The Blog

THE TURNAROUND MANAGER

By Gary C. Harrell

 

Today let’s talk about turnarounds, with a look at leadership, particularly the leadership recruited to salvage troubled enterprises, both big and small.

 

When an enterprise finds itself facing an uncommon and worsening situation, the stakeholders of that enterprise traditionally must come to terms with reality. They might be hesitant to admit it, but their current management, though not for trying, may not be well-suited to reverse the course of a downturn. Consequently, with this realization, the stakeholders must look outside of their enterprise for help. The people to whom these stakeholders ultimately relinquish the reins of power are known as turnaround managers.

 

Most people in the general public have a preconceived and quite skewed notion about the practice of turnaround management. For starters, they believe that turnaround managers are ruthless and uncaring individuals, marching through enterprises like marauders in business suits. The general public also assumes that the use of turnaround managers is restricted to large enterprises. Quite to the contrary, however, most turnaround managers are not raiders, and their work is not limited to the big corporations. These managers, in truth, embed themselves into an enterprise, mostly on a full-time basis, actively managing the operations of that enterprise to produce much-needed growth, and they typically tie their compensation to the improved performance of that enterprise. A turnaround manager does not have the luxury of behaving like Gordon Gecko; the manager actually has to get his hands dirty, one enterprise at a time. What’s more, turnaround-management services abound for every stripe and size of enterprise. In fact, a whole cottage industry exists that provides services to struggling, early-stage and young enterprises, and among the providers in this sector is…well, need we say more?

 

Any turnaround can be a challenge to even the most seasoned manager, and there is no singular protocol for encountering every enterprise in a downturn. Indeed, the circumstances facing troubled enterprises vary from one to the next, and for that reason, a manager might find himself confronting a substantial and underserviced debt portfolio in one case, while the paramount issue might be a dated and inefficient facilities in another. That said, however, there is a broader roadmap for all managers to consider when preparing to undertake such efforts. This roadmap helps to move managers into the proper frame of mind, in order to achieve the most optimal results from whatever strategy he elects to deploy. Here are a few points from that roadmap:

 

  • Perform comprehensive intelligence. As the turnaround manager enters the troubled enterprise, he must do so not ready to act, but to learn. The manager must begin his work by gaining a clear understanding of the situation affecting the enterprise. He must study its current strategy, as well as its operational structure and capacity, and he must also learn as much as he can about the offerings and the pipeline for new offerings, the technology and systems used to make and deliver those offerings, and the competitive environment in which those offerings are sold. Much of this information needs to come in form of data points, but he must rely also on interviews and conversations with his immediate subordinates, the stakeholders, and key personnel. And before he goes further, he has to develop a keen understanding of just how the current strategy, along with other factors, contributed to the hardship of the enterprise. He should do this if for no other reason than to avoid prescribing and making the same mistakes as his predecessors.
  • Analyze the information. After all of the intelligence is gathered, and as the analysis begins, the manager must remember that some parts of what he has learned might be inaccurate or invalid information. After all, the current structure and its flawed strategy were in place and likely contributed to the downturn. For that reason, he must be very judicious about the use of the information from his fact-finding exercise, and he must not hesitate to dismiss anything that does not seem consistent with other portions of those facts or his own understanding.
  • Set transitional priorities. From his findings, the manager must begin to develop a new strategy for the enterprise, one that is designed to reinvigorate, and one that is detailed in the numerous pages of a strategic plan, a restructuring plan, a new operational model, a working timetable, a Plan for Growth, and so on. This new strategy must address any cultural and operational impediments of the enterprise that the manager identified during his fact-finding exercise, and it must give a vision of what the enterprise will look like and how it will operate going forward. More specifically, the strategy should set new, measurable goals for every area of the enterprise, and these goals should begin to produce marked results over the first twelve months and far into the following year. Making these goals clear to the stakeholders, and securing their buy-in, is an important step for creating the formulaic system by which the manager’s own performance can be fairly measure. (To be sure, some stakeholders might demand faster results in the first year, but a rational manager should remain steadfast, reminding those stakeholders that, since it did not take the enterprise a few short months to nearly collapse, it would be imprudent to think that corrective action might yield serious results in such a short time.)
  • Establish a turnaround team. Once the manager has corralled the support of the stakeholders, he must act quickly to institute his changes to the enterprise. This, he cannot do on his own; he will need a team. But before he starts hiring, he must start firing. The manager must purge the organization of its weaker personnel and those likely to resist the imposition of the new strategy, as both types of individuals would only be laggards in a new and more challenging environment. As the majority of the dismissals occur, the manager must begin to install his new team of leaders. It is important to understand that, while a few leaders might be carried over from the old management structure or promoted up from the rank and file, it is more common for a manager to hire from outside of the enterprise (if he has been afford such latitude by the stakeholders). The two overarching reasons for this effort are simple: he is seeking new and diverse ideas not readily found in the current talent pool, and he is hoping to transform the operational expectations and the general culture of the enterprise in a meaningful way.
  • Articulate the changes and expectations to the enterprise. People increasingly understand that change is the only true constant, but that does not mean that they will easily accept it or not be confused by it. This is especially true in the manager’s enterprise, where a whirlwind of dismissals and new hires, to say little of wholesale divestitures, promise to reshape everything, while leaving personnel to wonder how they fit into this equation. For this reason, the manager and his new turnaround team must act quickly to bring the personnel up to speed on what these changes means and how they will impact their work. The new leaders of the enterprise must demonstrate thoughtful and decisive leadership, articulating in clear terms the new vision for the enterprise and, from there, sharing with each work group and employee what is expected of them. The new leaders must secure buy-in from the personnel, as well, and where there is not any, find replacements. Then they must avail to the personnel avenues for short- and near-term feedback. Opening immediate channel for communication is a good approach, because the manager must assure that the goals of his strategy are being met and, if they are not, make corrections where necessary.
  • Score early victories. This can mean nearly anything, from restructuring debt to securing new financing to successfully winding down costly operations. Through small achievements, the manager and his turnaround team can act to demonstrate that their strategy is viable, and they can maintain the necessary support to go forward. To that end, though, it is understandable that larger goals may not be fully accomplished for some time. Nevertheless, the manager can still claim early victories. That is because, while the manager’s overall strategy is made measured by goals, the progress made in achieving those goals can be quantified by benchmarks. In goal-fulfillment, these benchmarks represent reference points by which the performance of the enterprise, its manager, and his turnaround team can also be evaluated over time. Therefore, it is necessary for the manager to report this progress to the stakeholders, in order to maintain their support for the strategy, and to the personnel, in order to bolster their commitment for achieving the goals.

