Archive for the ‘James McHugh- McHugh & Co.’ Category

header_02The Marlinspike* CEO by Jim McHugh, Consultant, Board Member and Member of Gerbsman Partners Board of Intellectual Capital

An in-depth management guide
for C-Suite executives, investors and advisors.

What to expect: Pivotal proven tactics to boost business performance, sharpen strategic focus and create lasting shareholder value.
Plus: Technology Telltales -Technology recommendations for entrepreneurs
Occasional networking events
Nautical references

  March 2013

CEOs:  Do You Run Your Company Well?

Here’s the question phrased a bit differently…What key elements turn your company into:
1.  an attractive acquisition candidate
2.  a great, fun place to work!
3.  a valuable asset for all shareholders
There’s no need to create your own list of key elements because the next section of this newsletter not only has the list of key elements called The Run The Company Well List, but there are suggestions on how to use it.

The Run The Company Well List
My list has fifteen key elements that encompass the business model, planning, leadership, people, customers, products/services, finances, operations and advisors. Does (insert your company name here) have:
1.  a clear, focused, comprehensive business model
2.  a cohesive and well-tested growth strategy
3.  an outstanding leadership team that works well together
4.  a problem solving culture that is based on trust, accountability and fun
5.  a motivated, loyal, skilled workforce that is well treated and compensated fairly
6.  unique, high quality products and/or services
7.  innovative go-to-market tactics
8.  happy customers, whose needs are well understood
9.  a diversified (not concentrated) collection of profitable customers
10. a strong and defensible competitive position
11. a balance sheet that is rock solid
12. a P&L that shows consistent growth, high margins and a justifiable expense structure
13. lean processes, effective information systems, strong financial controls
14. well cared for fixed assets
15. great advisors: Board of Directors and/or CEO Peer Group plus outside professional confidants

Today I’d like to dig deeper into #3 and #15 by reviewing the OPPOSITE of having great leadership and great advisors. What if an organization has a significant, persistent problem within the organization’s leadership ranks? I call this condition being Stuck in a Ditch. Getting Stuck in a Ditch is a result of having one or more of these 6 challenges:

1.  Weak, uninspiring leadership: The CEO does not have the necessary vision, leadership or management skills to direct the company.
2.  No respect: The CEO does not command the respect of the organization.
3.  The CEOs leadership style=strange behavior: The CEO’s (or could be the dominant, controlling shareholder) behavior causes constant anxiety throughout the organization.
4.  Corporate governance is broken: There is continuous tension about the ‘lack of alignment’ and ‘who we are’.
5.  Meddling: The constant, meddling actions of the controlling, outside investors in the day-to-day affairs of the organization have a direct, negative impact on the organization’s performance.
6.  No hands on the wheel: A good governance framework does not exist. There is no active Board of Directors or Board of Advisors; if one does exist, and it is only ceremonial in nature, that is almost the same (or worse) than not having one at all.

Any combination of these six issues clearly puts a major dent into The Run the Company Well List. People are perceptive; each one of these six situations is obvious to the employees. These Ditch conditions can lead to indecision, constant bickering or fighting and prevent the organization from moving forward with conviction towards common goals.

How can you put The Run The Company Well List to use in your company?

Lists can create conversation and discussion. More important,they can initiate ACTION.

Suggestions on how to use the list:
1.  As your personal pocket guide while you prepare your company for sale
2.  A roadmap to kick off a 2013 operational improvement plan
3.  An ongoing discussion tool with your Board of Directors/Advisors
4.  The agenda for an offsite meeting with your senior leadership team
5.  A quiz for the WHOLE COMPANY: Give it to all your employees, have them answer Yes, No, or Not Sure for each item, tally the results and publish the findings.
Download The Run The Company Well List by clicking HERE

* What is a ‘marlinspike’?

*The marlinspike is a nautical implement that is used to unravel nautical lines. It is also used to sew the lines together to join them, creating greater strength, or to create useful or decorative items from nautical line.

Detangling and sorting through the complex issues in a STUCK company is similar to using the marlinspike to detangle, sort through, and weave together a much stronger and long-lasting nautical line.  Whether trying to achieve a more secure future for a boat, or a company, the marlinspike approach may be needed. Jim enjoys the sea, its wildlife, and kicking around boats and marinas.

Connect with Jim

With a name like McHugh,
I couldn’t resist sharing
some March 17 shenanigans

CEOs: Do you need an objective look at your Run The Company Well List?

Nothing beats human interaction.
Here’s Jim’s offer for March:
1 Hour of Free CEO Coaching by Jim McHugh
by phone or online video chat (Skype or Google Hangout)
No strings attached
To contact Jim, go to steve@gerbsmanpartners.com and I will forward to Jim McHugh

The Marlinspike CEO is written by Jim McHugh. Jim is an Entrepreneur, CEO Coach, Optimist, Instigator of Positive Change…and Fixer of Stuck Companies.
CEOs, family owners, investors and Directors enlist Jim to be their ‘fresh pair of eyes’ and confidant.

