Small Business Commissioner Paul Uppal sacked– is this down to his success in holding large companies to account?

Small Business Commissioner sacked - for telling the truth?In a worrying development the Government has sacked Paul Uppal, the Small Business Commissioner, over what it called a “conflict of interest”.

Even more worryingly, the only news outlet to report on the development was The Times, on October 12.

It reports that “the business department felt his involvement in establishing a bank redress scheme was a conflict of interest”.

So far, apart from the report in The Times, there has been a deafening silence on this development.

Mr Uppal’s role as a mediator of payment disputes between small and large companies was established in 2016.

His dismissal came just a few days after the Government had announced that Mr Uppal’s role was to be expanded to having a seat on the Compliance Board of the Prompt Payment Code, which it was intending also to strengthen.

The Government said: “Fiona Dickie, the Deputy Pubs Code Adjudicator, will provide oversight in the Small Business Commissioner role until early November, pending the appointment of an interim commissioner.

“An open recruitment campaign to appoint a new Small Business Commissioner will get started immediately.”

Has the Small Business Commissioner been too successful?

It was announced in December 2018 that in the first year of the Commissioner’s existence unpaid invoices worth £2.1 million to small businesses across the UK have been recovered. Subsequently that amount had reached £3.5 million.

Mr Uppal also began the practice of naming and shaming those large businesses that were failing to meet the terms of the Prompt Payment Code and of actually removing some of them from its lists.

They included Holland & Barrett, Jordans & Ryvita, BHP Billiton, DHL and GKN, G4S, Bupa Insurance and Zurich Insurance.

Clearly, there is a need for government intervention on behalf of SMEs when payments are withheld by larger customers.

A study by FinTech firm Previse shows that small suppliers are paid an average of 30 days later than the largest firms. And a separate survey by Hitachi Capital Business Finance found the proportion of SMEs that were taking legal action chasing late payments from clients had grown from 31% to 40% over the past year with more than 60% of SMEs affected by late payments.

IPSE (Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employment) Deputy Director of Policy, Andy Chamberlain, said: ““Late payment is still the scourge of the self-employed. In fact, IPSE research has found the average freelancer spends 20 days a year chasing clients who have failed to pay them on time.”

Mike Cherry, the chairman of the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses), said: “We’ve made some genuine progress on the late payments front since the Small Business Commissioner first took office back in 2017…. This is a disappointing development, one that will put the brakes on our efforts to date.

He added: “The appointment process needs to be efficient and thorough  .. We can’t delay further action to tackle this crisis, especially in such an uncertain climate.”

Notwithstanding that we are in the run-up to a General Election, when all Government business is suspended there are a number of questions in need of answers on this situation and on the future of both the Small Business Commissioner and the Late Payment Code.

So, the question I would ask is has the Government been successfully lobbied by some large corporates to roll back this initiative. Was it becoming too successful?

Why was Mr Uppal sacked and was it really his involvement in establishing a bank redress scheme that was claimed to be a conflict of interest?

Have UK’s SMEs been consigned to limbo?

Withdrawal of credit insurance exposes suppliers to greater risks

credit insurance removal increases risk to suppliersWhile it is true that running a business is always challenging the withdrawal of credit insurance is adding to the cash flow pressure on supply chains and in particular on retailers.

Trade credit insurance protects suppliers by minimising the financial impact if a customer fails to pay for goods and services.

The withdrawal of credit insurance is normally based on a company’s credit rating that in turn is adjusted based on disclosed accounts, county court claims, statements by directors and adherence to payment terms as information that is increasingly being provided by suppliers.

For more than a year, the retail sector has been in the spotlight due to the high profile restructuring of several large chains and there would seem to be little sign of this abating, according to recent reports highlighting the latest move, by Paris-based insurer Euler Hermes, which reduced the credit cover it provides to Iceland’s suppliers over the summer.

Euler Hermes is not the only insurer to have taken steps to reduce its exposure. Atradius has also been following the same path, removing cover last year from Debenhams.

