Posts Tagged ‘resources’

6 Tips For Finding The Right Buyer

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Last week I was one of three speakers at the Toronto Star’s Small Business Club event, “Exit and Succession Planning”.Finding the right buyer or successor for your business

My talk included 6 things a business owner can do to ensure she/he finds the right buyer or successor.

1.  Money. The seller must be satisfied that the buyer has the funds to complete the transaction.

In a sale to a third party, for example, the seller must obtain evidence – from a bank or accountant – that the buyer can meet their commitments.

But having money isn’t enough – particularly if part of the purchase price is to be paid from future profits.

2.  Knowledge of the Industry. The better a buyer’s knowledge of the industry, the more likely the transition will succeed.

In a Management Buy Out (MBO) or family succession, the current owner knows the key players’ level of knowledge.

If the owner has been planning ahead, they will, for example, have given the players opportunities to build relationships in industry associations.

3.  Business Acumen. The purchaser or successor must have proven they know how to make money.

For example, a third-party buyer may have been a successful CEO or owned other businesses. A family member may have done well for a company in another industry or country.

4.  Appetite for Risk. When you’re watching someone else run a company it’s easy to underestimate the risks they are taking.

For example, as an MBO progresses, the management team begin to understand fully the risks that come with ownership.

That’s one reason why MBO’s collapse more frequently than sales to third parties or transfers to family members.

5.  People Skills. A seller must look for evidence that a third-party purchaser has successfully led people and built strong relationships with customers and suppliers.

By planning for an MBO or transfer to a family member, the owner can give the key players opportunities to prove their capability.

6.  Business/Strategic Plan. Regardless whose it is, a business plan has to pass 4 tests.

  • Don’t attempt too much too quickly.
  • Have clear Action Plans to ensure implementation.
  • Provide adequate resources to support the Action Plans.
  • Have a clear follow up and review process.

Hopefully they’re all common sense. If so, the transition will go well – and the party can begin!

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Don’t Destroy the Long Term Value of Your Company……

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Jim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

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Strategic Planning – 3 Things That Are Wrong With It

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

We all know that picking a strategy means making choices.3 things wrong with strategic planning

But that means making guesses about that great unknown, the future. What happens then if we make the wrong choice? Could we destroy a company?

That’s why, according to Roger Martin¹, we turn choosing a strategy into a problem that can be solved using tools we are comfortable with.

And we call that strategic planning.

But, Martin says, companies make 3 mistakes when they confuse strategy and strategic planning.

1.  Putting the cart before the horse:

All strategic plans have 3 parts:

•  A vision or mission statement,
•  A list of initiatives required to achieve it,
•  The results of those initiatives expressed as financial statements.

These financials typically project 3 – 5 years into the future, making them “strategic” (although management typically focuses on only the first year’s numbers).

But the dominant logic in these plans, says Martin, is affordability; the plan consists of whichever initiatives fit the company’s resources. And that’s putting the cart before the horse.

2.  Relying on cost-based thinking:

The company is in control of its costs – it can, for example, decide how much office space it needs and how to promote its products.

And costs are known, or can be calculated, so fit easily into planning.

This thinking is extended to revenue forecasting and companies build detailed, internal forecasts by, for example, salesperson or product.

But these projections gloss over the fact that customers control revenue and that they decide how much a company gets.

3.  Basing strategy on what the company can control:

A number of well-known models are used for strategic planning. But they can be misused. Take Mintzberg’s concept of emergent strategy.

Martin believes it was intended to make business owners comfortable making adjustments to their deliberate strategy in response to changes emerging in the environment.

However, because waiting, and following what others are doing, is much safer than making hard choices and taking risks, emergent strategy has been hijacked to justify not making any strategic choices in the face of unpredictability.

But following competitors’ choices will never produce a unique or valuable advantage.

What do I think?

I like Martin’s views but the crux still lies in linking planning to execution, turning desire into results.

