In speaking with shareholder-managers about creating a board of directors, at some point the most critical question of all raises its head. “At the end of the day, will you actually listen to them?” Having a board of directors is a great driver of profitability and performance as we have traversed in previous articles. However, if you are not prepared to listen to them you will not receive the value from having them there.
Listening at critical moments
It can be very easy to respond to this challenging question by saying, “Of course I would listen to them.” In practice, it can be a much harder reality.
More specifically, it can be one thing listening to your board when you like what they have to say, and another thing entirely when you disagree or do not like what you are having to hear. When your board is challenging you, making you feel uncomfortable or suggesting you are going down the wrong path, this is the time to sit up and take notice.
Being the shareholder-manager and the entrepreneur means having to take a step back and take account of what others are saying. It can be an interesting change. I am sure that on your entrepreneurial journey you, as have I, have occupied that comfort zone of “what I say goes.” In the boardroom though, the last thing you want your non-executive directors to do is to turn-off because of the way you respond.
Do not avoid the tough discussions
As a non-executive director, I am not one who avoids the tough discussions. In a board meeting I once chaired, the board felt that whatever we asked or said about a particular issue we were told we did not know the context or management explained how much work had already been done. It was as though the entrepreneur had decided what was happening and did not want the board to get in the way.
The project in question was at an early stage and while it was a good idea it was going to require guidance and critique to support its success. The discussion got to the point where I turned to the shareholder-manager and asked, “What questions are we actually allowed to ask?” It was in a slightly heated tone, I will admit.
There were a few moments of silence while the room took stock. The point was made and management relaxed a bit. We then worked through the issues as a team. The entrepreneur still refers to that discussion and the fact that if he is not prepared to hear the board, then what is the point of having a board.
It takes two to tango
If you are not getting this sort of level of challenge and debate, it may not only be your fault as the entrepreneur. It may not be because you have shut down conversations or stopped lines of questioning you have not liked. It could be because you do not have directors who are naturally challenging enough. If you have a board of directors, including independent non-executive directors, my question for you is, “When was your last tough discussion?” If this is a difficult question to answer then you should ask yourself, “Has my board turned off the tough discussions because of how
I respond?” or “Do I need to find non-executives who are really willing and able to challenge me?”
Building a high-performance board is a journey, not a destination. It is critical that you have the right people around the table to tango with you.
South African Investors And Entrepreneurs, The World Needs You
With governments and corporations across the globe constantly on the lookout for innovators and entrepreneurs, time is most certainly against those who remain constricted by their limited citizenship portfolio.
Citizenship-by-investment (CBI) was once seen as something only reserved for the ultra-wealthy, but it is now also becoming the new normal for business investors and entrepreneurs wanting to expand their reach. We live in a highly globalised world where the flow of goods, people, and ideas means that the freedom to move and do business internationally has never been more important. With governments and corporations across the globe constantly on the lookout for innovators and entrepreneurs, time is most certainly against those who remain constricted by their limited citizenship portfolio.
How can citizenship-by-investment benefit South African investors?
First of all, entrepreneurs with multiple passports or residence permits are able to take advantage of the benefits and best practices of all the countries to whose jurisdictions they belong, while also being less vulnerable to a single country’s risks, shortcomings, and unexpected changing fortunes. The more jurisdictions an investor can access, the more diversified their assets will be and the lower their exposure to both country-specific sovereign risk and global volatility. By acquiring a higher quality nationality, one obtains greater global access and is better prepared for an uncertain future.
Nations within the EU, for example, offer citizens and residents access to all 28 member states, as well as to a number of other countries associated with the EU’s freedom of movement charter. In addition to expanded global mobility and a reduction in sovereign risk, alternative residence and citizenship also offer individuals access to career, educational, and cultural opportunities on a global scale.