Jim is also a long time friend and a person of high ethics and integrity.

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San Francisco, January, 2013
Successful “Date Certain M&A” of Materials Science company, its Assets and Intellectual Property
Steven R. Gerbsman, Principal of Gerbsman Partners (http://gerbsmanpartners.com)and James McHugh, a member of Gerbsman Partners Board of Intellectual Capital, announced today their success in maximizing stakeholder value for a materials science company. The company designed, developed and manufactured high performance turnkey equipment for Atomic Layer Deposition (“ALD”).

Gerbsman Partners provided Crisis Management and Investment Banking leadership, facilitated the sale of the business unit’s assets and its associated Intellectual Property. Due to market conditions, Board of Directors and the Senior Lender made the strategic decision to maximize the value of the business unit and Intellectual Property.

Gerbsman Partners provided leadership to the company with:

1.  Crisis Management and technology domain expertise in developing the strategic action plans for maximizing value of the business unit, Intellectual Property and assets;
2.  Proven domain expertise in maximizing the value of the business unit and Intellectual Property through a Gerbsman Partners targeted and proprietary “Date Certain M&A Process”;
3.  The ability to “Manage the Process” among potential Acquirers, Lawyers, Creditors Management and Advisors;
4.  The proven ability to “Drive” toward successful closure for all parties at interest.
About Gerbsman Partners

Gerbsman Partners focuses on maximizing enterprise value for stakeholders and shareholders in under-performing, under-capitalized and under-valued companies and their Intellectual Property. Since 2001, Gerbsman Partners has been involved in maximizing value for 75 Technology, Life Science and Medical Device companies and their Intellectual Property and has restructured/terminated over $810 million of real estate executory contracts and equipment lease/sub-debt obligations. Since inception in 1980, Gerbsman Partners has been involved in over $2.3 billion of financings, restructurings and M&A transactions.

Gerbsman Partners has offices and strategic alliances in Boston, New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Orange County, Europe and Israel. For additional information please visit http://www.gerbsmanpartners.com or Gerbsman Partners blog.

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CEO: Does Your Team Have Control of the Ball?

The team watching the ball slip away…

“The only players who survive in the pros are the ones able to manage all their responsibilities.” – Tom Brady, Quarterback of the New England Patriots

Football, rugby, or any other sport organized around a finely-tuned playbook, requires players to understand roles and execute plays in both familiar or unplanned situations. Each player has defined roles and responsibilities based on his skills; that player is fully aware of his role, the roles of others and has studied the plays. A solid playbook enables a cohesive team to maintain control of the ball and win.

Does your company’s playbook have:

This all too common, weak people/process combination creates lots of broken plays. Basic things like roles, skills, processes really should be a given in any organization.

But if that’s what’s ‘supposed to be’, then why have I regularly seen many corporate fumbles, pigpiles, tangled situations and outright conflict over ‘who does what and how’?

Thinking Horizontally

Many organizations are driven (dominated?) by a particular function such as engineering, sales, production, or in the case of professional service firms, project delivery. In my consulting and coaching work, I’ve worked with strong CEOs that are able to push the business forward by being grounded in one of these personal skill sets. This functional strength can be a real asset, and in many cases, it was the driving force that launched the company and enabled it to grow.

In initial group meetings with company teams, to break the ice I often ask a variation of the question: “Who runs the company, sales, manufacturing or engineering.” After I ask the question, I wait to hear the noise from the pin dropping…:)

As a company’s overall operations increase in complexity, great execution only happens if all the business functions work together seamlessly. However, some of the same CEOs that are grounded in one strong functional skill set don’t make needed changes to their process/operational playbook as the company evolves. The CEO may ignore or trivialize the importance of looking at the overall business ‘horizontally’.

The Line of Scrimmage

Most of the confusion I’ve experienced related to process playbooks has been in organizations that have a complex sales process that involves:

  • custom or semi-custom products
  • customer orders with product/service specifications that could change from order to order
  • contracts/proposals that have unique conditions
  • high customer expectations related to quality, testing, product acceptance

Examples of a some of types of organizations that fit these order profiles are:

  • specialty boxmakers
  • magazine printers
  • specialty window, door manufacturers
  • precision machining
  • chemical formulations
  • custom industrial equipment
  • IT consulting
  • various professional service firms
  • lots of others you could name

Piling On –> Breakdowns in Key Processes = Trouble

What happens when the process playbook doesn’t exist, is getting dusty on the shelf, or needs a complete overhaul?