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“The Big Lie of Strategic Planning”, Harvard Business Review, January 2014,
http://hbr.org/2014/01/the-big-lie-of-strategic-planning/ar/pr

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Bad Strategy – How To Spot It

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Jim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

Strategy, Capabilities – and The Beatles

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

It’s 50 years since the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show and took the USA by storm.What it takes to develop a dynamic capability

At that time I was 12 years old, living in Scotland and proud of my collection of Beatles songs, all of which were recorded on the EMI label.

Now EMI was an interesting company. For example, during World War 2, they built the first airborne radar.

And in 1971 one of EMI’s engineers introduced the first commercial CT scanner. However, like many other companies, it never profited from its invention.

Why? EMI knew the market of CT scanners lay in the US, but it didn’t have manufacturing capabilities there. In the time it took to build a plant, GE and Siemens had reverse-engineered the CT scanner – and the rest is history.

This is a classic example of a company having a good strategy, but not the capabilities to exploit it.

Clearly, capabilities are crucial to success. But what are they and why are they so important?

David Teece¹  defines a capability as “a set of learned processes and activities that enable a company to produce a particular outcome”.

Ordinary capabilities are like best practices. They start in 1 or 2 companies but spread throughout an industry.

Dynamic capabilities are, on the other hand, unique to each company. They’re based on things a company has done successfully in its past and captured in business models developed over many years. As a result they’re difficult to imitate.

A business owner must do 3 things to make a capability dynamic.

First, identify and evaluate opportunities in the market. Then quickly mobilize the company’s resources to capture the value in those opportunities. Finally create an environment of continuous renewal.

Why are dynamic capabilities crucial?

EMI discovered the hard way that spotting an opportunity isn’t enough. The resources must be in place to quickly take advantage of the opportunity.

And Nokia is an example of what can happen when even market leaders aren’t in continuous renewal. Teece believes they missed the smartphone revolution because they relied on R&D which took place in Finland. Apple, based in San Francisco, was much more in touch with North American consumers’ wants and emerging technologies.

Developing dynamic capabilities could be a way to survive in a world where change is taking place more quickly than ever before.

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¹ “The Dynamic Capabilities of David Teece”, Strategy + Business, 11 Nov 13
http://www.strategy-business.com/article/00225?pg=all&tid=27782251

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy 5 Tips for Fast Growth in a Slow Economy

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Jim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

3 Ways Human Nature Sabotages Strategy

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Human nature is a wonderful thing.3 ways human nature sabotages strategy

Ask 10 people how long it will take them to complete a task and I’d guess 7 or 8 of them will underestimate the time required.

That proportion might increase if the 10 are all type A personalities – i.e. business owners or entrepreneurs.

We see this when we take teams through our strategy and business planning processes.

For example, at a specific point, we prioritize the things they need to do to close the gap between their company’s current state and where they want it in 3 years’ time.

Typically the teams want to tackle more items than is humanly possible given their resources.

There’s no ideal number of items – the complexity of each item is only 1 of the variables – but we’ve seen time and again that completing a few key tasks produces better results than taking on too many.

One point teams overlook is that the items that didn’t make the cut aren’t going anywhere. They’ll still be on the list when the top priorities have been dealt with, and can be tackled later in the year.

People don’t believe us when we tell them this. Why, because in our hectic world there are so many distractions that it’s becoming unheard of to finish a project that takes more than 10 minutes to complete.

So, we tell people to block off time in their schedule 2 or 3 days a week to work on the priorities. And we tell them to allow nothing – not voice mail; not email, not their colleagues, not even their boss – to distract them during that time.

A company’s culture can be an incredibly powerful, positive force. But it can also multiply the negative impact of human nature.

This dark side prevails when, for example, carrying a superhuman workload is considered to be the only way to prove your commitment to the company.

A negative culture is often unwittingly fostered, and maintained, by the business owner or management team. So we work on them by, amongst other things, reminding them that Michael Porter said, “the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do”.