 

In a troubled enterprise, turnaround management can make the difference, forestalling an untimely demise and restoring the prospects for growth. Of course, even renewal takes time, but with a competent team and the right strategic mix of options, most enterprises can be pulled back from the brink, if the turnaround team is permitted to act quickly enough. In order for that to happen, though, before all else, the stakeholders of a troubled enterprise have to admit to themselves and to their current managers that they need help from outside. Such an admission never comes easily—but, alas, overcoming prideful decision-making is a subject for a different time.

© 2010. All Rights Reserved; Axiom Strategy Advisors, LLC. Reproduction and unauthorized use are strictly prohibited.

Gary C. Harrell is the founder and managing principal of Axiom Strategy Advisors, LLC. For additional information, please write info@axiomstrategyadvisors.com.

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A PRIMER ON TRADE CREDIT INSURANCE

By Gary C. Harrell

#AxSAKnowledge

 

For a small business, expanding into new markets can be an exciting time. This is particularly true when the new market is a foreign one. But, for all the excitement, a great amount of attention must be given to the way in which products are traded, promoted, and placed in these foreign markets. One misstep, one detail overlooked, can result in lost goods, non-payment from buyers, compromised intellectual property, or even reputational risks. Therefore, managing every stage of the export process is critical.

 

When it comes to safeguarding a business against the risk of non-payment, an entrepreneur-cum-exporter should consider trade credit insurance. This type of coverage is used by businesses of every category and size, and though only three percent of exporters used it in 2016, recent political events like Brexit, trade difficulties between the United States and China, and a swathe of business failures is making the coverage more popular. In fact, many banks increasingly require export receivables to be insured if such receivables are to be considered as collateral for credit lines.

 

Contingent on the breadth of coverage selected by the exporter, trade credit insurance policies may cover between 60% and 95% of the debt owed by a foreign buyer, if such coverage applies to specified circumstances resulting in the buyer’s non-payment, i.e., political instability or business failure. For this reason, it is advantageous for an exporter to seriously consider the risks posed, both, by the buyer and in the buyer’s market, before selecting the appropriate coverage for the transaction. What’s more, unlike most other types of coverage that policyholder put aside until they must be used, with trade credit insurance, the exporter must report to the insurer as the first shipment of goods or services is dispatched to the buyer; the exporters must commence the payment of premiums; and the exporter must remain in regular communication with the insurer.

 

While private insurers do offer trade credit insurance to well-heeled exporters, a good number of them do not make the coverage available to small businesses. For this reason, the Export-Import Bank of the United States has stepped into the gap, providing coverage in areas deemed too risky by private insurers. Of course, though, there are a few restrictions when using the EXIM Bank:

  • The business must have at least one year of operational history.
  • The business must have at least one full-time employee.
  • The business (and, in many cases, its owner(s)) must have a positive net worth.
  • Fifty percent or more of the costs of the contents of the goods or services to be shipped must originate in the United States. (This can also include indirect costs such as labor or administrative costs.)
  • All goods must be shipped to their destination countries from U.S. ports.
  • Goods and services must only be shipped to eligible countries.
  • The goods typically cannot be inclusive of arms or munitions for military, commercial, or civilian uses, unless the “dual use” of such goods can be clarified and approved prior to their sale.

