First, the good news: Corporate bankruptcies in 2022 have been running below average. Now, the bad: That is about to change. Big time.
Government stimulus, post-pandemic demand, and historically low interest rates combined to give companies the edge during the first half of 2022. Organizations that survived the pandemic shutdowns thrived as the world recovered.
In fact, Cornerstone Research, which tracks business bankruptcy trends in Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings by companies with assets of $100 million or more, says in its midyear 2022 update report that there were only 20 bankruptcies filed by companies with $100 million plus in asset during the first six months of the year. It’s the lowest midyear total since the second half of 2014.
But the US Federal Reserve is waging war on inflation with historically fast increases in interest rates – more than 3 percentage points in just six months. That, coupled with the threat of a global economic recession, is spelling trouble for highly leveraged companies and underperforming firms.
We asked two turnaround specialists to walk us through the highly charged bankruptcy landscape as 2023 looms.
The process of turning around a troubled entity is complex, due to multiple key stakeholders, usually including lenders, creditors, investors, owners and employees. All have different agendas.
In my work, I address the turnaround process as if all constituents are in favor of proceeding to the end, when a restructured entity emerges. Nothing about a turnaround is simple, but that approach at least clarifies the forward movement.
The reach of coronavirus in the manufacturing sector has been vast. A survey by the National Association of Manufacturers revealed that 78% of manufacturers anticipate a financial impact, 53% foresee a change in operations, and 36% are experiencing disruptions in their supply chains. The Federal Reserve reported that in March production fell 6.3% in the manufacturing sector – the largest drop since 1946. This has everyone asking what the short and long-term impacts look like as major economies around the world seemingly come to a halt to curb the spread of the virus.
Manufacturers everywhere are running into cancellation of exports, delayed payments, and disruptions in logistics. Economist Larry Hu told Bloomberg “The worst is yet to come for exports and supply chain. For the whole year, China’s exports could easily fall 10% or probably more.” Meanwhile the world is grappling with how to deal with supply chain break downs and inventory shortages of critical medical equipment. The US government reportedly has almost depleted it’s emergency stockpile of masks, respirators, gloves, and gowns.
Still — essential companies such as ones producing food, medical supplies, or supporting necessary infrastructure and distribution of supplies are up and running. Leaders of these companies face a whole new realm of challenges as the health of workers and creating and maintaining a safe environment become top concerns.
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:
Surviving a period of zero or near zero revenue is extraordinarily difficult. The fundamental challenge is how to use time and capital purposefully. Most businesses have multiple constituents with diverse and conflicting interests. There is no one correct course of action. What is beneficial to one constituent is likely to be harmful to another.
Consider the following: The shareholders, owners and founders of a business have invested their own capital, have taken risk and have worked hard to create equity value. These owners could be individuals, institutional investors, private equity groups and hedge funds or could be a publicly owned company. They could be US citizens or foreign entities. Should the protection and retention of owner and shareholder value be the primary and controlling objective?
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.
We were having a conversation with an executive recently who shared about their experience parachuting into a business that was struggling with operational inefficiencies.
This executive, like many interims, kicked off the assignment by meeting face-to-face with the management team and employees to learn how the business functions, what’s working, and what isn’t. Their findings would turn into an operational roadmap of the business, where they would set out and implement a go-forward plan. When meeting with one team member and learning about what they did, the executive pointed to a process they had in place asking “why do you do that?”
The answer: “Because we’ve always done it that way”
Like a good spy movie, turnarounds used to center around a strong central figure making things happen. Turnaround stars and distress experts were born, like Stephen Cooper of Enron and Krispy Kreme fame.
In 1985 the Turnaround Management Association started as a conference of company turnaround specialists in Chapel Hill, ultimately creating a rigorous formal program and exam for Certified Turnaround Professionals.
“Back then the time frame for turnarounds was long,” Richard Lindenmuth, an executive who has completed 23 turnarounds over the years said. “There was bridge financing from banks that would facilitate a turnaround and bankruptcy was really used as a tool for restructuring a company.”
Times have changed. Many of the Fortune 500 companies from those days have merged or disappeared due to outdated technology, products, or services (think RCA, Blackberry, Zenith). At the same time, the way to turn around a struggling business has transformed, being driven by several factors:
My daughter eagerly accepted an internship at the morgue. Wait – how does she put it? The medical examiner’s office. Regardless, all I hear is morgue. Anyway, let’s move past the whole your-daughter-is-around-dead-people issue because here’s the interesting thing. They ask their interns to sign a statement agreeing to work pro re nata.
This was a new phrase for me: pro re nata. It is latin for “in the circumstances” or “as needed” or “as the situation arises.”
I believe the phrase is really a guiding light for the best interim execs around the world, because the best leaders operate as needs demand – pro re nata.
The Olympics are the perfect example of the difference between champions who win gold, silver or bronze, and everyone else who goes home empty handed. The winner could be winning by just one ten thousandths of a second.
Why do you think you or I are any different in our work – if we could improve our performance just a couple percentage points, we’d stand out from the masses clear as day.
Steve Jobs was genius at nuance, the subtle improvement that could cause massively asymmetric outcomes in favor of Apple. Thirty companies had MP3 products delivering hardware, software and content for streaming music. The category was done. Then along came the iPod. Not major changes, but so much better!
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