According to the most recent figures produced by the ABI (Association of British Insurers) in the first quarter of 2019 the number of insurance claims made so far by UK businesses facing bad debts had reached its highest level in ten years.

It said that there were 5,114 new trade credit insurance claims made, up 6% on the previous quarter and that the value of claims paid was £48 million, up £1 million on the previous quarter. The average payment was £9,000.

So, it is perhaps not surprising that insurers are continuing to take steps to mitigate their exposure as insolvencies continue to climb in the face of political and economic uncertainty.

But the inevitable consequence is that the risk is being pushed back to suppliers, who in turn are reducing the amount of credit they extend to their customers. This is impacting on suppliers and their ability to maintain sales volumes to bigger customers.

For many suppliers with weaker balance sheets or who depend on a few large customers this can leave them taking the credit risk and often means waiting longer for payment.

Should SME suppliers continue to supply a customer if credit insurance is withdrawn?

It is all very well to advise SMEs to ensure they have a broad spread of customers perhaps with no one representing more than ten percent of the sales ledger, but opportunities need to be grabbed and growth is often achieved by taking some risks. It is a brave company that forgoes the benefit of having large and profitable customers. Despite this it is imperative to avoid being caught up in a domino insolvency if a key customer fails.

Growing a business takes time, forethought, planning and access to capital, none of which is available in abundance in the current uncertain national and global economic climate.

So, is there any way suppliers can protect themselves?

One route is to start to demand payment upfront, which may mean re-negotiating supply agreements, although it is debatable whether customers will oblige, which could then force the supplier into seeking help from the Late Payments Commissioner.

Another route could be to protect at least some of their revenue by using factoring or invoice discounting services. Both services tend to offer non-recourse facilities as a form of insurance to protect against approved but unpaid invoices. While this route involves credit insurance the finance providers often share a level of risk by underwriting better credit terms since they also want to make their own profits.

It is understandable that insurers will want to protect themselves but their service is a market and they may take a level of risk to get your business.

However risk is managed, there is a need for a strong balance sheet and credit management to avoid the fallout when a customer fails to pay your bills.

 

Post-Christmas apocalypse for the retail sector?

retail, high street trading,As we head for its most crucial shopping period in the wake of Mothercare and Mamas & Papas collapsing into administration, I make no apologies for revisiting the UK’s retail sector.

Following last month’s Brexit Halloween deadline and with Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas ahead of us retailers have reportedly stockpiled seasonal products earlier than usual but the consumer uncertainty remaining no one knows how much stock will remain unsold in the new year.

The Confederation of British Industry, the country’s leading business lobby group, said retailers’ stock levels compared with the volume of expected sales had risen to the highest point in October since it began compiling retail sales estimates in 1983.

This is against a backdrop of dramatically narrowing profit margins, falling consumer confidence and repeated demands for comprehensive reform of business rates falling on seemingly deaf Government ears.

A new report by the global professional services firm Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), in partnership with Retail Economics, has found that store-based profit margins for the top 150 UK.retailers have more than halved in less than a decade – dropping from 8.8 percent as seen in 2009/10 to 4.1 percent in 2017/18.

This, it says, is the result of increasing operating costs, inflexible lease structures and changing shopping habits. Yet, it concludes that there is still demand for the High Street physical retail experience “presenting opportunities for forward-thinking incumbents, entrepreneurs and investors. Those that collaborate with landlords and local authorities will be the big winners going into the next business cycle”.

But with a December 25th Quarter Day deadline for the payment of quarterly rents, cash flow is likely to be tight for many retailers who won’t get much support from landlords.

Indeed, headwinds are building up for retail landlords in the retail sector such as Intu, the shopping centre owner, which has warned that it will have to raise more money from shareholders.  It has said that its rental income has been battered by a wave of controversial retailer restructures, by such retailers as Monsoon and Arcadia, using CVAs (Company Voluntary Arrangements) to negotiate rent reductions.

