What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

‘You’ve Become One of Them’ – Fifteen Rules for Directors

director photoNote: This was originally published in the March 2015 issue of Private Company Director Magazine. Reprinted with permission of the editors.

“You’ve become one of them.” That’s what a fellow Director (“MoneyGuy”) said to me after one of XYZ Company’s regular board meetings. MoneyGuy was from XYZ’s lead investor group and the majority shareholder. The ’them’ MoneyGuy was speaking about was XYZ’s management team. From his tone, I knew MoneyGuy wasn’t giving me a compliment; I was being admonished because I ‘sided with management’ about a particular matter that was pivotal to the future of the company.

What had I done wrong? To find the answer, you’ll need to read the following fifteen “rules” on how to work with owners.

These rules apply to different ownership structures of private companies. In general, the shareholders in private companies are either families, private equity/venture capital groups, management/founders, or a combination of these. The rules are indifferent to the stage of the company (early stage, mature, in decline, whatever). Hopefully you will see why these distinctions don’t alter how I work with owners.

Here are my fifteen rules:

1. Remember your role as a fiduciary. MoneyGuy knew I had a fiduciary responsibility to the corporation, not just to him and his private equity firm. They put me on the Board to be ‘an outside, independent voice.’ Somehow that slipped his mind! This brings me to Rule #2…

2. Don’t be a rubber stamp. You can get rubber stamps at Staples. MoneyGuy or any other majority shareholder should realize that you are not on the Board just to be another automatic vote for them. Another Director friend told me: “There is a fine line to walk as an independent director when those sitting around the table own the company and you are effectively their invited guest.” If management knows you are truly independent and not there to throw them under the bus, this will help build trust with all.

[Read more…]

What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

5 Pesky Plights Hurt a Family Business (Part 3): The Handoff

HandoffI ran outdoor track both in college and high school. Since I was a fast runner (back in the day) I always ran one of the legs of the 4×100 and 4×200 relay teams. Our relay teams practiced daily on perfecting the handoff – passing the baton. We had the relay leg transitions down pat. Unfortunately family owned businesses may not plan for a leadership transition and may bungle, delay or simply avoid the handoff to the next generation of family leaders or to non-family executives.

This is the mid-point in my multi-part series that explains how 5 particularly disabling conditions unique to a family business can exacerbate business underperformance.

This post is about companies with non-existent succession/transition plans. When owners can’t or won’t let go, four of the 9Stucks (Ditch, Moment, Slow Lane, and Another World) get really amped up and push the stuck company into a deeper hole.

Family company leaders often stay in their roles too long.  But staying too long is not the problem; being in a zone of leadership indecision creates troublesome ripples throughout the entire company.

FamilyCo was one of my stuck manufacturing clients. I was hired by the company/family to do a ‘fresh eyes’ assessment of their business. The company wasn’t in trouble but it had hit a wall and was stagnating. It didn’t take me long to figure out there were issues with the senior team, the company’s competitive position and a number of important operational functions.

Some facts:

  • Jack (second generation) was the CEO and the son of the founder; at age 70 he worked full time at FamilyCo
  • Jack’s 2 children (son and daughter) both worked for the company. The son (Bill, age 42) ran operations (manufacturing and engineering). The daughter (Susan, age 40) was head of marketing. Bill and Susan worked well together.
  • Sales was led by a non-family member and he reported directly to Jack. In the last few years, the sales team had experienced significant turnover.
  • The CFO was also a non-family member and had worked for Jack for many years. He was nearing retirement. His duties included many administrative functions and human resources.
  • There was no Board of Directors/Advisors

The children told me: “Dad was the driving force to get the company to where it is today, but now we think he has blinders on; he doesn’t acknowledge all the changes in the industry, the shifting customer demands or the need to upgrade our facilities, systems and equipment. He is living in the past. You (me) need to talk to him about letting us run the company.”

Okay…now what?

[Read more…]

What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

5 Pesky Plights Hurt a Family Business (Part 2): The Strategy Freeze

PolarBearsFightingInnovate and grow or maintain the status quo?

The process of making this basic strategic choice can be an exciting journey forward, or a source of conflict in a family-owned company.

Why? What causes a family company to be frozen in its tracks over this fundamental question? And what can be done to thaw the ice, or better yet, prevent the business from becoming Stuck in the Moment?

You may be thinking…’Conflict among the shareholders of a private company over strategic direction is common and good.’ You’re right! Debate over the best go-forward strategies and tactics can be healthy and productive. In companies that are not family owned, the conflict tends to resolve itself in a timely and orderly way. This is especially true in companies with outside institutional investors who don’t tolerate indecision for extended periods of time.

In some family-owned companies, the strategic discord festers and lingers. A ‘strategic fog’ permeates the boardroom, family gatherings and the company’s hallways and cubicles. Critical decisions are delayed and significant opportunities ignored. The disagreement can go dormant but then suddenly explode. This can be debilitating to the business and to the shareholders.

What has always intrigued me is not the presence of a rift over the strategic direction of a family business. My question is why the conflict becomes so pervasive and common.

My experience points to 10 ingredients:

  1. History and nostalgia
  2. Personality traits of the family shareholders
  3. Knowledge disparity
  4. Background noise
  5. Breakfast table scrambled eggs
  6. Cash (see Part 1 of this series – The SeeSaw)
  7. Mood of the day: comfort, fear, fatigue, ambivalence
  8. Age
  9. Lack of trust
  10. The family stew – a simmering salmagundi of any of the above

P.S. #’s 8 and 9 are smokescreens [Read more…]

What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

5 Pesky Plights Hurt A Family Business (Part 1): The Seesaw

SeesawFamily-owned companies are plentiful in number and unique in character. Like any other type of company, these businesses are not immune to being infiltrated by the 9Stucks. In fact, a family business is fertile breeding ground for a unique 9Stucks mix that is often configured with a twist and a flair for the dramatic.

