Turn Arounds: 1. Stop the Bleeding

This is an occasional series about the accounting side of business turnarounds, where a company makes a serious effort to get back on its feet.

Two things that all turnarounds have in common: high stress and low money. Even if you are backed by someone with deep pockets, you have to prove your worth first.

Clearly the first step is like triage in a war hospital: determine what injuries need to be examined first. Start with the cash inflows and outflows. What cash needs to be paid immediately, what deferred and what cash can be collected? Ensure that the procedures are in place to update those lists daily.

The next priority for the accountant should be information: who needs what reports when? Ensure that operations (e.g. the warehouse, the factory, the sales locations etc.) are getting what they need, so that the business can continue to run. Check that the other stakeholders are getting what they need, particularly the funders such as the bank and active shareholders. Make an appointment to see each funder personally, particularly if you have been parachuted into the situation. Your goals are

  1. To establish or maintain a good relationship,
  2. To demonstrate that the situation is under control and
  3. To establish a line of communication so that the stakeholder knows when to expect updates on the situation.

Don’t forget financial reporting, particularly to the government. Companies in trouble often have poor internal financial reporting. Set a target, such as having the monthly financial reports available in 5 business days after the month end. Setting and meeting targets will go along way to re-establishing trust in the financial statements.

Equally important is the accounting team. They will need to be re-energized. Accounting is often the unsung hero of the company: if you drop in late at night and there is one light on in the office, chances are it will be the accountant. To the extent that you are able, tell the accounting team on what the plan is. You want to fight rumors with facts. Create a calendar of all the tasks that need to happen in accounting each week, month, quarter and year and ensure that someone is responsible for each one. Look for chances for people to take on additional responsibilities. You may not be able to pay them more, but you can certainly recognize and praise their efforts. One failing many accountants have is the tendency to take too much on ourselves and burn out.

Next installment: Technology Triage.

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