Does that work? Do people change?

The smart ones do and, strangely enough, there appears to be a direct correlation between leaders who change and companies being successful.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy The Single Biggest Thing A Business Needs To Grow

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Jim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

Are You Fit For Growth?

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

This week’s guest is Dick Albu, the founder and president of Albu Consulting, a strategy management consulting firm focused on engaging and energizing leadership teams of middle market private and family business to formulate robust business strategies and follow through on execution of key strategic initiatives.

 

As we talk to current, past and prospective clients, they readily share their concern regarding achieving profitable growth. Their concerns center on the uncertainty surrounding economic policy that is creating business uncertainty and dampening economic growth. They are also finding it challenging to shift their focus from reducing costs (for the past 5 years to survive the recession) to driving sales growth. Yet, these same leaders realize their organizations will be facing headwinds for some time and need to move forward with a growth agenda.

The companies we spoke with are not alone in their concern in achieving profitable growth. According to a recent Booze & Company survey Fit for Growth (Survey) – only 17% of the 197 companies surveyed are prepared to achieve sustained profitable growth. The realization that most companies are struggling, represents an opportunity for those willing to prepare for growth by taking a more deliberate approach to developing and implementing their agenda. The Survey created an index based on assessing companies in three key areas:

1. Strategic clarity – clear set of strategic priorities supported by strong capabilities, a product portfolio aligned to the strategy, and a presence in critical markets.

2. Resource alignment – investment in key capabilities, targeted cost reduction, and continuous improvement initiatives aligned to strategy.

3. Supportive organization – Effective and timely decision making, strong leadership, and a supportive culture.

The first area addresses strategy, and areas two and three capture a company’s execution capability. Strategy and execution were given equal weights in the index to acknowledge their shared impact on performance.  In addition, the Survey compared index values to total shareholder returns (TSR) and found that companies with high index scores generally scored higher in TSR performance. Essential to a company having a high index value was scoring well in all three areas, highlighting how these three areas reinforce one another, resulting in higher overall performance.

The evidence is compelling. Being Fit for Growth can lead to sustained profitable growth. So how do you go about determining if you are Fit for Growth? Booze & Company suggests starting by answering these three questions:

1. Do you have clear priorities, focused on strategic growth, that drive your investments? You might not have clear growth priorities if you feel you have too many conflicting priorities, or your leadership team is not aligned when asked what things the company does well.

2. Do your costs line up with your priorities? Are you allocating resources to priorities effectively and efficiently? You may be able to improve your allocation of resources if high-priority projects are missing milestones because they do not get appropriate attention, or department annual budgets are only based on prior year.

3. Is your organization set up to enable you to achieve your priorities? Your organization may not be fully supporting your growth agenda if incentives are motivating people in ways that actually undermine the behaviors needed to achieve growth priorities, or most suggestions are being rejected causing people to be afraid to take calculated risks.

Get fit for profitable growth by answering the above questions and take steps to get better in the three areas of Strategic Clarity, Resource Alignment, and a Supportive Organization.

Is your organization Fit for Growth?  We would be interested in hearing about your experience. Give us a call.

Dick can be reached at 203-321-2147 or RAlbu@albuconsulting.com. For more information on Albu Consulting visit www.albuconsulting.com.

 

3 Reasons Growth Slows In Good Companies

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

It caught my attention immediately.Periodic slow-downs in growth are inevitable, even in solid companies

A blog post about why successful companies stop growing. A topic I was tempted, only last week, to call an obsession.

While the examples Ron Ashkenas uses are all large corporations, it really doesn’t matter.

The points he makes apply equally well to business owners and family businesses.

Ashkenas argues that periodic slow-downs in growth are inevitable – even for solid companies. That doesn’t mean that business owners and their management teams can’t do anything to slow the decline or to reverse it quickly.

First, however, they have to understand the 3 forces that Ashkenas says always slow down high-flying companies. Here they are.