The benefits to governments and citizens of host nations
It would, however, be misguided to think that the advantages presented by citizenship-by-investment are for investors alone: for the governments and citizens of host nations the benefits are substantial. For governments, the inflow of extra capital reduces pressure on the treasury and protects national sovereignty by helping to mitigate the need for loans. Indeed, the establishment of a transparent, well-managed CBI program is not dissimilar to discovering a sustainable source of oil within the confines of a country’s national borders. Both scenarios create an immediate injection of new funds into the national treasury, which ultimately leads to greater long-term prosperity for the country and its people.
Successful applicants also bring intangible benefits to receiving countries, such as scarce skills and rich global networks. They add diversity and they uplift host nations through their demands for improved and novel services, which can create new opportunities for local communities. In Malta, for example, the establishment of a CBI program was as much about attracting rare talent as it was about generating much-needed capital in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Four years after the launch of the Malta Individual Investor Program (MIIP), Malta has one of the highest GDP growth rates — and one of the lowest unemployment rates — of any EU member state. In 2017, the country also reported a record-high budget surplus, with 90% of the gains attributable to the MIIP.
For smaller economies that face increasing trade and industry competition on the global stage, such an outcome can be transformative. Take the Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis, for example. Three years after relaunching its CBI program in 2007, the program accounted for around 5% of the country’s GDP. A year later, this figure had doubled, and after the sixth year, the figure had doubled again to 20%. By 2014, the St. Kitts and Nevis CBI program was responsible for approximately 25% of the nation’s GDP.
Moreover, other projects made possible through Caribbean CBI programs have had the knock-on effect of boosting employment and contributing to the greening of their economies. For instance, in Antigua and Barbuda an award-winning 10 MW clean-energy project cluster was realised within two years of launching its program. In addition to large-scale installations, over 50 schools and other government-owned buildings have been equipped with sustainable solar-energy systems in order to benefit from the new clean-energy supply. Such innovations were only made possible through the funds conferred by the country’s CBI program.
Thus, the inflows of funds from citizenship programs can be considerable, and the macro-economic implications for most sectors can be extensive. Just as traditional foreign direct investment (FDI) increases the value of the receiving state, bringing in capital to both the public sector and the private sector, so the benefits proffered by CBI — a form of FDI — rapidly turn the fate of a country away from debt and dependency and towards independence and stability.
In short, citizenship-by-investment is a boon to both host nations and investors alike. For South African entrepreneurs and investors who find themselves burdened by visa restrictions and red tape, acquiring a second citizenship is a simple means of expanding global reach, getting ahead of competitors, and giving something back to host nations that are only too grateful to have these talented individuals as part of their community.
First Rule Of Securing Growth Capital: It’s Not About The Product
Paragon CEO, Gary Palmer, discusses the pitfalls facing business owners searching for capital to fund expansion.
A common mistake made by entrepreneurs looking for growth capital is fixating on which product they should choose. When looking to finance growth in your business, the decision process should be focused on longer-term strategic priorities and then finding a partner to help you access the right product to deliver on those goals.
Let’s get real
At the outset business owners need to look at their business realities and decide whether they should be looking for debt or equity financing. For example, if a business can only support debt of 2.5 times EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation and Amortisation), and they are already at that limit, then they will need to look for equity financing to achieve their growth goals. In many instances, a combination of both debt and equity financing will hold the key, allowing the organisation to benefit from cheaper debt funding, but ensuring that it is not overextended.
Even if the growth project can be funded through debt alone, business owners face the challenge of dealing with a multitude of institutions, each of which puts emphasis on different aspects of the deal. No business owner can know the minutia of their requirements, and so working with a partner who can help you prepare your presentations is a must.
The challenge becomes all the greater when companies may be looking to finance a non-traditional project. We have a client who is looking for finance to build roads leading to his development. This is not something traditional lenders usually deal with, and so in this instance he will need to access more creative funding options not offered by the banks. Another example is when a founder is looking to buy out other partners, this too may need to go to a lending institution which is able to structure deals for out-of-the-box requirements.
