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LA ON Fire – Part II
Jul 6th, 2016 by LOONEYEXECUTIVE

Blake Glenn’s Looney thoughts, perspectives, adventures, and insights on the world of business!

— By Blake Glenn

 

Upon my arrival in LA, as always the tall palm trees, bright sunshine, and pollutant-infused smog embraced me with open arms. But, unfortunately, for the next week I wouldn’t see much of them. My immediate destiny was to be holed up deep within the bowels of the GAO office, leading efforts to turn around our fast disintegrating hopes for the $5,000,000 tech project.

When I got to the office I hit the ground running. I immediately set up a meeting with the client staff to hear their grievances. We held the meeting in the large conference room. It was windowless, barren, cold, grey, lacking in anything approaching personality, completely soulless.  It was an appropriate scene for the hellish torture I was set to endure.

All of the client stakeholders were present. Having all of them present was critical. Some of these people may have had their careers tied to this project. And even the least powerful among them still had influence and could make our team’s life miserable with their discontent and dozens of small complaints, a death by a thousand tiny cuts.

I should have put on my toxic substance defense suit because the shit began flying immediately. While I wasn’t the reason for their travails, I was now the onsite representative of the enemy. And as such, I was now the one bright red target upon which to vent their unending anger.

 

………………..

 

The grievances were many. That the new network installation wasn’t going well was an epic understatement. There were lots of bugs. That happens all the time of course. Things never go the way you expect. And like roaches in real life, you could quash a few here and there, but you could also rest assured that they would pop up somewhere else. Again. And again.

The situation was exacerbated by the engineers and technicians whose poor attitudes angered the GAO staff . The techies didn’t communicate well about problem resolutions. They didn’t respond quickly to information requests. And most damaging of all, they were simply rude to the customers, treating them like uninformed idiots that didn’t deserve the tech’s time.

My employer had made a big mistake too. They had left a hard core network engineer named Terry in charge of the onsite team. They could not have chosen a worse candidate. He was a very good network engineer, maybe even superb. But his people and management skills were non-existent. He was rude, short-tempered, and thin-skinned.

He was the Donald Trump of the geek world. But this was my employer’s fault more than Terry’s. They knew about his “personality flaws”. He should have never been the onsite team lead in the first place. But, in a moment of weakness, they acquiesced to his desire to be the man.

The other techs followed behind him because, well, he was in charge. But they weren’t happy. The customers were haranguing them relentlessly, not due to their own ineptitude but due to his. And the team recognized Terry’s inadequacies. They were ready for a change. When I arrived, the GAO villagers were so incensed with Terry that they were gathering torches and pitch-forks and descending upon the tech castle to drive him out of the building. And I think each and every one of our team members was ready to join them!

I acted quickly to take control and try to put things on the right track. Here’s what I did:

  • Immediately met with client staff as a means for them to vent their anger, frustration, and grievances. I mostly listened, and listened, and listened
  • Inserted myself between all tech personnel and client staff. There needed to be a buffer or cushion between these two groups and I had to be it
  • Immediately removed Terry from his position and made sure the other team members knew who was in charge … Me. The boss had already made everyone aware that I was now in charge. But that was a mandate from almost 3,000 miles away. I reinforced that mandate upon my arrival and included the boss in our meetings via conference call
  • Set up war room complete with crisis board to manage each problem
  • Enacted an emergency project management plan
  • Set up hierarchy to prioritize each problem
  • As a public relations move, had tech’s quickly fix a handful of small but lingering problems to show progress and ease tensions, i.e., killed several roaches quickly
  • Set up morning, mid-afternoon, and end-of-day progress briefings with client staff as a means to keep the client close to the activity. Only included techies that were necessary for updates and answering technical questions. Kept their client interaction time to a minimum.
  • Held tech staff briefings three times daily … about 30 minutes to 1 hour before client briefings
  • Threatened to drive Terry to the high open desert and remove his man-parts, Game-of-Thrones style, and feed them to the rattlesnakes if he came close enough to even breath the same air as any member of the client staff

 

Of course none of these items were rocket science. They weren’t that innovative. They weren’t going to change the world. They were all mostly just practical common sense actions needed to turn around this failing project, especially the Game-of-Thrones technique.

