Thursday, March 31, 2011

Managing Corporate Turnarounds - Part II


Often when things go wrong, people are inclined to fire the management. However, in the real world, things are hardly ever that simple. Firing management, like anything in turnarounds, is decided on whether or not this action will speed up or slow down the turnaround. Besides packages given to executives on exit, there is also a great deal of institutional knowledge that they take with them. There is a counter balance to understanding the value they bring through their experience versus the inertia they create against the changes required. This is particularly true in SMEs as well as family owned enterprises where the institutional knowledge is often not formalized (pricing mechanics, customer relationships etc.)

Also, with the separation of the chairman and CEO roles, it is possible that a power divide coupled with an inappropriate strategy may have smart people being told to chase bad strategies. One remedy which is often used is an immunity period: the idea that employees in a turnaround situation have a window of opportunity to identify any potential problems. This allows an honest analysis of problems without reprimand and realigns expectations (Are we going to make the numbers? Are our margins as good as we expect? Are we doing things right? Are we doing the right things?) Because a new team is put into place to fix previously created problems, it is not appropriate to assign current problems to new management. However, eventually, whether or not these issues were created by you initially you will inevitably begin to wear them if you don’t fix them soon enough or don’t manage expectations of the company and all stakeholders.


Like in any business strategy, there are two major things to keep in mind in a restructuring: operations and financing. For operations, it is necessary to check if the overall business strategy works (are people buying your product and do you have a viable business) and if you are able to profitably deliver (are our margins good or are we chasing low quality customers). Also from a financing perspective, it is important to understand the liquidity constraints of the enterprise. For example, what is an appropriate financing structure to keep the company alive while providing adequate and appropriate protection and returns to current and new capital providers?

One such useful tool is the paid-in-kind (PIK) security. It is a type of mezzanine high yield debt that doesn’t pay a coupon. Typically, these types of securities return 14 to 17%. They return higher than senior debt because they are subordinated but they don’t require cash payments which allow the company to maintain its liquidity for short period of time when it’s heavily cash strapped. However, what usually happens is this is coupled with a cash sweep. To use a structure like this in this circumstance is tantamount to saying: “We understand you are strapped for cash now, so you don’t have to pay us immediately, but we want an appropriate return for taking this risk that’s more similar to equity if things recover. However, we still want to be paid sooner rather than later and when you have any excess cash, you will give us everything you have and we’ll consider you less risky and ratchet down your interest rate to reflect the change in risk.”

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