The Elements of a Successful Business Turnaround
How to determine whether your company has what it takes to find a new way forward.
The time has come to ask that critical question: can this business be saved, or is it time to let it go? Getting to a realistic and actionable answer can seem like an overwhelming task. But there are really just four basic elements that determine whether you have what you need in place for a successful business turnaround: a viable core business, adequate financing, the right resources within your company and help from a professional turnaround manager if you need it.
If you’re working for or with a company that’s in distress and considering its options, begin by asking these four questions:
1. “Do you have one or more viable core businesses?”
This is your most urgent question, and you need to answer it as quickly as possible. Start by conducting a breakeven analysis by product or service line, using activity-based costing rather than company financials. Then determine whether activities currently below breakeven can be converted into ones with a positive margin. For example, are you providing services where labor and related direct costs cannot be recouped? Are certain locations or business segments unprofitable?
A “four-wall analysis” will assess profitability of locations and illustrate problem areas, as well as which should be closed and which will require specific adjustments to remain open.
You also need to look at the outside forces that play a role in determining the viability of your business. For instance, if you are in the pager business, will that business be impacted by dramatically increasing cell phone usage? Conduct a market analysis of historical and projected market trends to determine if the business has a future, and a price analysis to see if prices can be raised or are on the decline. It doesn’t matter that a company can profitably sell laptop hardware next quarter if sales are declining 20% every year or manufacturing improvements are about to drop retail prices through the floor.
The overall question to ask here is whether you can find a piece of the company that can emerge as a profitable business that can sustain itself, and can finance its capital and liquidity needs.
2. “Can you get adequate bridge financing?”
Even if a company can demonstrate a viable core business, it may not have the liquidity it needs to restructure. The reasons vary: historical lending sources may have lost faith that the company or industry can generate a profit or sufficient returns in the long term, or assets used as collateral may have decreased in value. To survive, the company may need bridge financing until conditions improve.
To proceed along this path, you must get to cash flow neutrality and determine the cost of getting there. Assess your immediate liquidity by creating a weekly cash flow forecast. Evaluate each cash disbursement to identify areas where liquidity can be preserved: How critical is the use of cash? What would happen if the disbursement were delayed or eliminated? Then look for supplemental sources of cash, such as the sale of non-core assets including business divisions, owned real estate, planes or vehicles, equipment and excess inventory. Be sure to take a fresh look at accounts and notes receivable and accelerate collection efforts. Other cash flow options may include new lender or owner financing.
3. “Do you have sufficient people and resources?”
Just as important as assessing liquidity and financing resources is whether the company has the resources to assemble a Turnaround Management Team (TMT) capable of implementing a successful change in direction. There will be hard decisions to make, and having the discipline within the organization to adhere to changes in policies and procedures is critical. Has key talent already left the company? Is there someone still in place who has credibility with the remaining staff? Are potential team members willing to follow a new direction, or will entrenched past practices impede progress? The TMT leader must look at senior and middle management as well as strategic or influential staff throughout the organization to help implement and enforce the new direction. The TMT must understand the problems and objectives, have the discipline and will to make tough decisions, and continually evaluate if the right people are on the team, or if players need to be changed.
While people are a significant part of theturnaround assessment, the TMT must also evaluate the company’s processes, products and financial systems. Is the company relying on a dysfunctional enterprise resource planning system? Are there adequate controls in place? Can a low-margin, high-throughput business track costs and expenses well enough to spot the source of losses?Are financial reports useful, accurate and timely? If there are systems, procedures or policies that could hamstring a turnaround effort, assess whether it will be possible to improve or replace them, and the cost to do so.
4. “Do you need to call in outside help?”
You may determine the company doesn’t have the bandwidth to manage a turnaround, and it’s time to hire a professional Turnaround and Dispute Resolution Management Team. An outside manager or organization can be a valuable resource that can offer a fresh perspective and new discipline to the process, as well as providing additional resources and skill sets. They will have experience with turnarounds, know how to spot potential landmines and be able to improve communications with all stakeholders.
Look for a partner with the background to fully understand and assess – and potentially manage – your organization, including interacting with the management, employees, vendors and Board of Directors. The turnaround manager should also have connections to and experience with lenders to distressed companies; negotiating forbearance, amendments, waivers, new financing terms and the like is a critical part of the process. You should also look for someone your organization can trust. While it’s common for management to assume that employees will leave if they know the company is in trouble, employees are frequently relieved to learn that someone is taking responsibility for trying to fix the situation. However, to maintain their trust and cooperation, it’s critical for the turnaround professional to be able to articulate a clear vision and to communicate with staff regularly and openly.
If you’ve explored these four questions and found that the answer to each is “yes,” watch for our next article on how to develop a turnaround plan. If, on the other hand, you are not sure your organization is a reorganization candidate, here are additional points to consider:
- Can you stabilize the company in order to find a strategic rather than financial buyer?
- Is this a case for a sale in Chapter 11 to draw a line between assets and liabilities?
- Is an orderly liquidation possible? Can you complete manufacture of work in process and sell inventory, finish out projects, or conduct a going-out-of-business sale?
- If other options aren’t feasible, is it best to just pull the plug?
Bringing It All Together
There’s an old saying: “When you find yourself in a hole, the first step is to stop digging.” Taking the time to honestly and accurately assess your business, financing and resources can give you the perspective you need to decide if a turnaround is the right choice for your company. If so, a professional turnaround manager can expand that perspective, helping you to consider every angle and find a new business to create a healthy return going forward.