 

………………..

 

The primary requirements to do my job were pretty simple:

  1. Organization and project management;
  2. Thick skin to take all of the heat from the client … and my team members;
  3. Great communications skills;
  4. Ability to seamlessly transform at a moment’s notice between being a soothing “crisis whisperer” to a tough but fair ass-kicking leader;
  5. Sense of humor – seriously, some things you just gotta laugh at;
  6. Ability to combine individual profane words and phrases into new semi-lucid profanity strings targeted at non-compliant members of my team. This was a last resort of course, but proved unusually effective when used sparingly and with precision. As effective in many cases also was the strategic use of profane hand and finger movements and gestures.

 

And, while not flawless, the tactics worked. Within a week we had saved the LA project, which helped to renew confidence in my employer, which helped save the other regional GAO installations, which means we rescued about $5,000,000 in revenue for my employer. I was proud of the team coming together under my leadership to make this happen. But it was a team effort. They just needed the right leader. I didn’t have to Game-of-Thrones Terry’s man parts … unfortunately. And my boss was able to maintain his golf privileges.

The trip wasn’t all work though. One upside of that adventure was that my girlfriend-of-the-time lived in the Los Angeles area. Though we amicably went our separate ways soon after this trip, it was certainly good to see her.

Frankly though, I couldn’t understand why she brought her good male friend with her each time we met. It was good to see that she had a friend out there. Who says men and women can’t just be friends. I guess he needed her support. Going through a difficult time according to her. And he was strong. Lots of muscles. I knew she was safe. She later got married and had kids. I never met her husband. But the kids kind of looked like that guy. What a coincidence. I wonder if they’re still friends.

 

Want to catch up on Part I? Just click here!

 

………………..

 

Blake Glenn shares his looney perspectives, stories, and mis-adventures in The Looney Executive blog. He has interviewed hundreds (or at least tens) of people via  The Looney Executive Podcasts and former TV show. He’s the founder of a tech group called IgniteTech, and claims to be a direct descendant of the original Looney Executive – Because there must be SOME explanation … right?

 

If you dare, I can be reached the old school way … blake@LooneyExecutive.com

 

P.S.  I’m actively recruiting test contestants for my business game show experiment. Interested? Please contact me so I can add you to the player pool!

 

 

LA On Fire – Part I!
Jun 30th, 2016 by LOONEYEXECUTIVE

Blake Glenn’s Looney thoughts, perspectives, adventures, and insights on the world of business!

— By Blake Glenn

 

In mid-June, 1995 at approximately 8:29 am EST, on a typical sunny-hazy day, a major fire broke out in downtown Los Angeles, California. The sparks from this blue-hot blaze had been smoldering at a low level for about 10 days and now threatened to burst into an inferno and engulf the U.S. GAO building. The GAO was the Government Accounting Office.

 

An aside … As a result of a brilliant and strategically considered rebranding effort, in 2004 the “A” was changed from Accounting to Accountability. Yay!

 

This was not one of the ubiquitous 100-times-a-year forest fires indigenous to Southern California. No. This one was special. It was entirely contained within the GAO building. But if not contained, it threatened to leap-frog across the U.S. and spread to Atlanta, Washington, DC and other regional offices of the GAO.

Let me set the stage for this story.

You see I was working on-site as a contractor at the U.S. GAO Washington, DC headquarters. Our mission was to maintain the information technology system at the HQ as well as several field office locations around the country. Our services included installation, help desk support, repairs, maintenance, disaster recovery, and training. In total, the contract was worth about $5,000,000.