1.  The Law of Large Numbers

When revenues are $5 million, targeting annual growth of 20% means adding $1 million to the top line. When they’re $50 million, chasing 20% growth means adding $10 million in sales in 12 months.

It takes significantly more resources to support $10 million in new sales than it does to add $1 million. And some of them, e.g. people with the skills and experience required, can’t always be found quickly and easily.

Then there’s the size and growth rate of the market. If it’s $100 million and growing quickly, adding $1 million in sales means taking, at most, 1% more market share. However, adding $10 million in a mature or declining market means getting 10% more market share – and that probably means taking it away from competitors.

2.  Market Maturity

When a market turns hot, competitors multiply like mosquitos. That limits the potential for price increases, which are a relatively easy way to increase revenues.

Some companies build stronger brand loyalty than others, slowing the ability of the weaker competitors to grow. Some products become commoditized, price becomes king and margins become thin, affecting bottom line growth.

Eventually markets become saturated and the bigger, stronger players either gobble up the weaker ones or force them out.

3.  Psychological Self-Protection

Ashkenas describes this as pressure to maintain the base business and unwillingness to risk it with innovative new products.

In the companies we’ve worked with, it often appears in a different form (and perhaps deserves a different name). As these companies grow, the management team spends more and more time focusing on meeting the increasing demand while maintaining quality. This is often caused by weak processes, lack of discipline and lack of accountability.

In both cases, however, management is the cause of the declining growth.

No company grows forever without hitting some bumps along the way. The challenge for the business owner is to recognize what’s really going on and to deal with it.

Sometimes it takes an external, third party to be able to do that.

You can read Ron Ashkenas’ full post here.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Why Would Anyone Hire A Management Consultant? and Why Would Anyone Hire A Management Consultant? – Part 2.

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The Single Biggest Thing A Business Needs To Grow

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

I’ve been working with business owners for almost 15 years. So, when someone asked me…The need for, and a willingness to change in order to grow successfully

“What’s the single biggest thing that you think separates companies which grow successfully from those which don’t?”

…I realized that I needed some time to think about it.

As I weighed one thing, then another, over the next few days, I came to the conclusion that the answer is NOT about having:

•    Plenty of cash
•    A price advantage
•    Top quality products and services
•    Products or services protected by patents
•    A broad customer base, not just 1 or 2 really big ones
•    A presence in several markets
•    Great people (which you will know, if you read this blog, I think is huge)
•    A winning strategy
•    A great culture.

Yes, you need all of those things – and others I haven’t mentioned. But they become worthless if one thing is missing.

The single biggest thing that I think separates companies which grow successfully from those which don’t IS…the business owner understands that he or she personally will have to change, and they are willing to make those changes.

At first I thought the answer was just the owner understanding that she or he needed to change.

Then I remembered that we’ve worked with entrepreneurs who have demonstrated that. But they have subsequently been unwilling to make the changes.

In some cases, what we perceived as unwillingness may have actually been inability to change – either because they couldn’t see the need or they lacked the skill to make the changes required.

The owner’s role remains constant – to provide the direction and to put the people, processes and other resources into place in order for the company to grow. However, as each revenue plateau is reached, the way in which they do that has to change in order for the company to successfully scale the next one.

They not only need to learn new things and hire people with the skills they lack, but they may also have to adapt their management/leadership style and even their behaviour.

And they have to do that while ensuring that the other challenges – for example, adapting to changes in the market or industry; funding growth; maintaining product/service quality; recruiting good people, fending off competitive action – are dealt with.

This is not easy. So it shouldn’t be surprising that some owners either choose not to do it or that some simply can’t.

I don’t believe that it’s for us, or anyone else, to judge a business owner by whether or not they do or do not grow their company. Just starting and building a business requires courage and the willingness to accept a level of risk that many people can’t, or won’t, take.

So that’s not my point.