 

Entering foreign markets can be an exciting time for a small business owner, because doing so can mean the growth of a brand and the diversification of revenue. But foreign markets come with their own set of challenges, and those are not limited to languages, topography, logistics, laws, customs, or tastes. Managing these risks requires a comprehensive understanding of the new market and proper preparation for exporting to it – not simply a casual desire to do so. Trade credit insurance is but one many facet of that preparation, and it can be a useful and reassuring tool for helping new exporters reduce possible risks in unfamiliar markets.

 

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Gary C. Harrell is the founder and managing principal of Axiom Strategy Advisors, LLC. For additional information, please write info@axiomstrategyadvisors.com.

© 2018. All rights reserved; Axiom Strategy Advisors, LLC.

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THE 4-1-1 ON EQUITY CROWDFUNDING

Written by Gary C. Harrell
25 June 2016

 

The rules governing the way Axiom Strategy Advisors and other intermediaries raise capital have changed in both substantive and procedural ways. For years now, this consultancy has worked in the deal-making space, helping to raise much-needed equity capital for many businesses. The bulk of that financing – that is to say, the financing that had not been secured from close angel investors, or from the friends and families of the entrepreneurs – had come from either institutions or accredited investors. The latter investor type, accredited investors, are those individuals or married couples with a net worth in excess of $1 million. In accordance with old rules, those were the only players in the game. Intermediaries shopping private placements, or making public offerings, were not permitted to market startup equities to, or raise funds from, non-accredited investors, the other 98% of folks. Now things are different.

 

In 2012, passage of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (commonly known as the “JOBS Act”) set the stage for how small businesses and their solicitors could raise equity investments from the non-accredited, alongside the more affluent investors, and in its own effort to protect this new class of investors from unnecessary risks, the Securities & Exchange Commission crafted a series of new rules and procedures that took effect over recent weeks.

 

This primer is intended to make clear for our clients the new landscape of equity crowdfunding, as well as to offer cursory guidance on how fundraising, hereinafter, will be carried out.

 

Let’s start with the basics.

 

The new rules set in place by the SEC will allow a small business to raise as much as $1 Million over a twelve-month funding period, and those same rules do open a wide door for non-accredited investors to take part in these fundraising opportunities. Nevertheless, the decision-makers in these small businesses and their intermediaries must remain mindful that these opportunities cannot be initiated without a good share of paperwork, mandatory disclosures and filings, and upfront expenses. What’s more, these fundraising opportunities are subject to scrutiny based on the oversight provided by the SEC and FINRA. Consequently, every effort must be made to work within the parameters given.

 

What you should know:

  • Title III of the JOBS Act does allow small businesses to solicit equity crowdfunding from non-accredited investors over a fundraising-campaign period. That period is twelve months, based on the SEC rules.
    • The maximum amount of capital a company can raise, based on these rules, is $1 Million over the fundraising campaign.
    • Companies seeking to raise funds from non-accredited investors are restricted to no more than 500 non-accredited investors. Should the number of non-accredited investors exceed this threshold, the SEC will require that the company go public. Also, any Title IIIcompany with assets of more than $25 Million will be required to go public. (Taking a business public is a topic for a different memo.)
    • Non-accredited investors are allowed to invest between $2,000 and $100,000 in a Title III company during its fundraising campaign.
    • In order to raise funds during the twelve-month period, a small business eligible for a Title III designation can only use two intermediary platforms to make solicitations. First, a company can retain a broker-dealer, like Axiom Strategy Advisors, which is a FINRA-registered group or individual who, among other services, structures the offering, drafts all necessary investment and marketing documentation, and provides investment-management services during the fundraising campaign, while also working with and securing investors. Alternatively, a company can utilize a funding portal, which acts as an independent clearinghouse, whereupon startups can be matched with prospective investors, after they have upload all proper documentation about their company and the offering. (Unlike broker-dealers, funding portals, by law, cannot insert themselves into the deal-making process. They do not structure or draft the offering documentation, and they cannot help to identify investors or to lend advice.)
    • There must be a 21-day “cooling off” period for prospective investors. That is, the Title III company and its solicitors must wait no less than this period before closing any investment pledge made during the fundraising campaign.

 

The procedure for initiating equity crowdfunding:

  • First, the intermediary is required to conduct thorough background checks on the decision-makers of the company, as well as perform audits of the operations and financials of the company, in order to verify that there are no irregularities.
    • The broker-dealeror lawyers for the company must prepare the proper offering documentation for the fundraising campaign. These materials are inclusive of, but not limited to, business plans, offering memorandums, subscription agreements, operating agreements, and so on.
    • The intermediary must file a Form C with the SEC, announcing plans to raise capital under the Title III designation.
    • It is imperative to remember that, at no point, can the company’s decision-makers or its intermediaries promote the fundraising campaign before the campaign actually commences!
    • Once the nod is given by the SEC, the Title III company can commence the fundraising campaign over the approved period of time.
    • The intermediary or representatives of the company must provide regular updates on fundraising efforts to the SEC, in addition to making these updates readily available on the company’s website.