In 1995 the contractor I worked for was in discussions with the GAO for renewal and expansion of said contract. When you’re in a contract renewal year it’s like being a professional athlete in your last contract year. You want to have a great year. Be on your best behavior. Do a great job to try to ensure another big contract to keep the money rolling in. Those titanium golf clubs don’t buy themselves you know.

Needless to say, the higher-level, and by default, mid-level managers were all in a tizzy, as would be expected. The prospect of losing country-club memberships would panic even the most fearless individual. My employer implemented a secret plan send a specialist with a particular set of skills to address the situation.

Me.

And after conducting a bit of clandestine research, putting myself and those I love in dire danger, I was able to uncover the original transcript from the top-secret 1-on-1 crisis meeting with my boss, the project manager at U.S. GAO HQ in Washington, DC. Below I’ve provided a complete un-redacted original transcript.

………………..

 

8:47 am EST: Boss called into office of GAO division director in Washington, DC to get an earful on a critical situation developing in Los Angeles, CA

9:17 am EST: Boss asks to meet me in large GAO conference room … alone

9:23 am EST (I had to make a bathroom stop): Boss provides overview of the critical situation in Los Angeles

 

Full Transcript (un-redacted):

 

Boss: I need you Blake.

Me: Of course. How can I help sir?

 

Boss: We have a major situation in LA. A raging fire has broken out at the GAO regional office there. And I’m not so sure we can contain it. It’s bad. Real bad. Our entire tech contract is in deep shit. That’s $5,000,000 ready to go poof!

Me: Hmm. I see sir. How did this happen?

 

Boss: The geeks. Those damned geeks. No people skills. They ran wild. Talking to the customers like they were idiots. Not fixing problems in a timely fashion. They’re utterly out of control. They’ve fucked it all up! Damnit. Damn. It!

Me: I agree. That’s a bad situation sir. And by geeks I assume you primarily mean Terry, the onsite project manager.

 

Boss: Yes, Terry. Blake you’re our best hope. Hell you’re our only hope at this point. You’re the sole individual that can drag us out of that quagmire. Without you I’m afraid this contract will be lost. It’s worth $5,000,000 you know. We can’t lose it. You have to save it for us. It funds my country club membership. We have to focus on the real important things in life right?

Me: What? That’s a lot of pressure sir. By myself I don’t know if I can …

 

Boss (interrupting): We’re depending on you Blake. I mean TOTALLY. DEPENDING. ON. YOU. We really are. I need you to fly into LA and fix this freakin’ mess.

Me: Of course sir. I’ll do my best. But …

 

Boss (interrupting): No buts. I mean butts are fine. I like butts a lot, just not as part of this conversation. Just make this happen. And here may be a pony in it for you if you can pull off this miracle. You like ponies don’t you?

Me: Silence. Bewilderment. Staring. Mouth open.

 

Boss: Well don’t you?

Me: Uh. I don’t know. I never …

 

Boss (interrupting): Of course you do. What a stupid question. We all like ponies.

Me: Ok sir. I can see you’re under a lot of pressure. Are you ok?

 

Boss: How about a pink one. I think I can make that happen. You like pink do you?

Me: Pink? What?

 

Boss: Pressure! You have no freakin’ idea. I picked a helluva day to stop taking my pain killers recreationally.

Me: Ok. Ok. I’ll go to LA and do my best sir.

 

Boss: Of course. Your best is all I can ask for. That and fixing this mess of course. And saving my golf privileges. We can’t forget what’s important here. Am I right?

Me: No. I’m not promising …

 

Boss (interrupting): So that’s it then. It’s settled. You’ll fly out and deal with it. I already have you booked on a flight.

Me: What? When?

 

Boss: Two hours . You better get moving.

Me: Two hours! Sir what the fu…

 

Boss (interrupting): Excellent! I knew you’d be excited and want to leave right away. You’re my main man. By the way, does my golf swing look correct? Look at this.

Me: You son of a …

 

Boss (interrupting): No reason to thank me! You know I’m an unsentimental fool. When you reach LA be sure to check in straight away. Now off you go. You’re the man!