One blog post can’t do justice to these ‘pesky plights’ so I’ve created a 5-part series. Each post describes one misstep of family business leadership that can exacerbate the 9Stucks.

  1. Family needs vs. business needs: They are strikingly out of balance. (This is Part 1: The Seesaw)
  2. Strategic direction is stymied: Conflict over growth vs. maintaining the status quo freezes the business in its tracks. (Part 2: The Strategy Freeze)
  3. Transition/succession plan is non-existent: The owners can’t or won’t let go. (Part 3: The Handoff)
  4. Governance and decision-making at the top is concentrated and insulated: There is a weak independent board of directors/advisors, or one doesn’t exist. (Part 4: The Bubble)
  5. Sacred cows graze in the company’s organizational pasture: Top leadership spots are based on birthright or longterm ‘family favorite’ status rather than skills. These sacred cows crowd out talented non-family leaders. (Part 5: The Sacred Cows)

One caveat: This series is not intended to be a detailed discussion of all the intricacies and nuances related to management of a family owned business. There is considerable published content focused on all aspects of the family business: research, writing, business groups, websites, and magazines.

I simply want to help identify and evaluate these 5 disabling conditions – and suggest ways to get rid of them.

[Read more…]

What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

Bring On The Stuck Company Cast

AdmitOneTicket9Stucks is a business diagnostic tool that identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform and restrict innovation. The 9Stucks are patterns…recurring conditions I’ve seen and experienced fixing stuck businesses for the last 20+ years. These 9Stucks are real, not theoretical.

One reader of the 9Stucks blog said to me: “I may be stating the obvious, but when I think about your 9Stucks, I think about PEOPLE. Don’t the people in a company have a big impact on creating, causing or maintaining all of the stucks?”

Hmm, good catch…

People are the driving force behind the 9Stucks.

They are the actors and actresses who have leading and supporting roles in an organization’s stuck performance, a performance that can carry the same degree of drama as any stage play.

Introducing the  Stuck Cast.

Where can you find the members of the Stuck Cast in your company? Do they slink and slither about, hide in cubes, lurk around the kitchen area, or are they right there in front of you?  Or are they…you?

The members of the Stuck Cast are not diabolical. They are not co-conspirators (well, maybe some are…). They are not sitting around your conference room table reviewing a script entitled: “30 Sure Fire Techniques That Will Make Our Company Stuck”.

They don’t need to prepare for their roles because these players are out and about just doing what they do every day:

  1. causing or creating the stucks
  2. enabling the stucks
  3. maintaining the stucks
  4. being clueless about the stucks
  5. fixing the stucks

Do you recognize any of the following cast members? [Read more…]

What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

Hostess Brands: Stuck in Their Own Twinkies

“Serving up family time, one smile at a time.”

- Tag line from the home page of the Hostess Brands website

Today I’m announcing that …

Hostess Brands Joins the Top 20 Stuck List

The creator of Twinkies becomes the latest iconic corporate brand to ‘get listed’. Here is my Top 20 Stuck List ranking so far:

  1. Hewlett Packard – Call the Handyman: These Garage Doors are Broken
  2. Yahoo – What Marissa Mayer Should Do To Unstick Yahoo
  3. Hostess Brands
  4. TBA (Hint: baseball team from Boston)
  5. Numbers 5-20…More to Come (any suggestions?)

Hostess filed Chapter 11 (again) this year. Do you Wonder (sorry, bad pun) what happened to drive them back into court a second time? How is it possible that a well known, ubiquitous US corporation that sells millions and millions of sweet, spongy, crumbly, powdery, chocolate and squishy things each year can’t pay its bills?

Find out why Hostess is Stuck and my Top 10 recommendations to fix the company once and for all.

[Read more…]

What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

What Marissa Mayer Should Do to Unstick Yahoo

What do Hewlett Packard and Yahoo have in common? Each company:

  1. has a very new or relatively new CEO
  2. is in the heart of Silicon Valley (they are almost neighbors!)
  3. has an internationally recognized brand
  4. is STUCK

Back in May I wrote about Hewlett Packard’s long, steady slide to become a stuck Company. That blog post was entitled: Call the Handyman: These Garage Doors are Broken.

Today, Yahoo officially joins HP as a member of the 9Stucks club.

Becoming stuck isn’t an instant event for companies whether they are large or small. Stuck develops subtly over time and is more insidious than a sudden, severe crisis. It’s like falling asleep at the beach and waking up to see the water swirling all around you and your belongings. Added to that is the cumulative negative effect of one stuck leading to another, and another, until the organization is in a veritable stew of stucks, also known around here as Stuck Salmagundi.

A bit of history may illustrate why Yahoo, like HP, has reached the exalted ‘they’re stuck’ designation.

[Read more…]

What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

CEO Peer Groups: The Regular Crowd Shuffles In

As a co-owner/founder and co-facilitator of a CEO Peer Group**, I’ve learned a lot about CEOs and how a peer group can be of great help to them.  While individual differences exist as they would in any group, there are some common themes:

    1. CEOs are surrounded, but can be lonely
    2. CEOs whimper, wag and bark
    3. CEOs do a lot of things right – their instincts are good
    4. CEOs can be housebroken – obedience training works
    5. CEOs have courage

CEOs are surrounded but lonely

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