Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

June 30, 2013

Harley Luplow: Avoid business ER with these steps

In 2012 I was invited to serve as a hired gun for the largest small business consulting firm in North America. As a Senior Business Consultant I was typically deployed with less than 24 hours notice to respond to businesses that were in distress. These companies needed an emergency room doctor’s approach as people’s jobs were at stake and it was my responsibility to save them.

Consulting to a firm in distress is a very different role than that of a traditional consultant. Prior to this I had practiced law and held CFO- and director-level positions in public and private companies. Five of my last six jobs were offered to me following long-term consulting projects, but none of these assignments required the intensity of effort necessary to turnaround a distressed company.

Over a seven-month period I was deployed to thirteen companies, with eight of the companies having enough life remaining in them to be resuscitated. Of the eight surviving patients, five were full turnaround efforts and three were specialty cases involving sales of businesses and inventory financing.

What is most interesting to me is the way in which these distressed companies were initially engaged as clients: a simple cold call to see if the business owner was interested in learning how their business compared to industry averages. Imagine business owners receiving a random call that turns their business around! Most clients believed it was fate or good luck that I was there to help them … not the best strategic plan.

Looking back at the impact I was able to have on these companies, I see that with a few good ideas and a willing client team some pretty dramatic results were achieved. For example, one of my early clients believed that he needed to lay off staff immediately and perhaps close the business within a few months. Two weeks later he added four full-time positions, had booked more business than ever experienced before, and we started to plan for an expansion of his facilities.

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