In addition to rent, rates are also an ongoing problem for retailers. On October 30th the Treasury Committee, a cross-party group of MPs, called for an urgent review of the whole business rates system, saying that it was broken, having outpaced inflation for many years and grown as a share of business taxes, placing an unfair burden on bricks and mortar shops. Not only that, but, it also criticised a backlog of 16,000 appeals against business rate decisions and called for the government’s valuation office to be properly staffed.

This was only the latest in a seemingly endless series of calls for reform, that had come from such bodies as the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses), the British Retail Consortium and others throughout the year, with FSB chairman Mike Cherry warning of a very bleak winter ahead.

With consumer confidence currently at a six-year low according to research by YouGov and the Centre for Economics and Business Research Mr Cherry’s prediction isn’t a surprise.

With an estimated 85,000 jobs having already gone from the retail sector over the last year, and approaching 3,000 more coming after the latest retail closures how likely is it that consumers will rush out and spend during the festive season?

The likelihood of any Government action has, of course, receded into the distance given that politicians are now not sitting, but out on the campaign trail ahead of a General Election on December 12th.

Whether a new government can shift its focus away from the ongoing and ever more tedious Brexit saga and onto more pressing domestic concerns remains a very big question but the party manifestos focus on sectors other than the retail sector which doesn’t bode well for them in the short term.

Diversity of thought is about more than challenging stereotypes and ticking a box

diversity of thoughtToo often the word diversity as applied to directors of companies is seen as demonstrating representation by gender, ethnicity, religion, and possibly of age. But it should actually be about more than that, it should also be about diversity of thought and ideas.

The challenges facing businesses in the 21st Century are becoming more complex and happening at a faster pace so it makes sense to have people at board level who think differently and can communicate their ideas.

In a recent survey carried out by Social Mobility Pledge as reported by The Times newspaper, the researchers found that by and large “who you know” was still the most important factor when promoting staff.

Sadly, the inference from this is that recruitment tends to favour like-minded people, which is hardly helpful to businesses wanting to avoid being stuck in a rut.

The ability to challenge the status quo at all levels and in particular a board level was a topic discussed in a recent vimeo by Kenneth McKellar, a partner at AGM Transitions, which advises senior executives on their career transitions and roles.

He argues that every business needs people who can challenge the organisation and this means choosing directors from a wide variety of backgrounds, education and disciplines as being more important than simply having more women on the board which seems to be the focus of most FTSE 100 companies seeking to observe the UK Corporate Governance Code.

Being open to people from different educational backgrounds and with different experiences can bring different ways of thinking, different knowledge bases and different perspectives to problem-solving.

The challenge for boards is to avoid groupthink despite the natural desire among teams to seek harmony and conformity since groupthink can lead to irrational and dysfunctional decision-making.

This is also about people’s preferred ways of thinking as shown in the Hermann Whole Brain ® Model which was the result of research originally conducted at GE’s corporate university, Crotonville.

It describes four main modes of thinking, analytical, organized, interpersonal and strategic, each of which has a value in promoting diversity of thought in the workplace and at board level. Of course, this is likely to lead to differences of opinion which might imply conflict. However, such differences ought to be regarded as healthy if a business is to consider the challenges of the future and continuously change to meet them.

Ultimately businesses need people who represent a range of thinking and of ideas with the ability to think laterally, who can disagree in a way that leads to collective decisions.

‘Yes’ men and women may keep their job but they ultimately they contribute to the decline of their business due to their going along with others instead of contributing in a constructive way that improves the decisions made.

Key Indicator: no respite for the global economy as conditions get worse

perfect storm over the global economyAs we head towards the end of the year it is a good time to look at the current state of the global economy.

Trade wars and the threats of tariffs being imposed by the US on China have become a wearyingly familiar story as US President Donald Trump continues his policy of ‘putting the American economy first’ at all times. It is not just China in the firing line, the rhetoric has escalated with his threat made in October to introduce a series of 25% tariffs on a range of exports worth an estimated £5.8bn from the EU.

