Monday, December 22, 2008

The Plight of the Canadian Small Cap

Among the other assorted pieces of junk mail waiting for me on my return from down south was this fluff piece from a recruiting firm I know. Well titled but absent much related substance, it's an interview with the last (as in, there won't be any more) CEO of a small public company I ran a few years ago.

It reads like the story of a traffic cop who shows up late to the scene of a head-on and looks for lessons in being a traffic cop, not the head-on.

Which is unfortunate because there are some important lessons about the plight of small caps everywhere.

The first is you don't want to be one. Being a small cap is like running a weather station in the arctic. A few people find your signals interesting but overall, being a small cap means being irrelevant. Which is why if you've made the mistake of becoming one, you'd better have or figure out a way (grow fast or sell) to not be one. Fast.

Secondly, learn to market and sell. In this case the company went public because they needed the cash. They needed the cash because they were way more comfortable inventing new stuff instead of selling what they had. When that happened....when they did start selling what they had...growth and profitability were easy.

Thirdly, it's way better being a company with a unique product that solves a customer need, than being a company with a unique core competency in search of a customer need. In this case - driving laser beams is cool, but the profitable, untapped market applications are all niches, not mass markets...meaning a never-ending search for more places to apply the core competency.
Ultimately, management made the fatal mistake of chasing a saturated, low margin mass-market that sealed its fate.

Finally, bad governance kills - whether you're Goldman Sachs or a company few people have heard of. The governors in this case made a series of questionable calls. A key one was not recognizing early on that selling the company was a legitimate option for creating shareholder value. Ultimately, that is exactly what happened, but years later and at gunpoint/low value. Ultimately, its not clear management or the Board ever recognized the reality of the company's capabilities, it's markets or of being public.

Bottom line. Small caps face the same challenges as all small companies but RUN differently because they're public. For companies who haven't mastered the basic challenges, dealing with the differences can be a killer.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Off for a week

I'm heading down south for some sun. Some thoughts before I go for some people I know:

- welcome back, it's a good move
- stay focused on sales - don't get distracted
- leadership is all about confidence - you're going to do great
- change isn't easy but this will be ok - hang in there
- it would be really cool if you worked out!!!

Have a great week.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Where the Clues Are

Posting on owner-operators over the past two days got me thinking about something that applies to every business - understanding the business based on facts, not perceptions.

Because my role involves walking into companies I don't know and learning their businesses I get to hear a lot of what people in organizations THINK their business is about....who their target customers are, where they make their money, where there dollars are going, etc, etc. Pretty basic stuff.

And, in one company out of 5 or so, what the organization thinks and what reality is are actually in sync.

Too many companies though, run their businesses based on folklore.

They run their business based on some outdated, half-cooked, never verified perception that is repeated from the top-down without question.

My company is called Boardroom Metrics. I chose the name to reflect the need for managers and directors of companies to get the facts about their business first, then make decisions based on those facts.

When I go into organizations, gathering the facts is one of the key activities that gets organized. It's easy to show everyone "THIS is where the clues are".

Sometimes, getting the facts isn't easy. Market data, particularly in new or underdeveloped markets can be frustrating and misleading. Poor tracking of key customer characteristics, like age, gender or income level can make knowing who the customer is almost impossible.

If the facts don't exist, then beginning a collection process is key.

When the facts do exist they are always, always enlightening.

So, question. You're reading this post. You run a Board, an organization, a department. What facts about your business have you taken for granted, but never verified? What facts don't you know? What facts might change your business?

Go get 'em.

Owner Operators

Yesterday's post on why owner operated businesses fail got some interesting responses. One was left as a comment to the blog - which I decided not to post - the others came via phone and email.

At least one response was positive.

Yesterday's post was not a shot at owner operators. Why would I do that?

It was a warning.

Something to think about.

I do a lot of work with owner operators. Most of them running companies that are performing below expectations.

And do you know what I see? I see the same leadership issues EVERY COMPANY I go into.

The issues are SO similar, I start to question whether maybe the issue is me. Maybe I'm losing it - perhaps it's my perspective that has simply shut down. I've stopped looking for creative or unique solutions; no longer capable of looking beyond a few well-trodden personal beliefs. Maybe that's the case.

But here's what drives me to keep exploring it. The businesses where the owner-operator has gotten it - taken some advice, learned how to manage, learned how to trust, stepped back...and changed to adapt to new realities....have all succeeded.

And those that haven't are either just hanging around, or are out of business.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Why owner operated businesses fail...

...because your industry has changed over the past 10 years and your business hasn't

....because running a business is different from owning a business

....because you don't have any business experience outside the one you own

....because you'd rather be the CEO than the owner

....because you don't trust anybody but yourself

....because you think employees who suck up to you are employees you can build the business

....because you're open to ideas so long as they're exactly the way you want it done

....because you were successful once before and you think you are a genius

....because by the time you see the mess you've made it will be too late.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

CEO Xmas letter and speech on Google

Yesterday I posted a (possible) CEO xmas party speech or it could have been a Christmas letter. I did it in response to the increase I saw in referrals from Google based on people searching for "xmas letter" or "Christmas speech".