 

For any investor, identifying start-up businesses with a strong likelihood of success is not an easy endeavor. Even venture capitalists, the most seasoned of all startup investors, encounter high failure rates – as many as 3 of every 4 VC-backed companies. On a larger scale, according to Bloomberg, 80% of all new businesses end up shuttered. Consequently, the chances of a non-accredited investor identifying and investing early in the next big real-estate deal, Google, Amgen, or Panera Bread could be quite slim. Nonetheless, should a non-accredited investor never have had the opportunity to identify and invest in such opportunities, then the chances of being part of something great would have surely been nonexistent.

 

The SEC has established a framework, however stringent, by which equity crowdfunding can be made a meaningful conduit for investment. Still, the onus is on the investor. It is important that non-accredited investors, much like their more affluent counterparts, give very careful and informed consideration to any opportunity before them, by conducting thorough research and due diligence of their own. Spotting a bad investment early on can save an investor thousands of dollars and many regrets. And by that same token, it is important for Axiom Strategy Advisors to use these new rules to deliver to the market only those opportunities worthy of investor’s hard-earned money.

 

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Gary C. Harrell is the founder and managing principal of Axiom Strategy Advisors, LLC. For additional information, please write gcharrell@axiomstrategyadvisors.com.

© 2016. All rights reserved; Axiom Strategy Advisors, LLC.

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The 411 On Private Debt

#AxSAKnowledge

From the AxSA Staff

Debt is evolving as a financing strategy, and private debt is now the fastest-growing option for businesses of every size and in every sector of the economy.

For the providers of #privatedebt, these instruments offer contractually-based, risk-adjusted returns, typically well above the prime rate of interest. And for the borrowers, private debt may offer liquidity terms not readily available from a conventional bank or lending institute.

Decision-makers hoping to explore private debt should keep in mind these pointers:

○ Beyond #banks and other deposit-accepting institutions, the sources of private debt include specialty finance companies, #hedgefunds, insurers, business development companies, and even high net-worth individuals.

○ Private debt is witnessing its biggest year, thus far, as a swell of institutional investors have allocated billions to private debt funds and direct #loans. This has been positive news for businesses that are too leveraged for conventional lenders but too small to tap bond markets.

○ Loans originating from private debt sources are expensive and tricky. They routinely have a higher cost of capital, and they can be harder to obtain, if they are attached to too few attractive assets. Furthermore, in some instances, deals for private debt can include equity kickers, or the terms can contain covenants that convert debt to #equity under special circumstances.

○ The level of priority is important – and not just to the provider of the loan. A #borrower must understand that, if the loan is subordinate to other debts, then the cost of the loan may generally be higher, because there is a greater risk of non-payment in the event of the business’s #bankruptcy.

○ Due diligence still matters, and access to the business’s operational information and financial records is necessary for a lender to evaluate that business’s ability to repay the debt, along with surveying any other risks.

Businesses today have a wider array of debt financing options, but that money does not come without risks. It behooves decision-makers to carefully consider their long-term capital strategy before closing deals that add costly financing to their #balancesheet in the short term.

© 2010. All Rights Reserved; Axiom Strategy Advisors, LLC

 

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Got a Bad Customer Review? Now What?

#AxSAKnowledge

From the AxSA Staff

No one likes to deal with #negativereviews, but they cannot be ignored. For every business, negative #reviews will always crop up, because it is nearly impossible to please everyone, and because, often enough, businesses just get it wrong. And while no decision-maker likes receiving a bad review, the truth is, if handled properly, it can actually turn out into something good. That is to say, the review can offer businesses an opportunity to reassess their own workflow and customer-engagement models, and once handled effectively, the review serves as an entree to secure the loyalty of a customer who can evangelize on behalf of the business later.

When addressing negative reviews, conscientious #decisionmakers know that the biggest mistakes they can make are to simply dismiss them, out of hand, or to disparage the #customer for not being satisfied. Rather, the decision-maker should take deliberate steps to improve the customer experience. Here are just a few thoughts on how to engage the customer:

— Act swiftly once you become aware of negative feedback. The longer it takes for you to do so, the more disengaged and unconcerned you appear, and the more likely it is that word of the negative experience will spread to existing and would-be #customers.
— Listen to the customer with an objective ear. Much of this information can be constructive, as you discern where and why there might have been breakdowns in your business’s ability to deliver services. (NOTE: every customer isn’t crazy or looking for a reason to be for disgruntle. Do not approach them with such one- dimensional labels.)
— Offer a solution to the customer that expresses regret for the #experience and reassures them of your willingness to make things right. Be willing to work with your customer on a resolution that speaks to their point of concern. Afford yourself some flexibility in order to do so. And be sure to thank the customer for the #feedback.
— Make internal adjustments, if and where necessary, in order to dodge a pattern of dissatisfaction from your customers. If the negative review was the product of a systemic failure, then you can trust that additional negative feedback will fall soon and fast until the matter is added.
— Turn the customer into an ally, and take the opportunity to follow up with him or her from time to time, just to get an idea of how they rate later experiences with your business. Remember that customers who take the time to vocalize a negative experience could be primed to do the same about good ones, making them the type of sober #brand ambassadors that your business needs.

