Existing leadership teams can become too attached to decisions that were made in the past, particularly if the existing leaders were involved in making those decisions. If a Private Equity firm (or other external investor) were to take a financial stake in your company tomorrow, what changes do you think they would want to make?
You don’t have to wait for someone to invest in your company to experience the benefits of seeing your business from an “outside in” perspective. Here is my take on an article from Booz & Co on the key lessons the world’s best performing Private Equity firms can teach business leaders.
Cash is King
If a Private Equity firm were to acquire your company, they often use debt financing to fund the purchase. This creates a real urgency to optimize the cash flows of your company to help repay the debt. To do this, they would aim to tightly manage your accounts receivables, streamline and optimize your inventories, and scrutinize all discretionary expenses.
Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you have just invested in your business. Examine every expense item and categorize them into three buckets.
1. “Must have” (required to keep the lights on)
2. “Smart to have” (creates a future strategic advantage)
3. “Nice to have” (everything else).
The next step is to eliminate as many of the “Nice to Have” expenses as you can.
Core vs. Non-Core?
Optimizing cash is all very well, but building the long-term value of your company means going beyond financial engineering and cost cutting. In order for a Private Equity firm to successfully exit their investment they need to convince future buyers that they have positioned your company for long-term growth and profitability.
It seems counter intuitive, but as management thought leader Peter Drucker said, “The first step in a growth policy is not to decide where and how to grow. It is to decide what to abandon. In order to grow, a business must have a systematic policy to get rid of the outgrown, the obsolete, and the unproductive.”
This usually means analyzing your product lines, service offerings, and office locations to assess their future profitability and growth potential. Some activities might be “Core” to your business right now, but they may not be the right activities for you to be investing resources in going forward.
I often say to clients, “You must continually pull the weeds to create a beautiful lawn”. It takes real courage to make these strategic decisions, but when you do, it frees up resources to focus them on the right “Core Activities” that will drive your long-term success.
Get it Done
In the first one hundred days of ownership, Private Equity firms have little appetite for socialization and consensus building. They feel a sense of urgency to implement the strategic changes they have identified.
Business leaders can learn a lot from the Private Equity firm’s need for speed. Yes, getting consensus and alignment about these changes is ideal, but you can’t please everyone, and waiting too long to implement the necessary strategic changes can profoundly impact your company’s future outcomes.
Right Management in The Right Bus, Going The Right Direction
Private Equity firms know that a strong management team is critical to business execution and the ultimately the success of their investment. Sometimes they invest in a company based on the strength of its management talent. Otherwise they will act swiftly to put the right management team in place. Research has shown that middle managers are the key to successful business execution.
As RESULTS.com CEO Ben Ridler says, “As a CEO, getting the right front line managers in place is critical to success. You have two jobs. Either you are coaching and developing these managers, or you’re looking for their replacement.”
Private Equity firms pay modest base salaries, but add incentives to align everyone’s interests so that the staff share in the upside. They also share in the downside. Private Equity firms will reduce or even eliminate incentive payments if the company fails to achieve the agreed targets. Often time’s staff are given real “skin in the game” in the form of equity in the company. Because this equity is essentially locked up until the Private Equity firm sells your company, or lists it on the stock market, it aligns everyone’s long-term interests.
Make Performance Visible
Private Equity firms pay rigorous attention to a carefully chosen set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that will drive the success of your business model. They make this performance visible, and to keep the managers and their teams focused on the most important metrics and projects that will move the business forward. Radical transparency drives business results.
Take a few minutes today to imagine yourself in the shoes of an outside investor who is performing due diligence on your company with the intention of investing in you. What would they identify that needs to change about the activities your company is currently performing, or how it is currently managed?