Restructuring in Paradise: Turnaround Specialist Taps Employees to Save a Troubled Company

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.

Each interim assignment poses unique challenges and requires expertise to navigate the complexities. With the telecom company spread out over 6 islands, Geysen had to unite 10 employees separated both physically and culturally, with each island having its own way of working. Add to that, a cash economy.

One of Geysen’s priorities was to do a “full-scope” interview with all employees if company size permits. Workers gave him clues about how things were interlinked, which in turn allowed him to sort out the fundamental problems, he said. Interims, who aren’t inhibited by institutional politics, have an ability to access honest answers in a way a permanent leader wouldn’t be able to do.

Geysen said he started talking to everyone, from the housekeeper to the local manager, to assess the situation in a short time and to promote a culture of cooperation. He promoted employees who he thought were capable of short-term results. He invited employees to visit the other sites to rebuild a team approach.

Getting the employees on board was critical, he said. “When the trust-building continues and people on the floor believe that I walk my talk, the speed of decisions is geared up by a factor of 5 to 10 depending on the organization,” Geysen said. “In most of the cases I have experienced so far, once the tipping point is reached and people believe that we must take the hard and right decisions, (employees) themselves bring about change.”

He got results. “I should thank (the employees) for all the support they gave me to (be able to) bring the company to that level,” he said.