But this is not the only trade dispute in the global economy as Japan and South Korea’s disagreements threaten the production of smartphones, computers and other electronics, while yet another Brexit delay, and now a UK general election, all add to the uncertain economic outlook in both the EU and the UK.

Growth has been slowing in India, particularly in its automotive sector, and to an extent in China also.

At the same time there seems to have been an upsurge in popular political protests across the world with demonstrations taking place in Spain, Iraq, Lebanon, Chile, Venezuela and Hong Kong, to name but a few.

Arguably, political unrest, too, has consequences for the global economy, particularly in a place like Hong Kong, which has for years been a focus for dynamic business activity but is now in recession after five months of civil unrest. Unrest has also led to Chile having to cancel its hosting of the November APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting at which the United States and China had been expected to sign a deal to ease their trade war.  As yet no alternative venue has been announced.

The growth in global trade may have slowed to 3.0% this year – the lowest since the 2009 recession – according to International Monetary Fund (IMF). Data provider Refinitiv has reported that Global deal making has eased to the slowest pace in more than two years, with activity falling 11% so far this year to $2.8 trillion.

Not surprisingly all this has prompted the IMF to predict that global economic growth will be just 3% this year, its lowest level since the financial crisis and a downgrade from the organisation’s April prediction.

Earlier in the year it also warned in its global financial stability report that the next major economic crisis would be similar to the financial crisis of 2008; while it didn’t say when it believed this is a likely consequence of the estimated $19 trillion corporate debt mountain in eight major economies. This warning was echoed by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in its annual health check of the global financial system.

The new IMF head Kristalina Georgieva has also warned that Brexit in whatever form will be “painful”, adding to the effects of a global slowdown.

Meanwhile with Germany in recession and the EU economy stuttering, ECB chairman Mario Draghi announced a cut in interest rates to a new record low at minus 0.5 percent as part of a broader stimulus package making it expensive for banks to hoard cash.

The signs are not looking good for improvements in the global economy in 2020 and it is becoming increasingly clear, in my view, that politics is contributing to and inextricably entangled with the stormy economic weather besetting business.

A rise in Administrations in Q3 indicates that many businesses are just about hanging on

Administrations rise and businesses just hanging onThe newly-published insolvency figures for Q3 (July to September) show a massive increase in the number of businesses entering Administrations.

A mid-October report by Begbies Traynor reported that the number of British businesses in significant financial distress has risen by 40% since the Brexit vote – with those in the property, construction, retail and the travel sectors the hardest hit and 489,000 companies in significant distress up by 22,000 on this time last year.

This was followed by KPMG’s recent analysis of London Gazette notices of companies entering into Administration and the picture became clearer with yesterday’s statistics from the Insolvency Service.

Administrations increased by 20% in the last quarter, compared to the previous quarter, to reach their highest level since Q1 2014. CVLs (Company Voluntary Liquidations) rose by only 2.3% compared to the previous quarter but were still at their highest quarterly level since Q1 2012.

The category with most insolvencies was Accommodation and Food Services. This would suggest that dining out seems to have fallen out of favour with consumers increasingly ordering meals to be delivered and eaten at home. This was becoming apparent based on the frequency with which I have been reporting restaurant failures over the last year but is confirmed by the stats that show Food Services have come top of the insolvency list. Meanwhile the Construction Industry continues to struggle with the highest number of insolvencies over the last 12 months to the end of Q3 2019.

Notwithstanding changes in consumer behaviour and the plight of builders, there has been a steady rise in the number of insolvencies over the last two quarters which is no surprise given the ongoing economic uncertainty due to world trade, US sanctions and the Brexit farrago. Meanwhile investors and businesses remain understandably wary about planning for growth – or even planning for future trading given the level of uncertainty and lack of prospects for many businesses. All this is against a backdrop of a weakening of the global economy.

