Posts Tagged ‘gross margins’

Selling Price of Your Company – Goal or Output

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

A statement early in Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan’s book (see 5 Reasons I Love Execution) caught my attention. They say that “increasing shareholder value is an output, not a goal”. I’ve always said that increasing the value of your company is 1 of only 2 rewards for being a business owner i.e. it is a goal.

But, when I thought about it, I realized the logic really runs like this.

• The income a company generates from its operations, on an ongoing basis, represents the real value of the business to a purchaser.
• Which is why the value of an owner managed businesses is determined – most frequently – using a multiple of operating income.
• So, if management find the right strategy and execute it well, operating income will increase.
• As a result of that, all other things being equal, the value of the business will increase.
• The goal, therefore, is to find – and execute – the right strategy. Do that and owner/shareholder value takes care of itself and is, in fact, an output.

This is true regardless of whether the shareholders are a small group of family members or the public at large.

Around the time that I read Bossidy and Charan’s statement I attended an excellent seminar at the accounting firm SB Partners LLP called “Preparing Your Business for Sale”. One of the partners, Trevor Hood, a CA and CBV, explained clearly and thoroughly how businesses are valued. He finished by listing 2 sets of variables, 1 of which is under the control of management, which affect a valuation.

When I looked at the controllable variables later I realized that all of them related – directly or indirectly – to strategy. For example, markets, customers, competitive superiority, technological innovation, human resources, production and operating systems are all components of strategy.

Many of the other variables under management control – e.g. documenting policies and procedures, financial reporting, managing gross margins and costs/expenses, building an effective management team – are fundamental to successfully executing a strategy.

Even the variables Trevor correctly described as uncontrollable – economic conditions, industry trends, legislation etc. – all have to be considered during strategy development and/or business planning.

At about this point all of this thinking became very satisfying. Trevor’s variables are amongst the areas we focus business owners on when we work with them to build value in their companies. And since our whole purpose in life is strategy development and implementation – strategy made practical – it was all very reassuring………..

Then I saw an article, “Sell the Business, Sail into Retirement,” on the Globe and Mail web site. It talks about the number of businesses that will change hands in the next few years as the baby boomers retire. The article quotes a survey, which says that selling will be the most popular exit strategy.

But, the author goes on; activity is down, not up. Why, because although valuations have gone down because of the recession, owners’ still expect to get the prices that applied 3 years ago. (We encounter this “expectations gap” quite regularly.) But the good news is that low interest rates and easier lending conditions are pushing valuations back up.

We’re not sure that we buy into the comment about easier lending conditions – yet. But it is possible that it will happen in time for, or to coincide with, the boomers’ retirement.

So, what does all of this mean?

If it’s time to sell; and if valuations are going up; and if value is an output, or result, of a good strategy effectively executed then business owners need to demonstrate that they can execute better than ever before.

All of which reinforces the point that execution is, at the very least, a big issue for businesses today; it is the major job of the business owner/leader and it is a discipline which, if mastered, will give a business competitive advantage.

I’m glad we’re in the strategy business!

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4 Things You Can Do To Make Your Bank Love You

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Have the interest rates and annual review fees charged by your Bank gone up? Are you being asked to submit reports monthly? Have you had trouble getting a loan or LOC extended – even with personal guarantees?

A number of business owners we meet are not happy. Some can’t get access to new financing. Others are saying things like “I’ve been a good customer at my bank for 15 years.  I’ve had 2 bad years and they are treating me like a new customer.”

So, when I was talking to a Commercial Account Manager at one of the banks recently, I asked him about the situation. He talked about what the past 18 months has meant to their business – higher loan loss provisions, increased costs of monitoring accounts etc. Then he told me about the risk factors they assess when they’re doing a scheduled review of an existing customer or pursuing someone they would like to do business with.

The financial ones are what you would expect – trends in revenues, gross margins, and inventory and accounts receivable days. They also want to be sure that the dividends the owners are paying themselves reflect the company’s operating performance.

But it was the 7 non-financial risk factors that caught my attention. Here they are. (The “editorial” comments in italics are mine):

  • The length of time the company has been in business. If you’ve been in business several years good if not, there’s nothing you can do about it so focus on the others.
  • How well the business performed in previous “adverse conditions”. If you were around and performed better than your competitors make really sure the Bank knows about it. If you weren’t and/or didn’t, focus on the others.
  • How well the company responded to the Bank if it had financial “challenges” in the past. Would you deliberately annoy the biggest supplier of inputs (human or material) to your product or service? Then why do that to your Bank? It may well be uncomfortable but it won’t hurt as much as shooting yourself in the foot.
  • If there are currently any liability issues? If there are, go for full disclosure and be pro-active – tell them about the plan you have in place to deal with them.
  • Whether there’s a succession plan and key man life insurance in place. Any company which has grown beyond “start-up” mode should at least be thinking about an exit strategy and/or succession plan. And every company should have key man/woman insurance.
  • If there’s breadth in the management team – with a clear separation of duties. If you’ve had a business for 4 or 5 years, still tightly control everything yourself; have no key person insurance; only did “all right” or “OK” in the last downturn; and had to be asked repeatedly for information, you should expect to be asked for personal guarantees – and you may be lucky to find a Bank that wants to deal with you!
  • Report in a timely fashion. There’s really no reason not to be reporting regularly. You get the information to provide feedback on how well you’re implementing your strategy anyway (don’t you?) So why not share it?

There’s not a great deal you can do today to impact the first 3 factors. And if there are liability issues they probably result from something that happened in the past. But you can have an immediate, ongoing impact on your ratings in the last 3 items.

Why? Because a variety of forecasters and commentators have predicted that the financing situation will be the same in 2011 as it was this year.

And if that’s the case then there are 4 things you can do to make your Bank love you;

  • Operate profitably and efficiently during these “adverse” conditions. This will give you a double win. You’ll ace all of the financial risk factors. And you’ll build a track record for the future in the second non-financial factor.
  • Regularly provide all of the information your Bank requires – before they ask for it.
  • Either begin or continue to spread responsibility for the company’s success over several key people, making each one responsible for a separate area e.g. selling, accounting and operations.
  • Buy or update your key man insurance and develop or update your exit/succession plan. (We can recommend professionals to help you with both.)

You’ll improve your chances of having enough funding to get out of the recession first/stronger.

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