I’ve done it for three decades, turning around companies from agriculture (such as Styrotek) to telecommunications giants (such as ITT). As interim leader, I have to parachute in, quickly gain trust and respect from all levels, determine a course of action, and unite everyone to stay that course—all within a limited timeframe.

It takes leadership strategies far beyond business and managerial chops, though certainly those are necessary. You can’t lead effectively without a connection to the people in the company; emotional intelligence is a must. Think of it as ‘strategic empathy’—being sincerely focused on the individual, but always with the big picture top of mind.

Whether you are an interim or a permanent CEO, these 7 tips for using strategic empathy bear relevance for anyone in a leading role.

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UBS recently published an article that gave a good synopsis of what a restructuring entails, especially regarding public companies:

“A restructuring marks a challenging and sometimes disruptive time in the history of any corporation that has ever undertaken one. Managements rarely aspire to undergo a restructuring, but in some cases, it is the best path when a company has an urgent need to turn around its fortunes, improve its reputation, or restore its competitive position. The process can entail major changes in the organizational structure, staff, asset base/product line, or cost structure. History tells us that a positive outcome is not assured, as not all restructuring plans are carried out effectively.


A successful restructuring begins with a vision and an achievable strategy for implementation. A well-executed restructuring or turnaround can transform a company that is weighed down – by an inferior product line, a heavy debt burden, inefficient operations, or a damaged reputation – into a strong competitor with dramatically improved financial results.”

See the entire UBS article on restructuring and turnarounds here. The Association is home to top interim executives, many of whom specialize in providing the leadership to transform struggling companies.

On March 30, 2015, I began my tenure as an interim manager (Interim Chief Operating Officer) at ChildServ, a social services agency that had recently celebrated its 120th anniversary serving at-risk children and families in the Chicagoland area. While I was new to the role, I had the benefit of not being new to the organization. In fact, I had served on the Board of Trustees of ChildServ for the prior 15 months, resigning only after my Board colleagues had voted to have me take on the difficult task of driving badly needed change from within.

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Troubled companies and their advisors are increasingly finding value in pursuing substantive balance sheet restructurings out of bankruptcy court. This shift has been driven by a number of factors, including the availability of risk capital, pressure from creditors to minimize costs, reduced management control in the context of bankruptcy, and the ability to negotiate favorable terms with severely impaired creditor constituencies.

As more companies facing financial distress seek to reorganize out of bankruptcy court, the key driver in right-sizing a balance sheet has shifted from aggressive legal tactics to savvy negotiating. Increasingly, advisors to distressed companies must be prepared to drive substantial, and potentially life-saving, change in their clients through impactful negotiations with key stakeholders.

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View original article in In Business here.

A couple of months ago, I got an email from Benton Harbor, Mich. It reported on the local strife following the appointment of a super-powerful municipal administrator under a new Michigan law.

“Do you do this?” my correspondent asked. “Any comment?”

And I replied that the only person I would trust to comment was someone whom I had admired for many years but had never met.

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Turnaround & Workouts magazine named your firm one of the top 12 outstanding turnaround management firms in the country, twice. How did you do that?

This award is usually given to firms based on their growth, we stood out with our case work. We are unique from the standpoint that we are very nimble and flexible and can respond quickly to a company’s needs. We think it’s far more important to build a team within the corporation, therefore build value, because unless we do that, once we leave, so do our resources.

Is that unique?

That is in contrast to the major consulting firms that want to put in 10, 20, or 50 people at their rates into a particular company. What we want to do is use the people that are within the company. We want to bring employees to the next level, hire a full permanent management team, and make sure that plans are in place so that the business can continue when we leave.

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Whether you are an investor, serve on a board of directors, own or manage a company, you face business risks. All of the stakeholders accept additional risk when the company is heading for trouble. Balancing these risks can cause a predicament. By recognizing some early warning signs that indicate business trouble on the horizon, you can eliminate, overcome, or, at the very least, side step many of those risks.

Business trouble means different things to each of us at different times. The perception differs depending on the stakeholder, but the fear is always the same — loss of their investment (money, time, energy, good will, reputation). The anticipation of loss is unacceptable. No one likes to lose — anything.

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The turnaround of a business in financial distress involves managing the business and its problems. The process is time consuming and requires a special set of skills. The problems of the business are often compounded by owners or management who are facing financial distress for the first time and who are reticent to change. This is where a turnaround specialist brings his art to the process.

The identity of the client must be clear. The client’s identity may appear clear at first glance, but it can quickly become blurred. For example, the owner of a closely held business may be as concerned about personal guarantees as about the survival of the business. In addition, if the lender has referred the specialist, the specialist must make it clear to all parties whether the lender or the business is the client.

Turnaround specialists generally are either interim managers or consultants. Interim managers will replace the CEO, take the decision-making reins of a troubled business, and guide it through its troubled waters, hopefully to safety. Turnaround consultants advise existing management without taking an operating role within the company. Although some specialists are willing to act as either an interim manager or a consultant, most prefer to act as one or the other.

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Belgium-based interim executive Patrick Geysen, a turnaround specialist, has been in the interim field for more than 8 years, and he has a story to tell. It’s a story about the power of bringing in an “outsider” to view a problem objectively and implement change.

Brilliant sunshine, a beautiful blue sky and a sandy beach surround an underperforming Caribbean telecom business. Yet, with 4 out of 5 operational managers recently leaving the company within a span of several weeks, it was not paradise for the European mother company that was on the verge of divesting the troubled division.

Enter Patrick Geysen, a Belgium-based turnaround specialist. His interim assignment was to save the business for the short-term, improve the numbers, and then sell it. Geysen prepared a restructuring plan for the 6 islands based on increasing sales in the short-term, letting non-performers go, and showing considerable results in the space of 12 months. The board accepted his plan in May 2009 and by May 2010, sales had risen significantly and the company cancelled the divestment.

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