional, concerned, and overwhelmed. Tended to use negative future pacing words like ‘struggle’, ‘fear’, ‘hard’, or ‘difficult’. Spent the most time watching media or finger pointing rather than what could be done.
Unfocused CEOs – dismissive, uncertain, wait and see. Talked about getting a plan, but tended to use the word ‘plan’ in a negative or needs-based way.
Strategy Focused CEOs – take and use what’s given, focused on growth/opportunity. Positive. Spending time leaning into networks.
Uncertainty is growing in the US with coronavirus cases
mounting. California, Illinois, Michigan, and other states have taken serious
actions with shelter-in-place orders, leaving many people wondering how this
will impact them personally as well as their companies and the economy as a
At the same time, we’re reflecting on how much there is to
be grateful for, including the strong relationships we’ve built over 10+ years
with inspiring leaders. These are women and men who focus their careers on running
into the burning building – the company in trouble – learning fast,
listening, assembling resources, providing fresh and objective insights,
developing new plans and actions for survival and ultimately blueprints for a
We recently convened a call with some RED Team execs who shared how they are adapting to new ways to work. Many executives shared experiences on the front lines figuring out how to help combat the virus and also help people work smarter and safer:
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.
“Write down a change you would like to make in an organization that you are currently with…or change in the marketplace. Any kind. It can be a big change, it could be a small change – strategic, tactical, something you want people to start doing, something you want people to stop doing,” says Jeff Leitner as he looks around a room filled with CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, and other C-Suite executives at this year’s InterimExecs’ RED Team meeting. He continues “You’re change is absolutely, almost certainly going to fail. It’s not your fault. It has nothing to do with your particular genius – has nothing to do with your insights. Changes fail. They almost always fail.”
Jeff Leitner knows a thing or two about change and innovation. He spent the last 20 years improving organizations from the US State Department to NASA, Starbucks, Panera, and the Dalai Lama Center for Peace. In a world where innovation and disruption is key, the question is why does change rarely stick in organizations, markets, and society? Jeff has dedicated years to studying why change fails and in his most recent speaking circuit, is sharing what leaders can do to be more effective in leading change initiatives.
As an executive who has spent his career growing companies, taking companies public, and successfully selling businesses, Charlie Shalvoy says the first thing he does when he parachutes into a company is begin with an assessment. Whether the company is venture-capital backed or private, or in manufacturing, energy, semiconductors, or industrial equipment, figuring out the current state of operations is always the first step. Charlie divides the stages an interim executive goes through in taking action in a new company into four phases:
Phase 1: Taking Hold (90 Days)
When a company seeks to expand into new markets or scale operations to support current and future growth, Charlie takes on a role ranging from Interim CEO to Executive Chairman, where he coaches and serves alongside the CEO and management team. He describes that in the taking hold phase, an interim executive identifies what’s broken – even fast growing companies need repairs. What is getting in the way? What is causing distress?