Piling on happens when: a) sales doesn’t get the order specs correct…there are flaws in design, scope, terms; b) estimating creates an inaccurately costed order with incorrect pricing; c) engineering designs what sales specified but not what the customer ordered; d) manufacturing builds what engineering designed; e) the product fails customer tests; f) rework is needed; g) you get the idea…

What are some of the negative impacts on the business performance when a company doesn’t have a clear playbook or deviates from the process playbook? Here’s a sample:

Solutions: How to prevent pigpiles, fumbled balls, and losing the game

Fixing process problems like those noted above is not a complicated task. It’s actually pretty simple to implement the necesssary changes, but the basics often get lost in the the day-to-day shuffle.

1) Establish process flows for unique as well as routine projects and stick to them

Breaking down the process into well-defined pieces facilitates successful execution – once processes are clearly articulated, people need to study their playook, understand their particular functions and own them.

2) Based on the particular process, define clear roles and responsibilities

I do this. You do that. (Why does this have to be hard?)
People need to do their job and be accountable for performance.
“That which is owned by all is cared for by no one”. (Unknown)

3) Establish a clear communication system horizontally across the process chain and vertically through management so that glitches are caught early

For example, if a key person in the chain will be on vacation or is ill during production, who needs to step up and carry the ball?

4) Management, through training, repetition, and even incentives, needs to reinforce the use of the process playbook

In organizations that tend to operate in a seat-of-the-pants mode, this may be the most difficult problem to solve. This is particularly true if there are employees who have difficulty sticking to their own functions. Commit to a cultural change program.

For incentives, why not reward the excellent winning ways of using the playbook? When the team(s) deliver excellent products, on time, don’t forget to recognize it.

5) Revisit processes on a regular basis

What’s working? What needs tweaking? Do we have the resources we need to keep our customers satisfied? What about the team? Changes in personnel, especially when the products involve technical expertise, might invite revisions to the playbook.

Does your company have control of the ball? If not, are you ready to ‘think horizontally’ and get your playbook in order?

Illustration by Drew Litton

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Emotional Venting in a Stuck Company. Episode 1: Leadership

08/08/2012 By

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”— Ernest Hemingway

When you are trying to figure out why a company is underperforming, where do you begin? What should be your starting point?

You can learn a tremendous amount right away by simply talking with, and listening to, the company’s people — the CEO, the management team, the employees, the investors, the Board, and other key shareholders.

Although that sounds obvious or even trite, it’s just common sense.  Listening carefully to what people are saying, absorbing it, and twirling it around a bit is a necessary prelude to delving deep into data.  If a company is stuck, emotions may squelch thoughtful, deliberate action, especially if the stuck situation has been going on for some time.

During CEO coaching, people of stuck companies talk and I hear three big themes:

  • concerns about LEADERSHIP
  • angst about EXTERNAL FORCES
  • confusion about OPERATIONS

Episode 1 illustrates the emotional reactions of a stuck company’s key people about leadership – the unfiltered, raw, spill your guts variety. Their voices express what they live everyday.

Episode 2 will be the angst caused by External Forces; Episode 3 will reveal confusion about Internal Ops.

Consider this one emotional exchange…

Brother A: My brother’s head in the sand attitude is going to strangle this company!
Brother B: My brother’s outlandish growth ideas will destroy all we have worked for.

Where do you go with that opening salvo? The real story was someplace in between…and that’s the essential point here.


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The March Hare CEO

By    Member Gerbsman Partners Board of Intellectual Capital

Have you attended a “Mad Tea Party” Board of Directors or management meeting and listened to the CEO’s unrealistic expectations about future performance?  Did you leave the meeting scratching your head about what you heard?

Lewis Carroll introduced us to the strange Mad Hatter and the March Hare in his 1865 book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  The Mad Hatter hosted the Mad Tea Party; during this raucous event there was one revealing exchange with Alice:

‘Have some wine,’ the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.

Alice looked all around the table, but there was nothing on it but tea.

‘I don’t see any wine,’ she remarked.

‘There isn’t any,’ said the March Hare.

How many times has a corporate leader told you there was plenty of wine about, but in fact, there was only tea at best?  Your gut is screaming… “There is no way this company can hit those targets”.  But your hope and the March Hare CEO’s enthusiasm get the better of you.  I have seen this scenario repeated many times at stuck companies; there can be over optimism and not enough effort focused on analyzing the brutal facts and confronting reality.

What’s wrong with being optimistic and aiming high?