 

………………..

 

And with that I raced home, quickly packed, and caught a taxi to Washington National Airport. The 8-hour trip to Los Angeles, including the layover, flew by (no pun intended … ok it really was) rather quickly. I had a little time to prep myself for the hellish, toxic environment I was about to walk into – angry clients, battered tech staff, low morale on both sides, and the prospect of losing a $5,000,000 contract.

After a good night’s sleep, the last one I’d have for several days, I stepped onto pavement directly in front ofthe downtown Los Angeles GAO office. It was 8:00 am sharp. I quickly glanced the bright yellow shape in the sky, adjusted my red power tie, took a deep breath, opened the glass door, and walked head-first into the raging inferno inside.

 

For the rest of the story please read part II of LA On Fire!

 

………………..

 

Blake Glenn shares his looney perspectives, stories, and mis-adventures in The Looney Executive blog. He has interviewed hundreds (or at least tens) of people via  The Looney Executive Podcasts and former TV show. He’s the founder of a tech group called IgniteTech, and claims to be a direct descendant of the original Looney Executive – Because there must be SOME explanation … right?

 

If you dare, I can be reached the old school way … blake@LooneyExecutive.com

 

P.S.  I’m actively recruiting test contestants for my business game show experiment. Interested? Please contact me so I can add you to the player pool!

 

 

Turnarounds 101 – The Bare Basics!
May 18th, 2016 by LOONEYEXECUTIVE

Blake Glenn’s Looney thoughts, perspectives, and insights on the world of business!

— By Blake Glenn

 

I’m not an expert in the “art of the turnaround”. Not by any means. But as an outside advisor, I’ve had more than my share of brushes with troubled small businesses. I’ve had about 8 brushes as a consultant. I’ve had one inside experience as a part-time employee. And on one occasion I even parachuted into a hot mess to lead a tech “project turnaround” that was instrumental in my then-employer retaining a valuable contract with the U.S. government.

All of those situations were different of course. But almost all of them shared a handful of common traits:

 

  • Revenue declining
  • Profits evaporating
  • Customers fleeing
  • Low employee morale
  • Frantic owners/executives nearly paralyzed with fear and shock
  • No crisis or turnaround strategy as far as the eye can see

 

And the reasons that small businesses find themselves in the midst of a quagmire aboard a rapidly sinking ship are also diverse. Some common reasons include:

 

  • Loss of key customer(s) or contract
  • Entry of aggressive new competitor(s)
  • Industry-wide decline
  • Catastrophic outlier event (9-11 attacks, 2008 recession, Hurricane Katrina … etc.)
  • Management ineptitude or malfeasance
  • Loss of key employee(s)
  • Selling commodity products

That last one, commodity products, is a particular killer. It’s way too common in the world of small ventures. You provide a product or service that’s totally indistinguishable from many others available to customers. So rather than try to understand any obscure minute differences between the products (if any exist at all), customers simply shop for the lowest price.

 

And voila. There go your profit margins!

Captain … Iceberg straight ahead!

 

Small ventures have it tough I tell you. They have much less room for error than the troubled mega-businesses that often make the cover of Forbes magazine and the Wall Street Journal. Mega-companies such as IBM, Sears, and GM on the other hand, can go through several management teams over a period of years and still remain standing, though perhaps in a more deteriorated state. And unlike some mega-firms, small and mid-sized businesses aren’t too big or too important to fail. So government bailouts are nowhere to be seen in times of crisis.

But while each turnaround or crisis situation is unique, there are some general tactics you can implement to get a handle on the things.

 

Do An Assessment

Assess your cash flow. Do projections to get a clear picture of what’s going out and what’s coming in … and the timing for outflow and inflow. If you’re in an immediate crisis do this weekly. Also start regularly monitoring your income statement and balance sheet. Understand your key ratios and monitor them diligently. Assess your debt. What is owed to whom and for how much?