Here's a screen capture from Sitemeter, the web analytics tool I use. It shows some of yesterdays referrals to the Boardroom Metrics CEO blog. More than half of them are looking for information on either a Christmas letter or Xmas speech.

Key point: this is search marketing.

Understand what customers and potential customers are looking for (in this case CEO's or their assistants).

Be there (blogging, website, youtube, other, tags, keywords, etc), when they're looking for it.

There is no more efficient way to market.

Here's the post with the letter or speech from yesterday.

Friday, December 5, 2008

How to Use Linkedin

If you haven't checked out Slideshare yet, do it. It has an incredible variety of user-created presentations on EVERYTHING. Here's one about creativity in the words of Bob Dylan.

Oh, and standard Powerpoint is dead. Way, WAY dead.

Below is Guy Kawasaki's presentation on using Linkedin. Everyone is on Linkedin. Using it well? Not so much.

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: linkedin kawasaki)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

CEO Christmas Xmas Letter or Speech

Using the web analytics tool (sitemeter) that I use to analyze traffic to this blog, I know what people are searching for when Google sends them here. Want to know what the largest search term is over the past week - by far? CEO xmas letter. A long time ago I wrote this post about a funny xmas letter from a friend. Now, apparently when desperate CEO's (or more likely EA's) go searching for xmas letter ideas, they end up on this blog.

So I got thinking. My friend's letter isn't much help. But some time ago, I gave this semi-decent (it got good feedback) speech at a client xmas party. Maybe there's something helpful here...either for a Christmas letter or hey, steal it for a speech. Here it is:

Hello everyone. I want to extend a warm welcome to employees…and their guests. Welcome to the 200X Jumbo the Clown Christmas/Holiday party.

Is anybody else here just a little shocked that we’re already at this time of year again? For me, it’s been exactly 12 months since I became involved in a management role with Jumbo the Clown. Although this is my first party, I still remember talking to Thing One and Thing Two like it was yesterday, planning for our 200X kick off meetings.

That was a year ago? I was shocked talking to Mr. Colours and Thing Two last week – we’re already planning our 200X+1 kick-offs – we need to be – its almost January!!

This has been a very interesting and successful year for the company. I would say challenging too but really, every year has its challenges. We’ve come through this one as you would expect – strong and full of momentum. In 200X-1 we had our biggest year ever. This year, 200X we will exceed 200X-1. This will be our biggest year ever.

On Monday, the management team will present our plans for 200X+1 to the Board. Our goal is to make 200X+1 even more interesting…and successful than 200X.

There are some people in audience that deserve a lot of credit for our success in 200X……all of you.....

....From the people in sales and marketing who help us bring in the business….

through the service, admin, IT and ops people who ensure we process the business…..

through the corporate accounting people who make sure we still have a business…..

through the governance people who keep the regulators out of our business….

and the support staff who help all of us – at least on the management and investor teams, go about our business…..

your dedication to this company, its customers and its employees is clearly recognized and appreciated. We do not take it for granted. Thank you. All of you.

I do specifically want to recognize the hard work of the employee council. Thank you for organizing this party and all of the other important employee events throughout the year. Your hard work, much of which takes place outside of regular business hours is the glue that helps make this company what it is. Thanks again for what you’ve done. Am I right in thinking you’re glad you know longer have to report to me?

In addition, I want to thank the investors for a couple of things. I joked (sort of) when I got this job that they were doing something quite brave in stepping away from their day-to-day roles and providing me and the new management team with this opportunity. We appreciate it and we will not let you down.

Secondly, you…the employees….need to know that the candy canes all employees received this year came as a result of the owner’s on-going generosity – I was merely the messenger. I think they deserve a hand of appreciation. I personally want to thank them for their support in running this business.

In closing, have fun tonight…..Have a great holiday season…. Be safe……And sincerely…..thank you.

Unfortunately, I was fired about a week after giving this speech (actually I gave it, knowing I was going to be fired). But what the heck....the party was good, the speech went over well and everybody had fun....oh, and Jumbo the Clown has never matched the kind of success the team achieved that year.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ho Ho Ho

Just reading this piece in the Globe and want to reassure everyone: if you've been invited, you're still invited. Of course it's only Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Judging People

I didn't vote for Stephen Harper's party in the last recent election because I did't trust him. Those warm and fuzzy family ads that he kicked the campaign off with were poor cover for a hyper-partisan determination to neo-conservatize Canada.

Over the past two weeks he has shown himself to be exactly what I feared and Canada has been thrown into a leadership fright box. Harper should step down. He's a scary dude with a vision for this country that few people understood. Now that they're catching on, it's dangerously late.

Leadership Smeadership

Okay. I know it’s a settings thing. Sometime, a long, long time ago – probably when leadership was being invented – I must have indicat...