Mad @ Mgmt

with Walter Simson


Making the Board an Effective Crisis Manager

Directors of private equity portfolio companies have a curious double mission — not only to act as fiduciaries for the investors (protecting the value of assets and ensuring financial controls are in place, for example) but also supervising the strategic transformation of the company. A board member at various companies may, for example, oversee the sale of non-core assets for debt reduction or the execution of an add-on acquisition. The board's role in these companies is magnified in many cases by the sense of urgency arising from relatively short holding periods and also by the relative thinness of management resources.

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Other Worlds, Other Wonders

Daniyal Mueenuddin has a remarkable history and a unique biography. The history includes graduating from Dartmouth, turning around a family firm, then returning to Yale Law School and working at a white shoe Wall Street firm. He then, like many lawyers, turned to writing. The biography on the back of his published story collection starts this way: "Daniyal Mueenuddin was brought up in Lahore, Pakistan and Elroy, Wisconsin." The brevity, if not the geography, is inspired. And I think of that sentence this way: a lot of writers probably come from Lahore. A few may have stopped through Elroy. But none of them, until now, have been part of both worlds.

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LAX Attacks!

One of the citizens of Fond du Lac, Wis., King C. Gillette, spent years perfecting a disposable steel razor. His famous adage was to give out razors — and sell razor blades. I think there are more efficient ways of barbering the consumer so that he hardly feels the blade. For example, imagine an item sold to a child who has no concept of the value of the dollar. The child's parents have no concept of the value of the item. Imagine also that, contrary to King Gillette's experience, the item needs sharpening.

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Taking the Long View in a Short-Term Culture

My son has a great manufacturing internship. He really enjoys it. In many ways, he is living the life that his Wisconsin schooling prepared him for. He sent out four e-mails requesting a spot, and got an offer after a few weeks. The family-owned company that made the offer is doing well, so they agreed to take on a student.

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What it Really Takes to Turn a Business Around

I have been doing turnarounds for over twenty five years, and along the way, I've accumulated certain prejudices about what types of businesses are easiest to fix. Wholesale distribution and retail/restaurant chains are among my favorites, because there are usually enough profitable parts of the business — a core product or very profitable locations — so that the survival of the business is assured. Construction firms are among the harder cases. Why? Well, usually there is an issue not only in the company, but in the market.

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