Dismissing negative reviews does not make them go away. Instead, decision-makers must confront them head-on. And while they may not be able to convince some displeased customers, a concerted practice of addressing reviews can ensure that decision-makers will, at the least, develop a reputation for making things right for customers who, after all, did spend money at the #business – a point that, itself, should not be discounted.

© 2017. All Rights Reserved; Axiom Strategy Advisors, LLC.

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For Cash-strong Businesses – the Acquisition Question Revisited

By Gary C. Harrell

 Ten years ago, the global economy seemed more than ready to fall on its sword. And there may have been good reason for the cynicism. According to the Government Accountability Office, the impact of the Great Recession totaled as much as $22 trillion in losses of both paper wealth and real economic output. In 2008, when this consultancy first visited this subject, writers like Matthew Karnitschnig of the Wall Street Journal were declaring that the Deal Age was dead, pointing out, with categorical accuracy, that “…the severity of the current downturn and the disappearance of credit is changing how Wall Street puts deals together.” Fortunately, for all of us, the doom and gloom were only for a season.

The global economy has recovered nicely over the last decade, and Wall Street seems no worse for any of it. Indeed, the good news abounds. Housing prices in the United States are robust, owing mostly to shortages of inventory in growing markets. Development in foreign markets from China to Turkey remains heady, as expensive megaprojects get underway. Energy markets remain stable. And notably, for the purposes of this missive, deal-flow through mergers and acquisitions has been impressive, as global M&A in 2017 exceeded $3.5 trillion in transactions for the fourth straight year.

Financial and strategic buyers found encouragement to do more deals in recent years for a number of reasons. For a time, while interest rates remained low, buyers were able to borrow more freely to execute their deals, and solid gains in the stock market gave many buyers the ability to use their own stock as attractive currency to complete deals. What’s more, shakeouts in industries like retail and the uptick in the number of cash-hungry startups meant that there was a bigger pool of acquisition prospects to choose from.

To be sure, the deal-making space is not where it was in the 1990’s or even before the financial crisis. In fact, of the $3.5 trillion in deals made in 2017, roughly $1.4 trillion of that number were transactions in the United States. That is a drop of roughly 16% in total value of transaction amounts. Still, a total of 12,400 deals were executed, domestically, with a significant number of them being the acquisition of small and midsized companies.

As we press onward from the scary days of the Great Recession, financial and strategic buyers have held on to one of the most invaluable lessons from those days: even as credit markets distance themselves from the past, and as more financing options avail themselves for would-be buyers, cash is still king. And that is particularly true in a landscape where the cost of capital is beginning to change.

There is perhaps no bigger influence on activity in M&A than interest rates. That’s because buyers love to use other people’s money to acquire the things they want, and up until recently, the cost of doing so was relatively cheap. The Federal Reserve kept interest rates low, in order to spur necessary economic activity, in the wake of the Great Recession, but lately, that posture has changed. Citing greater confidence in the overall economy, the Fed has begun to slowly raise the benchmark interest rate, now for the sixth time since 2015, with the goal of reaching 1.5 to 1.75%. Such hikes, even incrementally, add to the cost of capital, eating into forecasted returns, and buyers are left to retool their business case and wrestle favorable terms from a lender in order to justify borrowing for an acquisition.

Fortunately, incurring debt is not the only course available to some buyers. Utilizing piles of their own cash can be an attractive option that brings with it lots of leverage.

For the acquisitive spirits among us, this recovery has created some buying opportunities, replete with fresh prospects at better prices, and the same opportunities exist for cash-laden businesses who had been considering expansion projects of their own. Indeed, if companies with requisite capital (or with the ability to tap well-heeled investors) are willing to put those positions to use, they can produce long-term benefits.

The expansion of a business is, of course, never an easy process, inasmuch as it does require rigorous research, planning, budgeting, and management. But the environment remains hospitable for those seeking to execute their expansion plan. Building out new facilities, for example, can still come in under budget, as material costs and construction remain reasonable. Likewise, the pool of talented and skilled workers is larger, which means the costs of labor can be better contained. And in the buyout world, the price tags on target companies are not likely to induce sticker shock. Indeed, today’s environment still offers a chance for those dollars to go much further.

Even still, for a cash-strong business, deciding whether to build out new operations or to acquire the existing operations of another business can be as difficult a choice as any ever made. When faced with such a choice, some decision-makers believe acquisition to be an illogical path because, often enough, they can be messy and problematic. Indeed, amalgamating the business processes and integrating the supply chains of disparate businesses can take some time. There is also the matter of redundancies; all jobs, for example, cannot and should not be sustained in a post-merger business. And, if those were not enough concerns, some decision-makers would point to the inherent cultural differences of two companies as being a potential powder keg for destroying a merger, down the road. Hence, they consider it a safer bet to build their own operations.

