Technology is the most disruptive force in the business
world today. It transforms everything that it touches, creating new
opportunities while at the same time threatening incumbents and late-adopters.
Futurist Peter Diamandis describes the technology paradox in the following way: “Entrepreneurs will create more wealth in the next decade, than we have in the entire past century. We’ll also experience the reinvention of every industry. Understanding how to navigate accelerating technological change is essential for every leader. The problem with such dazzling change is that most people fear the future, rather than being excited by it. And fear is a terrible mindset from which to create and leverage the opportunities ahead.”
InterimExecs recently held a webinar with Chief Information Officers (CIOs) David Mitchelhill and Kevin Malover about how you should be thinking about technology and your business strategy as we enter 2020. Among the topics discussed were ways to navigate disruption to stay competitive, the value of outside viewpoints in technology, when to pursue new technology versus maximizing current assets, and balancing the fear of change with the fear of falling behind.
Our world, our universe is characterized by constant change. Stars are born and die, storms transform the landscape, nations rise and fall, people change over time. In the business world economies grow and collapse, business models evolve, industries transform and even the Top 100 list of leading companies completely changes in a matter of a few years.
But sometimes the speed and scope of change is extremely rapid, its consequences unforeseeable and unpredictable. This makes planning and decision making highly risky because it is so difficult to see what the future holds. “Everybody has a plan,” said championship boxer Mike Tyson, “until they get punched in the face.”
To help explain the often sudden, fluid, rapidly evolving and dynamic forces of change – that “punch in the face” — the U.S. Army War College created the term V.U.C.A. to describe and ultimately deal with highly dynamic, shifting and challenging situations.
At the beginning of my career, I was involved in a lot of startups. I was starting with nothing – zero, zilch — so I’ve always had a lot of respect for entrepreneurs because you start from an idea and not much else. To be honest, in the beginning, I somewhat discounted my friends who were inheriting family businesses. When they’ve been at it for generations, I thought ‘well, how hard can this be?’
Thing is, the older I get, the more I’ve gotten to know various family offices and family run businesses and now, I’ve come to realize that running a family business is harder. Much harder. It’s a legacy that in some ways can be so overwhelming to continue to build, and not screw up, whereas with startups you have the luxury of low or no expectations.
Compare that with the legacy/obligation/burden handed to the second, third, or fourth generation, and there can be incredible pressure on the business and family to do well. And it’s even harder now, when no business – no sector – is immune to the kind of disruption, to the kind of disintermediation that technology has introduced into every industry and market. Nothing can be taken for granted, regardless of longevity.
“CFOs are retiring at the fastest pace in at least a decade,” reports a Wall Street Journal article citing that the increasing complexity of the role and for public CFOs, the lure to cash out shares in a hot stock market, make it even more attractive to make the change. An analysis of 12 years of regulatory filings by Audit Analytics for The Wall Street Journal showed that “one in six executives who left the CFO position at a U.S. public company in 2018 did so to retire, the highest share since at least 2007.”
In addition to many baby boomers simply being of retirement age, CFOs are facing new demands professionally. Historically, a CFO’s workload was focused on compliance, best accounting practices, and financial reporting. As the financial world grapples to evolve at an accelerated rate with the onslaught of digital transformation, so does a CFO’s job description. Today CFOs are faced with even more complex responsibilities that include making strategic decisions about investments, understanding and leveraging technology to streamline accounting practices, and developing financial disaster recovery plans to deter risk and cybercrime.
U.S. Banks are growing concerned — if not alarmed — and are reevaluating just how lax they are when it comes to handing out commercial loans. With sour loans on the rise, that’s not a pretty picture for companies that rely too much on credit lines or commercial loans. This is, in essence, a self-imposed business risk, as they are more dependent and susceptible to any fluctuations that occur.
A recent Financial Times article reported that non-performing loans increased by 20% at ten large commercial lenders. How much of an impact is that on the bank industry exactly? According to the Financial Times analyst, that’s a hefty $1.6B in the first quarter alone, a significant shift from credit quality since 2016, an era where the dust had settled from crashes and subsequent defaults on loans. The future started looking bright. Lending portfolios and credit quality began to improve.
With merely three years of positive momentum, fast forward to present day and all that has changed and not for the better. “Since most businesses utilize a credit line or other commercial loans, any slowdown will impact all types of commercial lenders – banks, asset-based lenders and factors,” said Yoav Cohen, an interim executive who has spearheaded eight turnarounds and liquidations, each one successful in paying off secured lenders in full. Cohen has seen it all, serving in roles as varied as interim CFO, COO, and a Chief Restructuring Officer.
In the tsunami of digital transformation, it has dawned on boards that disruptive technologies pose not only a great opportunity, but also bring inherent risks. New technologies bring great promise to help businesses grow, improve efficiencies, and seize new markets. On the other hand, when an organization decides to embrace new technologies, they will come face-to-face with new business models and regulations that are unlike what they have ever seen before.
Boards may not be fully equipped to face the onslaught and speed at which new technologies are infiltrating the business sector. In fact, according to the 2018–2019 NACD Private Company Governance Survey, 80% of directors say that boards need to expand their knowledge of the challenges and risks of emerging technologies.
As an executive who has spent his career growing companies, taking companies public, and successfully selling businesses, Charlie Shalvoy says the first thing he does when he parachutes into a company is begin with an assessment. Whether the company is venture-capital backed or private, or in manufacturing, energy, semiconductors, or industrial equipment, figuring out the current state of operations is always the first step. Charlie divides the stages an interim executive goes through in taking action in a new company into four phases:
Phase 1: Taking Hold (90 Days)
When a company seeks to expand into new markets or scale operations to support current and future growth, Charlie takes on a role ranging from Interim CEO to Executive Chairman, where he coaches and serves alongside the CEO and management team. He describes that in the taking hold phase, an interim executive identifies what’s broken – even fast growing companies need repairs. What is getting in the way? What is causing distress?
Many nonprofit organizations and foundations struggle with limited capacity and do not have the luxury of time or surplus of funding to reflect on how each task at hand contributes to their overall strategy. Nonprofit employees and board members can be overwhelmed by day-to-day activities, making it a challenge to take an introspective step back and improve strategic management.
Unfortunately, this puts up blinders as to where holes exist in their systems and plans. This can also lead to problems in accountability, a weak strategic plan, not to mention the staff stretched thin.
Nonprofit organizations typically are faced with several business challenges from inefficiencies in operations and deficiencies in program planning. Other issues nonprofits face are limited resources, and aligning their culture with clear, measurable business goals.
In an interview with Marketplace reporter, Nancy Marshall-Genzer, InterimExecs’ CEO Robert Jordan, shared his insights on the increasing use of interim executives in public companies, privately held companies, and nonprofit organizations.
The piece discussed how in many cases interim executives are brought in during critical transitions – both in times of crisis and rapid growth. A good Interim CEO or other C-suite executive builds trust within the organization, and often serves as a mentor to set up the team for future success.
Modern-day CEOs are taking on a barrage of new responsibilities in the age of rapid technological advancement and global expansion. Industry disruption seems to be an everyday occurrence and businesses are transforming at the speed of light. These new realities can pile never before seen challenges on a CEO’s plate that already runneth over.
How does a CEO conquer a growing list of to-do’s from establishing a strong organizational culture to developing growth strategies, and managing delicate political and stakeholder relations while forging ahead in this modern era? Opportunities to enter new markets and continuously innovate are top of mind in this day and age where technology has led to more competition and rapid change. The catch-22 is that a CEO is an army of one yet still are, charged with responding with agility and confidence to seize growth opportunities while ensuring organizational stability.