Therefore, just hanging on is often the only option for many businesses who simply want to survive rather than plan for growth where the alternative is insolvency, often via Administration.

The Insolvency Service defines Administrations’ purpose as “the rescue of companies as a going concern, or if this is not possible, then to obtain a better result for creditors than would be likely if the company were to be wound up”. All too often Administrations end up as Liquidations following a sale of the assets with companies rarely ever surviving Administration.

K2 is in the business of helping companies to survive and restructure and has several guides to help when they are in difficulties.

If you would like to know more about your duties and responsibilities as the director of a company, with particular emphasis on knowing if your company is insolvent and what to do if it, you can download the Guide to Directors Duties here.

https://www.onlineturnaroundguru.com/Directors-duties

 

Investors now putting environmental concerns first

environmental concernsThe UK’s largest investors put environmental concerns and corporate governance issues as top of their lists when considering companies in which to invest, according to research by EY.

However, the respondents awarded a “could do better” to such areas as audit, corporate reporting, trust, and reputation, according to a report on the research published by CityAM.

Clearly the activities of campaigners like Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion have significantly raised awareness on environmental issues.

But the profile of environmental concerns is also being raised by the annual world summits on ethical finance, the most recent of which was held in Edinburgh in early September and was attended by senior representatives from more than 200 companies and organisations.

The summit is organised by the Global Ethical Finance Initiative, which oversees, organises and coordinates a series of programmes to promote finance for positive change.

In early October, Mark Carney, Governor of the BoE (Bank of England) warned that companies and industries that are not moving towards zero-carbon emissions will be punished by investors and go bankrupt.

But he also pointed out that “great fortunes could be made by those working to end greenhouse gas emissions with a big potential upside for the UK economy in particular”.

The Peer to Peer lending platform Lending Works says that Socially Responsible Lending (SRI) has risen up the investors’ agenda in the last five years and estimates that 79% of Generation Xers and 67% of Baby Boomers identify it as an issue of concern.

Identifying ethical investments depends on positive and negative screening by investment funds. Negative screening by fund managers excludes certain activities, such as fossil fuels, alcohol, intensive farming etc from investment, while in positive screening fund managers actively seek out opportunities that contribute positively to environmental concerns such as organic farming, green energy, and public housing.

This research can be tricky for investors to access independently and the advice is to use a financial adviser well versed in ethical funding, and also as ever, to remember that the value of shares and investments can go down as well as up.

But it is encouraging that environmental concerns have risen to the top of the investor agenda.

 

Directors of companies in financial difficulties should be aware of their pay and perks!

executive pay and perks under scrutinyExecutive pay and perks have been creeping up the agenda with politicians and the public increasingly questioning the rewards given to top CEOs when companies fail.

But should this be done well before any potential failure and in particular when highly paid executives are seeking support for the restructuring and reorganisation initiatives that is necessary when their company is in financial difficulties?

Leadership involves setting an example and when the chips are down this means making demonstrable self-sacrifices.

This week, the Financial Times reported that Standard Chartered bank CEO Bill Winters may have his total pay cut and Namal Nawana will be leaving his CEO role at Smith & Nephew after less than a year after investors turned down his request to increase his $6m package to nearer $18m-$20m.

But it is not only executive pay that has come under fire, this is also true of pensions and other executive benefits.

In September the influential investor group IA (The Investment Association), told companies they must publish credible action plans that align executive pension pay with their workforce by 2022, or risk further shareholder revolts.

A Guardian report revealed that the IA, which represents City firms with £7.7tn in assets under management, has warned that it will “slap companies’ annual reports with a “red top” or highest possible warning label if they fail to share concrete action plans to align executive pension pay with the majority of staff and continue to offer top bosses retirement benefits worth over 25% of salary”.

Clearly shareholders are becoming less willing to support the “greed is good” philosophy that grew out of the Chicago School economist Milton Friedman’s Neoliberal economic model whereby businesses exist solely to make money for their shareholders and executives should be rewarded accordingly.