The challenges notwithstanding, there are still some tangible benefits to making the acquisition of an existing operation. This consultancy would like to take this opportunity to point out just a few:

  • Acquiring an existing enterprise will give a buyer operationally-ready assets faster than buying all new assets and building out the necessary infrastructure to make them ready.
  • Rather than attempting to invoke competition, an acquirer will obtain the customers, personnel, brand name, market share, geographic positioning, intellectual property, and product lines of a target company.
  • By acquiring an existing enterprise, the cash-strong business will have access to additional production capacity, or service capabilities, and it will be able to spread more of its fixed costs over a larger customer base. What’s more, when the acquisition is vertical in nature—that is, when an acquirer is buying a supplier—the former has the ability to drive down costs and increase the profit margin on the ultimate goods or services that it sells.
  • With the acquisition of an existing enterprise, buyers will gain access to new markets either geographically or through its new product lines. This access typically provides diversification to the company’s revenue stream.
  • From a tax and accounting perspective, the acquisition of an existing business can be more beneficial than an expansion. That’s because the transaction costs associated with a buyout, in many cases, can be amortized over an longer period of years, in accordance with the IRS Tax Codes. (As an example, the Codes offer a “safe harbor” provision that, in some cases, grants acquirers a ratable amortization of fifteen years on intangible assets without consideration for the useful life of those assets.) Unfortunately, no such provisions readily exist for a company only wishing to expand. Instead, an expansion will only impact the assets of the company’s balance sheet, and the costs of the effort will only be expensed in that single year.

Will every acquisition work? Naturally, the answer to that question is not an entirely positive one. Acquisitions require thorough amounts of analytical due diligence, and the effort to integrate the operations of any two existing businesses must be meticulously planned and perfectly choreographed, in order for there to be post-transaction success. So, the process needs to tap leadership, resources, and genuine expertise, to make things happen.

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Gary C. Harrell is the managing principal of Axiom Strategy Advisors, LLC. For additional information, please write info@axiomstrategyadvisors.com.

© 2018, Axiom Strategy Advisors, LLC. All rights reserved.

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FIVE TIPS ON FINDING A MENTOR

Written By Gary C. Harrell

 

A remarkable number of business professionals have been turning to executive coaches as a way to help them realize better performance and bolster their careers. In fact, according to marketing firm IBISWorld, by the close of 2014, executive coaching had become a $1 Billion growth industry in the United States, alone. Not to be outdone, of course, at the start of this year, Axiom Strategy Advisors had joined the fray, expanding its own scope of services to include executive coaching – a model wherein the consultancy’s advice has been tailored for individual professional development, as opposed to the businesses for whom those professionals work. The new service model has been a good fit for us, so far.

 

Today, while writing a separate touchpoint, titled “AxSA on Effective Executive Coaching”, which describes how our services aim to produce a solid return on investment, I came to an important realization: we all can benefit from some form of mentorship, particularly when we are serious about bettering ourselves.

 

The American poet Robert Frost once said, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” And that is precisely the most authentic description of what mentors do. Mentors do not just aspire to inform; they make efforts to bring out the best within us. Whether they come to us from the altars of our synagogues or from the corner offices of our industries, and whether they have refined their acumen in classrooms, on fields of play, or over operating tables, mentors provide a wealth of experience and applied knowledge that can be used to shape our understanding of situations. They serve as sounding boards for our ideas and fixed points to whom you can be accountable. And unlike family members, friends, co-workers or current bosses, mentors provide the type of objective perspective that we often need to hear, whether in the form of affirmation or scrutiny, in order to propel ourselves forward.

 

If you do not already have a mentor – and statistically speaking, you probably do not – then here are just five tips for identifying a mentor and ensuring that the relationship is a successful one:

 