Also assess your management team. Are they equipped to deal with the crisis? What changes can be made to strengthen the team? Assess your employees. Maybe one or two of them can step into key roles on the turnaround team.

 

Stop/Minimize the Bleeding

This means try to minimize your losses by such methods as cutting costs, reworking debt payments if possible, and incentivizing quicker customer payments. You might also delay making payments to some vendors in order to temporarily help cash flow.

 

Communicate

… with employees, key customers, lenders, and investors if you have them. Aprise them of the situation. And let them know how you plan to deal with the crisis. Get them on board early, especially employees. Let them know that their help is critical to your survival. Employees need their jobs, though some will almost certainly have to be let go. Customers need their products, though but maybe not from you if you sell commodities. And lenders want their money back.

 

Create a Turnaround Team

Launch a crisis team that includes one or two employees, not just managers or executives. Keep the team small. You must move quick and with urgency. And unwieldy committees notoriously move slowly. Appoint a turnaround manager that has the final say. This may be the owner, CEO, a founder, or other executive. Sometimes an outside turnaround manager is necessary, if you can afford it, because their judgment isn’t clouded by an emotional attachment.

 

Develop a Turnaround Plan

Create a strategy to survive and turn the ship around. Create goals and deadlines. Assign tasks. It’s just like a project plan, because, well, it is! Execute swiftly. Be flexible as things change and may call for different tactics than you thought.
These are just a few general tips on how to approach a basic turnaround. Of course each situation is unique. But these will at least get you going in the right direction.

And if you want to read an interesting and funny story about one of my turnaround experiences take a look at my post Jimmy’s Descent Into Hell.

Take care and watch out for those icebergs!

 

 

Blake Glenn shares his looney perspectives, stories, and mis-adventures in The Looney Executive blog. He has interviewed hundreds (or at least tens) of people via  The Looney Executive Podcasts and former TV show. He’s the founder of a tech group called IgniteTech, and claims to be a direct descendant of the original Looney Executive – Because there must be SOME explanation … right?

 

If you dare, I can be reached the old school way … blake@LooneyExecutive.com

 

P.S.  I’m actively recruiting test contestants for my business game show experiment. Interested? Please contact me so I can add you to the player pool!

 

 

Jimmy’s Descent Into Hell: A Cautionary Business Tale … Part III
Oct 13th, 2014 by LOONEYEXECUTIVE

A true story ripped from The (Mis-)Adventures of The Looney Executive

– By Blake Glenn

 

Just finding us?  Catch up on Part I and Part II of the story.

 

A Murder – Suicide in Van Nuys!

Say It Ain’t So Jimmy!

After Jimmy had been coming to our sessions for a few weeks, I noticed something striking about him. He looked so different. His look of suicidal desperation was gone (though he was certainly still a little desperate … just not so much suicidal). The blood no longer rushed to his face, turning him into a talking beet.

But perhaps most importantly, I no longer had to keep the SBDC staff on high-alert. I no longer was afraid that I would make the back page of the LA Times as the victim of a murder-suicide!

I could just imagine the 6:00 news anchor making the announcement:

“This is Tim Weathorford Tisdale bringing you the 6:00 o’clock news.”

“This just in … In Van Nuys just moments ago, a crazed and desperate small business owner brutally attacked a business consultant before taking his own life.”

“Apparently the emotionally distressed owner beat the unsuspecting consultant upside the head with a stack of financial statements, rendering the poor man completely senseless. The victim staggered into the hallway of his office where he collapsed, several months of financial statements were triple-stapled to his scalp. I can’t verify this, but sources close to the situation say the consultant also had at least a half dozen cash flow statements protruding from his rectum.”

Financial Graph

 

 

 

 

 

 

“My God! Ladies and gentlemen I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s senseless barbaric brutality …”

“Then the killer ripped a computer monitor from the wall and smashed it into his own head. Both men were rushed to the hospital. The owner and his business were pronounced Dead-On-Arrival.”