How much of this is due to external pressures, such as the growing awareness that perpetual growth is incompatible with a sustainable environment, and how much to a seemingly endless series of high profile business collapses, from Carillion to Thomas Cook with massive debts but still high executive pay and perks?

Are CEOs worth their executive pay and perks?

The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel Development) monitors the gap between average CEO pay and that of workers.

Its most recent report found that average salaries for chief executives fell by 13% between 2017 and 2018, but they still earned 117 times more than the average UK full-time worker, despite the introduction of new standards for corporate governance and the introduction of the Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority by the Government earlier in the year

The argument has always been that in order to attract the best a business has to pay for talent, but beyond their annual reports, there is little or no guidance, or seemingly effort, made to monitor effectiveness or track improvements in profitability following the appointment of new CEOs.

In the most recent example, the death of travel company Thomas Cook, only now are questions being asked about the high remuneration of its CEO and executives when contrasted with its massive accumulated debt, and about the wisdom of turning down offers for lucrative parts of the business that might have made a difference.

At a recent event, moreover, Charles Cotton, CIPD senior adviser for performance and reward, said employers risked sending the message that executives’ contributions were “valued more highly” if their pay was rising when employee salaries had remained largely stagnant since 2008.

Clearly, there is a need for much more awareness among executive about the messages their pay and perks convey to stakeholders. The level of scrutiny they are being subjected to will only increase.

Is the death of Thomas Cook a sign of more to come in the travel industry?

travel industry in trouble?Commentators have been quick to predict the death of the package holiday and in some cases of much of the travel industry following the demise of Thomas Cook in September.

But is this really the case?

Johan Lundgren, the chief executive of easyJet, argues that it is too soon to predict the demise of the travel industry, or indeed of package holidays.

In an article in the Daily Telegraph he says: “sales of holiday packages have grown faster than the economy every year for the past 10 years”.

There is no doubt, however, that technology has made a significant difference to the way people search, book and pay for their holidays.

Lundgren acknowledges that requirements and buying methods have changed significantly: “Rapid development in technology and AI, combined with a focus on data now allows the customer to find holidays suited to them online”.

Holiday companies, he said, needed to invest in technology to support customer interactions.

The tour operators trade body ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) said 51% of people it surveyed in July had taken a package holiday in the past year, up from 48% in 2018.

According to statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of package holidays taken in the UK has been rising steadily since 2014, reaching 18.2m last year.

In its latest quarterly bulletin on overseas travel in general, published in September, the ONS results found that UK residents spent £4.5 billion on visits overseas in June 2019 (1% more than in June 2018), however, they made 6.8 million visits overseas in June 2019 (7% fewer than in June 2018).

There are also plenty of successful small, independent local travel agents offering tailored packages to fit customers’ requirements. We know of at least three in Suffolk alone and there are doubtless many more around the country.

So clearly once people have decided where they want to go and what they want to do, they still feel the need for someone to take care of the details and to have the assurance of having someone available should things go wrong.

Furthermore, the price paid by consumers and amount received by holiday providers might provide a clue to why travel operators and package travel companies ought to survive. Most online purchases, in particular for accommodation, are now handled by firms like booking.com, trivago.co.uk or tripadvisor.co.uk who charge hotels up to 30% of the package. This is a huge margin for travel companies to exploit.

So, what happened to Thomas Cook?

The company was launched in 1841 by a Derbyshire preacher, Thomas Cook, and became one of the world’s biggest companies to offer “integrated holidays” (ie package holidays).

The company issued two profits warnings in 2018 and in May revealed it was carrying huge amounts of debt – around £1.2bn. According to the Financial Times, many of its wounds were self-inflicted: “Successive managements allowed debts to balloon. The company revealed a debt pile of £1.2bn in May and recorded a £1.1bn write-down from its ill-fated acquisition of MyTravel, a UK rival. About one-third of Thomas Cook’s sales was spent just on servicing its loans”.