  1. Seek a mentor outside of your network.
  • Our personal and professional networks tend to be pretty limited. Therefore, use people in your existing network to gain introductions to new people.
  • Do not be afraid to make cold calls. Sometimes, the most important relationships you will ever build are the one that happen with total strangers.
  • Be open-minded. We tend to be get very comfortable with what we know, but the truth is, relying too heavily on points of view too similar to our own, or on perspectives from those likely to agree with us, is always problematic in the end.
  1. Don’t go for a know-it-all.
  • No one person will ever have a lock on all of the wisdom you could utilize. Try to identify experts in a variety of disciplines, and create a comprehensive network of mentors. Just think of it as your own customized support group.
  1. Develop an understanding of you goals and expectations.
  • It is always useful to periodically conduct a self-assessment or SWOT analysis of your life, assessing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, in order to identify areas in your personal and/or professional life that need improvement.
  • There needs to be a clear direction for you and the mentor. Without a set of goals, there may be no way to measure the ROI on time, effort, or money.
  1. Allocate the appropriate amount of time to the relationship.
  • As the mentee, you should know that it is your responsibility to keep up the relationship, as well as to determine the appropriate frequency of meetings, so as to effectively work toward the stated goals, while not overly burdening anyone’s schedule.
  • Time matters. You and your mentor must keep in mind that too many cancellations or rescheduled meetings on anyone’s part looks very unprofessional. And even a single brush-offs is, well, downright disrespectful and virtually unforgivable.
  • Keep your meetings structured and concise for the most optimal use of time. Having a solid meeting agenda could be helpful.
  1. Make sure that your mentor has the right mindset and approach.
  • Your mentor must be mentee-driven and focused on the approach meant to help you achieve the right results. Even as circumstances might change, or as you might resist the effort, your mentor should always keep his eyes on your personal improvement.
  • Your mentor must be a good listener.
  • Sober and honest feedback is always important from your mentor. He cannot be afraid to provide you with constructive criticisms.
  • You and your mentor should always make an effort to promote positive momentum towards your goals. End each meeting with a Plan of Action, one to which you, as the mentee, should commit to executing and reporting back to your mentor.
  • Your mentor should have very little tolerance for your excuses. If you are not making progress, then he should tell you, and suspend the mentorship.

 

Of course, there is no guarantees that having a mentor will change your life, but as you can see from these tips, a successful mentorship can expose you the type of invaluable thought leadership that you can use for the rest of our lives. What’s more, the right mentorship could easily put you in position to take advantage for a host of new opportunities. So get ready to grow.

 

# # #

 

Gary C. Harrell is the founder and managing principal of Axiom Strategy Advisors, LLC. For additional information, please write gcharrell@axiomstrategyadvisors.com.

© 2016. All rights reserved; Axiom Strategy Advisors, LLC.

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“Own the Moment”

Renowned public speaker Simon T. Bailey’s cogent words from 2014 will leave you highly motivated today.

 

 

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A CRASH COURSE ON CHINA’S YUAN

From the AxSA Staff

#AxSAKnowledge 

As a trade war looms between the United States and China, the news out of Beijing is particularly interesting. Officials with the People’s Bank of China acknowledged that they are considering a devaluation of the yuan (or the renminbi (RMB)), in an effort to stymie the impact of the Trump tariffs on their exports to the United States. The strategy is mystifying, and if it actually executed, it just might work for them.

 

To call China a trade giant is an understatement. It is actually a trade behemoth that manipulates masterfully (more on the latter point in a second), exporting over $2 trillion dollars in goods and services globally. Consumer, commercial, and industrial markets in the United States, of course, make up significant destinations for those exports. In fact, sticky geopolitics notwithstanding, the United States and China share a pretty robust trade relationship. In 2016, trade between the two countries totaled nearly $650 billion. And, yes, for that same year, China did benefit from a roughly $385 billion trade surplus, relative to the total value of goods and services exported to China from the U.S.

Part of what gives China its major advantage when it comes to trade is the low cost of production. Businesses look to a number of considerations when choosing where to manufacture their goods: a stable political and economic environment; access to capital markets; a viable infrastructure; a competent workforce; and reasonably low costs to doing business. To that end, China stepped up its game – and it did so quickly. In 1990, China produced less than 3% of world’s manufactured goods, but now its output is more than one quarter of that. Decision-makers have been drawn to China for all of the typical considerations – but, most importantly, because of the low costs. And this is so, despite China’s spotty record on human rights, its murky rule of law (if you can even call it that), and even its laxed enforcement of intellectual-property rights.
So how has China kept the costs of doing business there down so significantly? Well, we can answer that question in two unflattering words – currency manipulation.

The yuan, China’s currency, is pegged to a basket (or formula) of 13 major currencies, with the U.S. dollar now representing just under 25% of the weight of its basket. In order to remain an attract destination for the production of goods, the Chinese smartly realized that it had to keep, both, its currency from appreciating in value and its economy from freely heating up as a consequence of all of this new business.

 

The strategy that China uses to maintain some control is often referred to as the “impossible trinity”. No country can have free capital flows in its economy, a fixed exchange rate, and control of its monetary policy, at all times. China enforces strict capital controls in its economy. For example, citizens of China and ex-pats working there cannot freely exchange their yuan for any foreign currencies. And that is an important fact to remember when you think of the Chinese consumer, who is not spending much of the money that he has earned after working long hours in that demanding economy. (Even if you hear a lot of glamorous stories about young Chinese splurging on European cars or pricey flats, just know that it’s not everyone. In fact, the Gross Savings Rate as a percentage of China’s GDP is 50%, making the average Chinese household far, far more frugal than its American counterpart.) Consequently, as the people of China save more and more, that money gets invested into more projects (like real estate) and production capacity, even beyond what is necessary to meet domestic demand. In the beginning, much of that money went into building factories, and those factories exported their excess production to markets willing to receive cheaper goods, thus creating the types of trade surpluses that we now see with the United States and the European Union.