It’s simply my opinion that the single biggest thing that separates companies that grow successfully from those that don’t is the owner’s understanding and willingness to change him or her self.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy 3 Times When You May Need To Change Your Strategy

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It Starts With A “Corny” Story

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Ever been in a situation when you see or hear something – and then a few days later you see or hear a variation of it?

That happened to me this week.

It started when I read a blog post called “What You Can Control in a Tough Business Climate” by Karie Willyerd.

A “Corny” Story

She describes how, as communism came to an end in Romania, bureaucratic decision making resulted in a cornfield being divided amongst local farmers.

Each farmer was given 2 rows.

They didn’t – or wouldn’t – collaborate so the results of each individual’s work could be easily compared with those of his or her contemporaries.

When the following summer came, the quality of corn which grew varied widely. Some rows produced knee-high, healthy plants. Others produced shin-high plants which were sad to see.

Willyerd’s point is that everyone had been given the same seed and fertilizer and so the difference in results was caused by the people and the decisions they made.

And now to business….

Next she describes a study she conducted with some colleagues.

The goal was to determine if simply executing a business strategy, regardless of what it is, would make a difference to the value of a company.

They focused on the 4 variables they believe are the foundations for the ability to execute. And they found that improving any of them produced an increase in the company’s value.

But they found that 2 of them – aligning goals throughout the organization, top to bottom and across; and identifying and treating high performers differently than low performers – produced the greatest increase.

Putting it together

Willyerd believes that in business, as in farming, there are many factors which can’t be controlled – e.g. drought and the performance of the economy.

So the key to success is to focus on those that can be controlled.
A company’s ability to execute its strategy is definitely one of those.

Two other controllable factors are:

  • Whether the owners, and their management teams, communicate explicitly with every member of their team and align them behind the company’s goals (derived from the strategy). If they don’t parts of the company may meet the business owner’s expectations, but others won’t.
  • People are the seeds of the growth, and ultimately the value, of a company. Owners should, therefore, surround them with resources and nurture them with benefits – particularly the high performers.

The Variation

As you know if you saw my last post, I’m reading Jim Collins’ book Great by Choice. In it he compares pairs of companies in 7 different industries to determine why one did well in uncertainty, even chaos, while the other did not.

Collins’ main theme is that the successful companies focused exclusively on the things they could control. And they kept on doing it no matter what was happening to the things they couldn’t control.

The final chapter talks about the role of luck – and it’s not what you might think (read the book)! In the summary, Collins talks about the importance of finding great people and building deep and enduring relationships with them as a means of creating good luck.

Final thought

You could argue that focusing on what can be controlled and getting good people aligned behind the goals is common sense. But, while Willyerd’s study confirms that they do produce results, Collins’ study demonstrates that companies routinely ignore them.

Where’s the sense in that?

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Cannonballs And Email – Or Anything Else For That Matter…..

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Cannonballs and email – really, what could they possibly have in common?

A couple of things – I found myself involved with both last week and one of them applies to the other. You see “cannonballs” is a metaphor and email, for this purpose, is a marketing tool.

Other marketing tools are direct mail, adverts (on-line or traditional), newsletters and any other printed or electronic promotional piece.

And cannonballs apply to them too – and other things……

Cannonballs first

I’m reading Jim Collins book “Great By Choice”. In it, as you may know, he contrasts pairs of companies in 7 different industries. His goal is to find the reason(s) why one of the pair did incredibly well in uncertainty, even chaos, while the other company very definitely did not.

Collins and his team wanted to determine the role of innovation in the relative performance of the companies.

They found that, contrary to their expectations, the better companies did not always “out-innovate” their less successful competitors. In fact, the opposite was often true.

What the better companies did do was to combine innovation with discipline. Collins introduced the cannonball metaphor to illustrate the point.

Imagine a company has to fight a battle (with its competitors). It has both bullets and cannonballs (products/services) but a limited supply of gunpowder (resources) to fire them with.