“In a heroic effort, the doctors enacted an emergency surgical procedure to remove the financial statements from the consultant’s skull. Although he had a heart attack on the operating table, at this moment the victim is still waging a desperate battle for his life as the cash flow statements are being delicately removed by North Hollywood’s top proctologist.”

“This is such a tragedy. I’m sure the consultant was only making a valiant and desperate attempt to help keep the anguished, distraught small biz owner from going under. Such a senseless attack is nothing short of … a tragedy. These days being a small business consultant is such a dangerous and thankless job.”

“Oh well.”

“In more breaking news … 12 year old Cinnamon Johnson narrowly won the West Hollywood spelling bee, just edging out 11-year old Wilbur Montgomery …”

Winner!

 

 

 

 

Closing This Case

Many firms in Jimmy’s highly fragmented industry were in similar circumstances. I saw this as an opportunity for him to possibly roll up 2 or 3 rivals via acquisitions. So I suggested this as a long-term option. Once he regained his health, he could pounce on weaker rivals with buyout offers. He could then root out overlap, cut costs and create a larger, more stable, and more profitable firm that had a better chance of surviving and thriving. I offered to help him in researching and exploring this further.

But Jimmy would have none of this. He was no opportunistic predator. Sure, he understood what I was saying. And it made lots of sense intuitively. He just didn’t really have the heart or ambition to go on a takeover spree and become a poor man’s Carl Icahn. You see he was the classic small business owner. He felt fine at $1,200,000 in revenue and $200,000 – $300,000 in take-home cash, plus perks. He lived a certain lifestyle. He had no real growth ambitions to speak of. He just wasn’t an entrepreneur. He felt comfortable just where he was … operating as a commodity business, always trying to best the price of a competitor.

The bottom line is this, once Jimmy saw what was happening with his cash flow, he felt a hell-of-a-lot better. He knew the expenses he had to manage closely and how much loss or profit to expect.

Cash Register

 

 

 

So What’s The Lesson In All Of This?

Well, there are a couple of key lessons you can take away from Jimmy’s experience.

1.  Stay Out Of A Commodity Business

Anytime there’s lots of competition and sales is based almost solely on the price of your product, you’re in a commodity business. You’ll have low margins. And your revenue will based on trying to achieve a high volume. That’s a rat-eat-rat world not worth the effort … if you can avoid it. Aside from a complete exit from the market, coping methods could include (a) Moving into related higher margin products; (b) Creating premium priced services to package with the commodities; (c) Buying up competitors to eliminate competition, reduce  expenses, and force up prices.

 

2.  Know Your Financials

The bottom line is that you need to keep a strict handle on your revenue, expenses, profit, and cash flow so that in good times or bad, you know the financial condition of your company. You’ll see the trends as they’re developing. And, as revenue and profit dip, you’ll know where you can cut back expenses if necessary

Let me offer a little more creative twist on this lesson:

 “If you’d just keep a better handle on all of your cash … You could end up saving your’s and someone else’s precious ass.”

“And frankly, the ass you save could be mine!”

 

You’ve just read a tale from “The (Mis-)Adventures Of the Looney Executive!” …  A series of biz stories from Blake Glenn.

 

The Looney Man

 

 

 

 

 

Blake Glenn shares his looney perspectives, stories, and mis-adventures in The Looney Executive  blog. He has interviewed hundreds (or at least tens) of people via  The Looney Executive Podcasts and former TV show. He’s the founder of a tech group called IgniteTech, and claims to be a direct descendant of the original Looney Executive – Because there must be SOME explanation … right?.

If you dare, he can be reached the old school way … blake@LooneyExecutive.com

 

—————————————————————————————————————

P.S. – If you’re really interested in growing the tech startup scene in SW Ohio, you’ll want to join the IgniteTech Meetup Group.  Join the group. Come out to our events. Bring your energy and ideas. Build your connections.

Join us on this adventure. And help us to create a great story!

 

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