From Business Undertaker To Company Doctor

If I'm being 'official' I call myself a turnaround professional, an accredited member of the only such awarding body in the UK, the Institute for Turnaround. To Americans, I'm a 'CRO' which means a Chief Restructuring Officer, and if I want to give myself an air of glamour, I sometimes call myself a troubleshooter. Then my wife tells people I'm an accountant which rather spoils the effect.

Really however, I have always preferred the traditional description of my trade, which is a company doctor, even if sometimes it takes a bit of explaining.

I started out almost twenty years ago in insolvency, working in Cork Gully which was the euphemistically titled 'Business Recovery' arm of Coopers & Lybrand, and where we got all the usual jibes about being business undertakers, which was fair enough.

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But being involved in corporate insolvency work does mean that you learn an awful lot about businesses which are having difficulty with their lifeblood, which is after all, cash.

And so you quite quickly become a bit of an expert in dealing with businesses suffering from chronic heart disease. You also become quite good at spotting those at risk when you are doing the business health checks that the banks ask you to do, those that are starting to show the signs of poor circulation, those that are a bit breathless, those that have put on more weight than is good for them.

Which is one of the reasons that, about fifteen years ago, I switched over to being a company doctor, and went to work in the business accident and emergency department.

There, the idea is to administer life support, the crash treatments necessary to ensure that the business survives the crisis that has it flat on it's back. And then to pull them out of the operating theatre and through into the intensive care ward to stabilise, before it's time to start the long period of recovery and work on their rehabilitation back into corporate health.

So it still comes as a surprise to me, when there are qualified and accredited company doctors out there, to find there are businesses whose chronic health problems have developed into acute symptoms, who think that the best person to go to for advice is the 'business undertaker'.

Even more so when I find that their GPs, their accountants, are often referring them direct to the business undertakers, rather than to the business A&E ward or a specialist consultant.

Now there are times when you do need to call the business undertaker. We doctors may be able to heal the sick, but we can't raise the dead. And sadly when some cases come into A&E, particularly after a bad crash, there is little that we can do but call the undertaker ourselves.

As I've already said, insolvency practitioners have enormous experience and skills in dealing with businesses in crisis. Not only that, but there are some things that only an insolvency practitioner can do and there are some rescue procedures that only a licensed insolvency practitioner is allowed to undertake. So an insolvency practitioner is often well placed to both advise on dealing with an initial crisis and often has a real role to play in dealing with the initial restructuring.

But you do have to ask yourself, how much interest does the undertaker have in working over the long term to cure the business's underlying ills and help it through rehabilitation? After all, the undertaker makes his money by conducting funerals.

I would also ask accountants and other professionals, including businesses' bankers, to always think about their own interests in helpong their clients to survive and prosper, if only so as to continue to pay them fees into the future?

So, always remember to call in a company doctor as part of the team for both short term help in a business crisis and long term help with a business recovery.

And make sure you call the doctor early enough when the symptoms are starting to show and don't wait until the problem is incurable.

Because this is nothing new. As Niccolo Machiavelli said, talking about political rather than business problems in the fifteenth century, 'As the doctors say of a wasting disease, to start with it is easy to cure but difficult to diagnose; after a time, unless it has been diagnosed and treated at the outset, it becomes easy to diagnose but difficult to cure.'

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Posted in Business Service Post Date 02/14/2016






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