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.

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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?

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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.

From Bored to Ballistic: The Bell Curve of Board Behaviors

The constant, meddling actions of a controlling, outside investor/board member in the day-to-day affairs of a company can have a direct, negative impact on the organization’s performance.

A while back I was retained to help develop a new strategic plan for the management team and the Board of Directors of an angel-backed technology company.

Soon after I started the project, the CEO told me that a significant angel investor/board member (Moneyman) called either she or the CFO every day at 4:45 for an update on the company. Every day, not kidding…

Was Moneyman, “Just checkin’ in…?”

Was he simply showing enthusiasm, expressing interest, acting curious, proffering sage advice, coaching the senior team and being ‘hands on’?

He wasn’t calling to coach or offer operating advice. Moneyman was meddling.

Meddling can cause a company to be Stuck in a Ditch.

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