Square pegs, round holes
A common frustration faced by business owners is that some lending institutions sell products rather than solutions. Too little time is spent understanding the needs of the client and designing an appropriate solution, tailored to the client’s unique requirements. These lenders are literally forcing the client’s needs into the limited number of financial products they offer.
It’s going to get more complex
Another challenge for business owners is the sheer number of institutions out there. New funds, new lenders and the plethora of fintech offerings are making it harder for growth companies to find the best offer available. In the US and Canada, more than half of the big property deals are now funded by non-banks. We believe South Africa is headed the same way. The added competition, is of course great for the market and will encourage better service and more creative options, but it does make it difficult for business leaders to keep track of everything available.
Don’t fall prey to borrower’s remorse
In so many cases, companies are in a rush to secure funding and often end up choosing a product which is not suited to their longer-term strategy. Getting out of a transaction can be exceptionally difficult. Far too often companies wake up to better options too far down the line. If more appropriate finance is found, companies will be left carrying the settlement fees attached to their previous funding, not to mention the administrative pain of changing lenders.
Related: Funding Growth
Paragon has over 150 lenders on its books and a network of angel investors which we can access to find the right deal. It’s our job to know exactly what is available and more importantly, to work with business owners to ensure they access lending which is not going to result in borrower’s remorse. The only way to ensure good results is to start the lending hunt with a partner who can help you first determine the right lending strategy, based on your business reality. The alternative could prove both expensive and painful.
How Well Do You Really Know Your Customers?
Staff are more secure, and turnover is decreasing.
All businesses go through 4 distinct stages of growth. In the early start-up days everyone is thinking on their feet, few formal processes are in place and sales funnels are still being constructed. Then the business enters the growth stage where things become more formalised and client relationships are maturing into the three to four-year mark. Staff are more secure, and turnover is decreasing.
Next is into the maturity phase, growing by about 5% annually with early employees entrenched with 8 – 10 years’ tenure. This is the stage where you feel most secure, with operations being predictable and revenue steady. But it is also the most critical period in your company’s life as this is when complacency may set in. This leads to the last growth stage for a business – renewal or decline.
Renewal equals customer growth
Your business’s final growth stage must start with identifying what customer value is still untapped in the business. The Pareto Principle or 80/20 Rule, says that 80% of your business wealth will come from 20% of your customer base. Since it costs 10 times more to acquire new clients than to sell to the ones you already have, focusing on existing clients should be a no-brainer.
To talk to and retain these all important existing clients, it is essential to provide value through the entire customer lifecycle; from when you acquire them to engaging them in meaningful conversations to retaining them by continually providing value – ultimately turning them into brand advocates.
Key relationships not just transactions
Engaging with your customers this way moves you away from a transactional approach to a more long-term partnership. But to do this your clients need to trust your company. Not just the sales team, but everyone at every touch-point. I have found this to be especially true for the B2B market. Clients want to do business with a business that continuously adds value to them – not taking their account for granted and making them feel that their business is important.
This more long-term approach means greater value to the right clients, in the right ways at the right times. Collectively, the long-term effect should result in greater customer retention, preventing churn and attrition, turning your clients into loyal advocates. So it is vital to have an ongoing and robust helicopter view of your clients’ sentiment. Don’t put your head in the sand. Be brave, ask the tough questions and then listen to the answers.
It’s not just up to Sales
Identifying who you regard as key clients must be done carefully with clear criteria, leaving you with a core group (your 20%) that is a manageable size. Implementing a more customer-focused approach is a different way of doing business and will require buy-in and advocacy from the highest levels within your organisation.
There will need to be acknowledgement and agreement to work differently with certain priority clients. If a key account is promised priority access to urgent products or service, Operations will need to provide it, not Sales.
Protecting your business against decline can most simply be done by growing value that is already in your business, both by investing in staff and by growing revenue from your key clients, renewing not only your business strategy but also your relationship with the people that enable you to do business.
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