Nothing, as long as the predictions are believable and achievable.  In the July 2003 issue of the Harvard Business Review there is an article entitled ‘Delusions of Success: How Optimism Undermines Executives’ Decisions’.   The authors (Lovallo and Kahneman) warn of the negative consequences of ‘flawed decision-making’ based upon over optimism.  They state ‘…when pessimistic opinions are suppressed, while optimistic ones are rewarded, an organization’s ability to think critically is undermined.’  Recognizing that people like to rally behind optimism, they say there ‘…needs to be a balance between realism and optimism.’

Jim Collins, in his acclaimed best-seller Good to Great, devoted an entire chapter (‘Confront the Brutal Facts, Yet Never Lose Faith’) about dealing with reality.  Collins’ research proved that great companies were continually objective about their performance, their competitive position and their customers’ needs.  He said “…breakthrough results come about by a series of good decisions, diligently executed and accumulated one on top of another.”  That is, breakthrough results don’t happen by simply rallying the troops with a lot of hot air.

Collins also discussed the potential negative impact a persuasive leader can have on an organization.  “Indeed, for those of you with a strong, charismatic personality, it is worthwhile to consider the idea that charisma can be as much a liability as an asset.  Your strength of personality can sow the seeds of problems, when people filter the brutal facts from you.  You can overcome the liabilities of charisma, but it does require conscious attention.”

How can you spot The March Hare CEO?

During one consulting engagement, I ran into a classic March Hare CEO who was functioning as a part-time Chairman/CEO for a struggling company with revenues around $120 million (let’s call it “SportsCo”).  SportsCo was in a restructuring phase and had the following issues:

  1. a huge debt burden, a history of covenant violations, and an impatient senior lender
  2. tight cash flow and some seasonality
  3. strong vendors that dictated purchasing practices
  4. a high overhead cost structure
  5. significant product line and business unit complexity
  6. old and bloated inventories
  7. mediocre information systems
  8. insufficient and untimely financial reporting
  9. low morale
  10. a thin management team
  11. an unfocused strategic direction

SportCo’s CEO had a long history of working for and running large corporations (note the word large) with ample resources and staff.  He was accustomed to the perks that accompanied corporate power and prestige.  The CEO was an extrovert… a gregarious and affable guy who had accomplished many good things in his early tenure with SportsCo.

SportsCo’s difficult circumstances meant there was still A LOT of hard work needed to fix the business and radically change its direction.  Despite all the significant challenges ahead, the March Hare CEO told his investors and management team that: 1) expenses had been ‘cut to the bone’; 2) revenue would increase 50%; and 3) EBITDA would triple in three years. Fifty percent revenue growth and EBITDA tripling!?

March Hare CEO made those broad, sweeping pronouncements without any reasonable action plans on how to back up the targetsHe was offering up expensive wine to the investors when there was only lukewarm tea available.  Fifty percent revenue growth was equal to about $60 million dollars additional annual revenue by year three.  Where was this growth going to come from when…

  • The industry was experiencing modest, but not spectacular growth rates
  • SportsCo was closing some of its weaker operating units
  • There would be no additional capital for acquisitions from the investors
  • The bank was not going to expand the credit line to accommodate growth; in fact, they were on a path to reduce the credit line
  • Funding for capital expenditures would have to come from cash generated by operations
  • In some product lines, margins had started to decline from increased competition

Getting to the $180 million level was not going to happen under those circumstances.

Following the company meeting where the grandiose and unachievable plans were presented, I told the investors the CEO had gone from ‘being a leader to a cheerleader’.  After challenging me on why I thought a cheerleader attitude was NOT beneficial to the business at that point in time, they ultimately decreased his influence throughout the change process. SportsCo was restructured based upon the theme of ‘less is more’: the business was downsized to the strongest, core operating units; corporate expenses were dramatically reduced; liquidity and cash flow significantly improved; and a new, clear strategic focus rallied the troops.

What are some ways to deal with a March Hare CEO?

If you think too much ‘wine’ is being offered up on an increasingly regular basis by the management team, go back to some basics:

  1. Trust your own instincts and your gut.
  2. Challenge all the assumptions behind the strategic and annual plans.
  3. Understand the industry forces – think external, not just internal – data, data, data.  Are customers and/or competitors consolidating? Is substitution occurring in your product lines?
  4. Understand in detail your competition across customer segments.  Does the company have strong niche positions or is it just an “also ran” in each segment?
  5. Assess the strength of the R&D and product development efforts – where’s the future growth going to come from?
  6. Talk to some of the key customers – get their unfiltered opinions on the company.
  7. Determine the nature of external relationships with lenders, vendors, and/or customers that are or will be impediments to future success.
  8. Look for specifics on the details of execution – are there monthly and annual operating plans that articulate priorities and assign who is accountable and in what time frame?
  9. Follow up on the company’s performance on a very regular basis using the details of the operating plan as the discussion structure.  Measure management on a regular basis.

‘There is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hopes soon to be swept away.’ – Winston Churchill

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