The trade surpluses also create another phenomenon – the rabid accumulation of foreign reserves. China should naturally be awash with money from foreign businesses and consumers, and under normal circumstances, that money should have help to fuel an sharp appreciation in the value of the yuan. But to manage this phenomenon, the China government has made a practice of stepping in. The People’s Bank of China routinely prints an ever-greater supplies of yuan to buy up the foreign reserves and control the exchange rate. Price controls and bank lending restrictions are commonly implemented as ways of governing growth in its domestic markets.
Up until the middle of this decade, China was the fastest-growing economy on the planet, with annual upticks in GDP of 10% or greater. But all of that money could not go into building new factories. After all, global markets were only so big, and Chinese officials knew that they could only allow the outcry against their trade dominance to get so loud. Hence, China followed its impossible, but seemingly successful, trinity with other forms of global activity. For example, in order to maintain its penchant for trade-led growth, China’s central bank dabbles in foreign currency markets daily, taking significant positions in currencies like the dollar, in order to keep those currencies higher in value to the yuan, and it follows up its intervention into those markets with the issuance of bonds, so as to prevent the domestic money supply from increasing too significantly. Those positions don’t just sit idle; China puts its foreign reserves to work. In the case of the dollar (the world’s reserve currency), China uses it when making oil or other commodity purchases in the Middle East or in other developing countries. It also uses those dollars to make substantial project investments around the world, like its audacious Belt & Road Initiative, which would be the largest inter-modal system spanning three continents, and it uses those dollars to routinely buy U.S. treasuries, which is, quite frankly, the most sensible way for China to hold most of its dollar reserves, now standing over $3 trillion, as of February, 2018.
China has proven itself masterful at a game that goes beyond simply shipping goods across oceans, and it would be reasonable for even the casual observer to believe that China does not plan to lose any trade war that President Trump has initiated. By devaluing the yuan – a readjustment of its peg to other currencies – China could essentially be giving exporters a subsidy that undermines the Trump tariffs, and in the process, it would do little to no damage to its own well-managed, domestic economy. Conversely, the same practice could not be used by the United States to usurp China’s retaliatory tariffs.
The best solution, at this point, is not to ratchet up tensions with talk of new tariffs. Indeed, barriers create more barriers, and once instituted, they will be difficult to bring down. No, this best solution is for the more pragmatic members of the Trump administration to work with the Chinese, if necessary, through quiet channels, in order to save face and resolve this matter. After all, no one wants a trade war that will only drain millions from the American middle class and put our two countries on an adversarial path. The reality is that United States and China, though some are reluctant to admit it, are interdependent on one another. It is time that we all begin to act like it.
(c) 2018, Axiom Strategy Advisors, LLC. All rights reserved.
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DIVERSITY MATTERS – AND HERE’S HOW YOU CAN MAKE IT WORK

By the AxSA Staff

14 November 2017

The best-performing and most adaptive businesses are typically very diverse ones. That is because #organizations that make diversity an integral part of their #culture benefit greatly from a freer flow of ideas, while also operating in more open and exploratory ways. These diverse businesses do a better job at strategic thinking, trendspotting, problem-solving, structuring opportunities, and even identifying and managing risks, largely because #groupthink does not narrow the judgment of their leaders.

Unfortunately, for so many smaller businesses and their #decisionmakers, embracing the notion of #diversity can be daunting, if only because a diverse talent pool can rattle the current #workplace culture and unsettle the perspective of staid #managers.

“We weren’t ready,” explained an AxSA who requested to be unnamed. Though the business manager wanted to protect her anonymity, she agreed to allow use of her story for the purposes of this missive. Her family-owned restaurant hired its first outside manager – a middle-aged, white male with ten years of experience – in 2012. Almost immediately, there were problems. “You would have thought that being people of color or people who knew something about prejudice, we would have been more accepting, but what happened exposed a lot of prejudice, both, in our ownership and in our staff.” That manager lasted only eight months, and quit following a racially-charged argument with another worker in the kitchen. An EEOC complaint followed quickly.

Decision-makers hoping to make diversity work to their advantage must start with the right mindset, lest a faulty attempt at diversity can have negative consequences. Here are some pointers:

○ Dispense with preconceived ideas, and keep an open mind
○ Seek out the most qualified candidates for job positions, ideally, from the start of the business
○ Create a culture of inclusion and mutual respect
○ Encourage openness, #teamwork, and the exchange of ideas
○ Actively mediate clashes based on cultural assumptions, and make clear that the company frowns on intolerance
○ Acknowledge that others might have good ideas that differ from your own
○ Be patient, and listen to those who might express their ideas in unfamiliar accents or styles

Contention often prompts decision-makers to think that diversity initiatives may not be worth the headache, but a diverse workplace demonstrates a significant degree of managerial and cultural maturity. And that diversity can bring benefits. For one thing, it resists conformity and encourages new #ideas in a time when creativity, innovation, and #performance shape the success of every #business.

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