Troubled companies and their advisors are increasingly finding value in pursuing substantive balance sheet restructurings out of bankruptcy court. This shift has been driven by a number of factors, including the availability of risk capital, pressure from creditors to minimize costs, reduced management control in the context of bankruptcy, and the ability to negotiate favorable terms with severely impaired creditor constituencies.

As more companies facing financial distress seek to reorganize out of bankruptcy court, the key driver in right-sizing a balance sheet has shifted from aggressive legal tactics to savvy negotiating. Increasingly, advisors to distressed companies must be prepared to drive substantial, and potentially life-saving, change in their clients through impactful negotiations with key stakeholders.

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View original article in In Business here.

A couple of months ago, I got an email from Benton Harbor, Mich. It reported on the local strife following the appointment of a super-powerful municipal administrator under a new Michigan law.

“Do you do this?” my correspondent asked. “Any comment?”

And I replied that the only person I would trust to comment was someone whom I had admired for many years but had never met.

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Turnaround & Workouts magazine named your firm one of the top 12 outstanding turnaround management firms in the country, twice. How did you do that?

This award is usually given to firms based on their growth, we stood out with our case work. We are unique from the standpoint that we are very nimble and flexible and can respond quickly to a company’s needs. We think it’s far more important to build a team within the corporation, therefore build value, because unless we do that, once we leave, so do our resources.

Is that unique?

That is in contrast to the major consulting firms that want to put in 10, 20, or 50 people at their rates into a particular company. What we want to do is use the people that are within the company. We want to bring employees to the next level, hire a full permanent management team, and make sure that plans are in place so that the business can continue when we leave.

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Whether you are an investor, serve on a board of directors, own or manage a company, you face business risks. All of the stakeholders accept additional risk when the company is heading for trouble. Balancing these risks can cause a predicament. By recognizing some early warning signs that indicate business trouble on the horizon, you can eliminate, overcome, or, at the very least, side step many of those risks.

Business trouble means different things to each of us at different times. The perception differs depending on the stakeholder, but the fear is always the same — loss of their investment (money, time, energy, good will, reputation). The anticipation of loss is unacceptable. No one likes to lose — anything.

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The turnaround of a business in financial distress involves managing the business and its problems. The process is time consuming and requires a special set of skills. The problems of the business are often compounded by owners or management who are facing financial distress for the first time and who are reticent to change. This is where a turnaround specialist brings his art to the process.

The identity of the client must be clear. The client’s identity may appear clear at first glance, but it can quickly become blurred. For example, the owner of a closely held business may be as concerned about personal guarantees as about the survival of the business. In addition, if the lender has referred the specialist, the specialist must make it clear to all parties whether the lender or the business is the client.

Turnaround specialists generally are either interim managers or consultants. Interim managers will replace the CEO, take the decision-making reins of a troubled business, and guide it through its troubled waters, hopefully to safety. Turnaround consultants advise existing management without taking an operating role within the company. Although some specialists are willing to act as either an interim manager or a consultant, most prefer to act as one or the other.

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Belgium-based interim executive Patrick Geysen, a turnaround specialist, has been in the interim field for more than 8 years, and he has a story to tell. It’s a story about the power of bringing in an “outsider” to view a problem objectively and implement change.

Brilliant sunshine, a beautiful blue sky and a sandy beach surround an underperforming Caribbean telecom business. Yet, with 4 out of 5 operational managers recently leaving the company within a span of several weeks, it was not paradise for the European mother company that was on the verge of divesting the troubled division.

Enter Patrick Geysen, a Belgium-based turnaround specialist. His interim assignment was to save the business for the short-term, improve the numbers, and then sell it. Geysen prepared a restructuring plan for the 6 islands based on increasing sales in the short-term, letting non-performers go, and showing considerable results in the space of 12 months. The board accepted his plan in May 2009 and by May 2010, sales had risen significantly and the company cancelled the divestment.

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Veteran interim executive Don Bibeault has more than 30 turnarounds under his belt, ranging from steel mills to financial services companies.

Bibeault knows something about leadership. He’s been doing turnarounds, 9 of which were interim CEO assignments, since the 1970s. He was the first ever recipient of the Turnaround Management Association’s lifetime achievement award.

His best-selling book, Corporate Turnaround, How Managers turn Losers into Winners, has for years been a key text in the study and practice of turnarounds.

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The process of turning around a troubled entity is complex, due to multiple constituencies, usually including lenders, creditors, investors, owners and employees. All have different agendas. In my work I address the turnaround process as if all constituents are in favor of proceeding to the end, when a restructured entity emerges. Nothing about a turnaround is simple, but that approach at least clarifies the forward movement.

Above all, focus on the management team. Businesses fail because of mismanagement. According to a study conducted by the Association of Insolvency and Restructuring Advisors, only 9 percent of failures are due to influences beyond management’s control. Mismanagement is most often seen in more than one of these multiple areas: autocratic style, ineffective personnel management, vague goals, lack of new customers, inadequate strategic analysis, and mismanaged growth.

So, as Will Rogers said, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Good advice for directors with responsibility to lead a company.

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It’s not easy being a turnaround artist these days. Just ask Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Romney is taking serious heat for his work at Bain Capital, including recently a derisive Rolling Stone article, “Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital.” The piece outlines Bain’s “epic wealth grab” which it argues both destroyed jobs and entire companies.

Don’t flee, this isn’t a political piece. But a word here, please.

Whatever the opinions about Mitt Romney and his private-equity business history, let’s focus for a moment on the real-live turnarounds of distressed companies, the kind of engagements that attract many interim executives. Turnaround, that is, by definition.

Lonnie Sciambi, for example, is one turnaround artist who would appreciate that shift. Sciambi said he was asked at a party what he did for a living. He said he did turnarounds. “The guy said, ‘So you slash and burn?’” Well, not exactly.

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