Yearly Archives: 2021


Saving Private Ryan Companies


Last month I had a very lucrative, but sad day.

I spent nearly four decades in the same private employee-held service sector company, the final eleven years as its CEO. Over my career, I witnessed it achieve world-class status in its focused sector of global water infrastructure. Three years ago, I left the management for an independent consulting practice but, as did other senior retirees with large holdings, retained a stock position in a multi-year sell-down allowing the company continued use of my investment capital.

Since I left the management team, the firm repeatedly told its employees of its exciting future as evidenced by its ever-growing record backlog, strategically enhancing acquisitions and improving internal efficiency. They credited much of the success to the dedication and care of employees who were also the sole owners.

But last fall, the Board quietly self-initiated a structured sales process with about a dozen self-chosen firms and sold this spring to a public company—to the surprise of its shareholders, employees and the industry. When the deal closed I benefited through my residual stock’s escalation, but it was a depressing day for me. Another mid-sized, privately held, services company was gone…this time; it was the firm to which I had dedicated my career.

As a result of the acquisition, many of the latent ambitions of both individuals and the company’s leadership, that was not possible before the sale, may now be achieved with the new configuration. The buyer is an established public company in the infrastructure space with proven leadership and better accessibility to growth capital. All this may be true, but sadly, the merger results in the rapid evaporation of my former company’s enterprise legacy and independence. And that change is irreversible. There is […]

By |May 3rd, 2021|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Finding a Support Base for Change

How many times is a new leader asked to change the status quo of the unit they inherit? If not, how many new leaders think they have to change the status quo just to symbolize taking charge?

In the course of management succession, a new leader is constantly elevated and expected to show immediate competency with equal-to-better ideas than the last person. Not only is the new leader asked to come up with a different strategy or changed environment, they are expected to carry it off with majority support as the first test of their abilities. The test sets the tone for their tenure.

Every unit can be improved in some way. The strength of one leader is usually matched by some weakness in the last individual in that position, that got less attention. So, coming up with a set of changes to ‘take charge’ is not as difficult as it would seem. When you have no good ideas to improve your market position, try re-branding with a logo or ‘refreshed’ color combinations…just kidding, as you must have something better than optics!

Seriously, change is stressful for all. It shakes the power structure into the unknown. Obviously identifying change issues that improve your business competitiveness or performance culture would be best, but you will really be remembered by whether you could sell your idea and overcome resistance to take charge. Mediocre ideas that are ‘sold’ well are superior to the greatest idea changes you never get concurrence for. New leaders, especially if coming from outside the organization, usually do not have an established constituency. Most all inherited subordinates are polite and act politically supportive in their surface behavior to a new leader. But there are a wide […]

By |May 2nd, 2021|Career Lessons|0 Comments

The Best Client Service Advice

The best client service advice I ever received was given to me by a colleague 20 years my senior. I’ve always admired the quality and depth of his business relationships. His clients had a tendency to be demanding, but they were also his personal friends. One day, I asked him how he did it, and his answer stuck with me.  So, what was it?

His advice: Always work to get your client personally promoted to a higher job level, study what their bosses or organization value and then help your client deliver impressive on-target results.

Now, at first glance, one might say that this concept is no different than delivering the scope of work on time, on budget and with good quality, but nothing could really be further from the “promotion theory.” Over the years, I’ve found that my clients  get credit by solving issues or enhancing an image outside of the scope of work.

Finding the necessary characteristics that lend themselves to your client’s success takes work. You cannot initially be so direct, but by building a relationship and studying the way others get promoted, you can better understand the values of the individuals within the organization who are responsible for promoting.

For example, one project I worked on was relatively straightforward in scope, but I realized that my client’s boss wanted to be recognized in the industry for innovation. As a result, I wrote a technical paper on the project and convinced my client to jointly submit our paper into a professional conference. We then asked his boss to also co-author the piece, eventually convincing him to attend the conference and present it. It was no surprise that the boss thought it was a fantastic project and […]

By |May 1st, 2021|Career Lessons|0 Comments