Generous remuneration to its executives, including an estimated £20m in bonuses and payment of more than £8m over the past five years to chief executive, Peter Fankhauser, have also been cited as excessive.

The company also received, and declined, five offers for its profitable airline operation and as if that were not enough, the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) is investigating EY’s audit of the company’s accounts.

The German international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle, has speculated that opaque private equity deals amid low interest rates may also have played a part in its collapse.

Arguably an out-dated business model depending too much on high street retail outlets and a failure to adopt modern technology will have contributed too.

But while there will undoubtedly be casualties among travel firms that fail to adapt their business models and practices to modern consumer requirements, and, of course, the whole industry is vulnerable to the volatility of consumer confidence in the context of an eventual post-Brexit future with fears about job security, it would be unwise to predict the death of the travel industry as a result.

 

WeWork reminds us why we should not rely on charismatic leaders and the investment bank advisers who flatter them

WeWork corporate hubrisThis week the new management of WeWork the business space property rental company announced that it was preparing to axe 2,000, or 13%, of its workforce.

It has been calculated that up to 5,000, or a third, of the workforce will ultimately have to go.

This is the latest episode in an increasingly sorry saga, which last month saw its co-founder Adam Neumann step down as chief executive and relinquish control over the company. Mr Neumann also returned $5.9m worth of stock to the firm, which he had controversially received in exchange for his claim over the “We” trademark.

After announcing its intention to launch on the US stock market earlier in the year, the company, which has more than 500 locations in 29 countries, had to postpone its plans when its viability and corporate governance came under closer scrutiny.

The business, which was estimated to be worth some $47bn when the intended float was first unveiled has since had its credit rating downgraded by the ratings company Fitch to CCC+ with a warning that its liquidity position is “precarious”. Earlier in September, Reuters had reported that the We Company could seek a valuation in its initial public offering (IPO) of between $10bn and $12bn, far below the $47bn at the start of the year. This figure is very different to valuations proposed for the IPO work reported in the Financial Times as between $46bn and $63bn by JP Morgan Chase, between $61bn and $96bn by Goldman Sachs and between $43bn and $104bn by Morgan Stanley.

These values were despite WeWork reporting a loss last year of $1.9 billion from revenue of $1.8 billion, these figures almost double those for 2017.

The recent turmoil is no doubt behind the recent announcement by two of its large landlords in London who have said they will not be signing new leases with WeWork for the foreseeable future.

Yet, there are other companies operating similar business models, such as the UK listed IWG group that owns the Regus brand which reported a net profit of £106 million from revenue £2.5bn. Two other similar business would also seem to be doing well: The Office Group and The Argyll Club formerly London Executive Offices.

As for valuations, IWG’s market capitalisation is about £3.5bn which is far lower than those proposed for WeWork but as a listed company might be more realistic.

Another example of value for a similar business model is the sale in October 2018 for £475 of London Executive Offices that had been up for sale for two year sale after an initial valuation in 2016 of £700m.

Hubris eventually catches up

Much has been made of the character and lifestyle of Adam Neumann, not least the mixing of work and pleasure, which was also part of the WeWork culture, one that offered that will offered employees “every millennial-style benefit under the sun”, which may not be right for a property letting company.

He was famous for statements like “Our valuation and size today are much more based on our energy and spirituality than it is on a multiple of revenue.”

Clearly his character initially charmed the company’s Japanese investor SoftBank, which owns 30% of the company and whose reputation arguably contributed to the initial IPO valuation of $47bn.

However, since then, potential investors have questioned its opaque corporate structure, governance and profitability. They have also questioned the links between Mr Neumann’s personal finances and WeWork.

The whole sorry saga, I would argue, is more about the initial credulous nature of the company’s investors and their belief in Mr Neumann, and less about a business model which has worked well for other similar companies. And the investment banks haven’t helped.