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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

A revolution in business culture?

Are the super rich at the World Economic Forum in Davos “morally and intellectually bankrupt” as opined by Will Hutton in last Sunday’s Observer? He argues that many of them generate excessive profits by squeezing employees’ wages. More tenuous is his view that this lack of wealth redistribution is restricting economies that would otherwise trade out of recession if employees had more to spend. 
However Mr Hutton does have a point: “Reality will out. Everyone knows by now, even in Davos, that there can be no return to the world before 2008, relying as it did on abundant supplies of cheap credit. Equally, we need our economies to grow with real, sustainable growth, as opposed to an artificially stimulated variety….. Real growth can only be achieved by the economic empowerment of ordinary men and women, by promoting individuals to become capitalists, to want to be owners who will bear the pain, and also share the spoils.”
He suggests: “It is a wonderful opportunity for enlightened business leaders, politicians, trade unions and indeed all of us to reimagine the role of people in western societies. One of the reasons it has been easy to reduce the power of people in the Anglo-Saxon world is through fear, fear of change. This has preserved the status quo and kept incumbent leaders in power.”
Those with long memories will recall the militant opposition of the British trade union movement to co-determination – that is, putting workers on company boards – in the 1970s: stupid. 
Yet Britain, and the West for that matter, needs a way of relating labour to capital. We need to engage employees by encouraging ownership and sharing the benefits of their efforts. It seems an impossible ask. We need employee representatives, union negotiators and business leaders to become leaders of change. Not confrontational or militant style negotiation of change, take it or leave it, one out, all out but strategic leaders who can negotiate reward for productive effort – to argue for a share of the spoils when they are genuinely there, but acknowledge that it might involve sharing pain to get there. They should be able to cut deals and support firms when jobs are at risk, but also make sure the deals are fair for all stakeholders when the business is turned round. 
Hutton argues: “One way forward is co-determination, putting employee representatives on company boards. Another would be to revisit the ideas of Nobel prize winner Professor James Meade and organise compensation so that a firm’s profits are equitably shared between workers, management and shareholders.” 
Whether or not Davos is intellectually bankrupt, the ideology it champions will ultimately seek to preserve the interests of its delegates rather than promoting those of employees. Capitalism certainly requires intellectual challengers, social movements and union leaders to take risks and reimagine their role. 
The best time to negotiate a good deal for workers is when their employer really does need their support, when they are in a financial crisis and need to restructure to survive.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing General Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

One – or two – swallows do not make a summer

Following on from the demise of Jessups the camera retailers the news that HMV had finally called in the administrators comes as no surprise.
What is perhaps more surprising is that a couple of commentators have seized on this development as perhaps an early sign that banks are feeling more confident about surviving losses and that better times are on the way in 2013 on the grounds that there is usually a rise in insolvencies as an economy starts to recover.
The more realistic view, K2 would say, is that insolvencies are still at a very low level and it is way too early for anyone to be so optimistic.
More likely, and there has been plenty of evidence in the cases of Comet, Jessup’s and HMV, is that their business models have been found wanting in the new world of consumer caution, shopping around for the best prices and the move to online shopping.
With a raft of year-end reports due out this week, including Mothercare, Home Retail Group (Argos and Homebase), Bookers, and Asos the picture will gradually become clearer.  One to watch is Mothercare, which did alter its business model last year to focus more on out of town retail stores rather than the High Street. This measure does seem rather late, being at least 10 years after others took the same initiative. The question will be whether Mothercare has done enough to survive without further and more dramatic restructuring.
While the pain is most obvious on the High Street, reduced consumption, changing consumer behaviour and inappropriate business models apply to many businesses that have not yet gone bust. There is no sign yet of a lift in bank confidence as they continue to prop up zombie companies rather than lending to companies wanting to change their business model or new ones with a vision and growth potential.
For the foreseeable future, businesses would be wise to examine their business models and if necessary to implement change early rather than put it off as restructuring becomes more difficult the longer it is left.  This is still no market for dramatic moves to improve turnover.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Quarter Day Rent claims its first major scalp of 2013

K2 Business Rescue asked in a pre-Christmas blog whether January would see a rise of retail insolvencies given the December 25 quarter day rent falling due.
It may be too early to expect a flood but today’s announcement that the High Street camera chain Jessups has gone into administration with PWC as appointed administrators may be first sign. 
Jessups, which in 2009 managed to avoid administration by arranging a debt for equity swap with lender HSBC, saw a significant decline in market share throughout 2012. 
The company has 192 UK stores employing around 2,000 people and the administrators have said that inevitably some stores will have to close given the current ongoing economic crisis. 
Despite the balance sheet restructuring in 2009, Jessups is an example of a company that did not change its business model. As a long established retailer  they continued to rely on high street sales while its market and customers buying behaviour changed. 
Financial restructuring rarely works unless it is part of a strategic review which normally results in a change of business model and an associated operational reorganisation. 
The question is if companies that are currently hanging on by their fingernails do not take action and call in an experienced rescue and turnaround practitioner who will be next?
 

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Banks, Lenders & Investors General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Are we doing enough to publicise the benefits of business rescue and turnaround?

A recent discussion in the LinkedIn group, Restructuring and Turnaround Management, asked whether anyone in the turnaround industry ever received solid referrals from the banks.
Although the majority were responding from the USA, it seems there is little difference between the two sides of the “pond” when it comes to the banks.
The general consensus was that most lenders were either not interested in considering the options for rescue and turnaround for struggling clients or preferred instead to “manage” loans themselves until it is too late, when they call in the insolvency practitioners.
This comment from Al Jones in the US was typical of what he saw as the banks’ view: “we can handle this, maybe it’ll fix itself especially if we bluster and threaten the borrower, or it’s unsalvageable.”
But the question is how can a bank’s staff with no direct experience in small business or business turnarounds make such an assumption?
UK-based Andrew Strachan, pointed out that an inevitable consequence of this attitude was that while interest rates remained low the banks continued to prop up zombie businesses rather than risk losses, thus diverting resources away from healthy, growing companies with a real need for investment.
At K2 Business Rescue we too have seen very few referrals from banks in our 22 years as a firm specialising in turnaround. We understand that there are good reasons why banks do not initiate a turnaround or recommend one to their clients. They mainly relate to fear, fear that it may result in financial risk to the bank or damage to its reputation. This fear is valid in a world that wants to blame and possibly sue someone. And who could blame them if it goes wrong? Creditors who aren’t paid, employees who lose their jobs, or they may attract some bad press. A big risk.
A further reason for a lack of engagement in turnaround is the view that banks no longer behave as long-term partners with a client. The bank-client relationship has become more transactional. This works both ways, why should a bank invest further time or money in a client who might take their business away after the business has recovered?  
Business rescue and turnaround focuses on survival whereas all too often the insolvency practitioner makes more in fees out of a formal insolvency procedure. The banks understandably use their trusted (panel firm) insolvency practitioners to do reviews on their behalf but the system is flawed if the insolvency practitioner’s interest lies in a formal insolvency appointment. The banks know this and so the number of business reviews has declined, but it has not yet been replaced with an alternative that focuses on rescue and turnaround.
…..Or perhaps we in the turnaround profession need to get our message across more loudly and clearly?