Should the company fine tune range and direction to the target? If so how?

Bullets are the obvious choice because they use least gunpowder. Get the range and bearing right and then use cannonballs to put a dent in the competitor.

Now email………

Last week I was talking to a client who was considering lead generation ideas.

He had a proposal recommending email campaigns and some other things. Our client said he didn’t have much faith in these campaigns because the results had always been poor in the past.

I asked him which of the variables – the layout and content of the piece, the quality of his list or both, timing of the drop – had been to blame. He didn’t really know.

We hear this all the time.

So I suggested he get 2 or 3 alternative layouts for a campaign. Each should have different graphics and copy than the others.

I told him to take them to 6 to 12 customers who he trusted to tell him what they thought. Then show the alternatives, one at a time, and ask the customer what the piece told him. Saying nothing, he should record the comments word for word.

This would give him quality control for the most difficult variable – layout and copy. When he heard that a layout was communicating the message he wanted, he could email or mail it to everyone.

There are variations on this approach. He could mail different layouts to larger parts of his list (say 10 % of the list for each layout) and compare the responses. He could also email or mail the pieces at different times on different days.

But whichever variation he chose, he would be firing bullets. Only when he found the layout which got the response he wanted should he fire a cannonball – emailing it to everyone.

Finally, anything else………..

The metaphor has wide application.

Why launch a new product before testing it with a portion of the market first? Why move into a new region, Province or country before firing bullets at part of it first?

And yes, why adopt a change in strategy before testing that first too.

This approach may take a little longer but it will dramatically reduce the risks and conserve valuable resources.

Any thoughts?

If you enjoyed this post you’ll like Why Strategy Is Still Worth A Business Owner’s Time

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Don’t Shoot Your Strategy In The Foot

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

1. It’s Still Going On.

What chance does a strategy have if the top people in the business aren’t 100% behind it? Over half of the respondents to a recent Booz and Company survey, quoted in Making Your Strategy More Relevant a recent HBR blog post, said they don’t feel their company’s strategy will lead to success.

How can that be, you might ask? Didn’t they develop the strategy in the first place? Or is it that old argument that things are just changing too fast now for committing to a strategy to be effective.

But some companies have done really well by sticking to their strategy. For example, 2 consumer companies which spring to mind are Alberto Culver, acquired by Unilever earlier this year, and Coca-Cola.

2. How To Do It.

We’ve argued in the past – see Why Strategy Is Still Worth A Business Owner’s Time – that the problem isn’t with strategy or strategic planning processes but with how they are applied. The need to be flexible and adaptive has never been more important.

But, the authors offer another reason for strategies failing – the core strategy has been diffused (and weakened?) over time. Multiple strategic initiatives, each developed with the best of intentions, have resulted in the management team having too many conflicting priorities.

Some examples of those initiatives are – developing a strategy based on the annual budget and not making the long term investments needed for success; setting “stretch” goals while continuing to do things the same old way; and investing in risky new products or markets in order to get growth while neglecting the core business.

One of my own personal favorites – and one we see surprisingly often – is having parts of the company like sales or marketing develop their own strategies without integrating them with the overall priorities.

82% of the survey respondents say that their growth initiatives lead to waste at least some of the time.

3. How To Avoid It.

But it all comes back to a couple of points we made earlier this year – tips 4 and 5 in 6 Tips for Getting Better Results in 2011. Avoid attempting too much and you’re more likely to be able to commit enough resources to each initiative to be successful.

Once again the authors offer an additional insight. Consider what your company does better than anyone else and how you provide value for your chosen customers now, today. Your strategy must then answer 2 questions – how do you expect to create value in the future; and what changes do you need to make, to the company overall, to get there?

4. Last words.

Arguably the business world is more volatile than ever before and growth will always be important. But being reactive in the face of turbulence and the pursuit of growth is not as effective as proactively working on what you do better than any other player to deliver value to customers.

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