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Archive for June, 2012

Guest Blogger: Michael Dennis on Credit Issues

June 25th, 2012 Comments off

     I wanted to introduce a friend, and a new guest blogger, to the site. I previously worked with Michael during a period where he was a key member of my staff for what was a very complex business. Our company was a manufacturer of UPS systems, which involved no shortage of contract reviews, along with ensuring the collections on projects where any mishandling along the way could reduce already pressured margins. Michael not only currently works for a very notable company, but also has his own site at www.coveringcredit.com , as well as a contributing writer to www.creditmanagementassociation.org .  Thanks Michael!

“Supersize or Specialize?”

     Another friend of mine lost her job after many years when her credit department was combined with customer support and order entry and her position as credit manager was eliminated.  I honestly and sincerely don’t get it.  The skills required to be effective in the collection role are very different from the skills required to handle the order entry and customer support functions.  How do I know?  At various times, I have managed all three departments… and I never once thought:  What a good idea it would be to take an order entry representative and turn them into a collector… or… Wouldn’t it be great to cross train everyone and make one supersized Collections/Order Entry/Customer Support department!

     I don’t disagree that creating a larger combined department would enhance the customer’s experience when placing an order, asking a question, or requesting assistance for the simple reason that more people working generally means shorter waits and quicker responses.   That is certainly good for your customer.  However, I cannot imagine how combining job functions could possibly improve collection performance for the company for all of the following reasons:

•           Not everyone is cut out to be a collector, but this Supersized department assumes that individuals will be equally adept at collections as they are in their other roles

•           The economist Adam Smith wrote that specialization leads to greater efficiency.   Creating generalists, which the Supersized department requires, is the opposite of specialization.

•           Expecting most if not all the employees trained in customer support to become effective collecting outstanding debts is unrealistic.  Why?  Because collections is not for everyone and given a choice, I believe that most people will spend more time helping customers and less time calling for payment.

•           The skills needed to manage a Supersized department are different than the skills required to manage the collection process.

•           By eliminating the credit manager’s position this company apparently overlooked a very basic fact.  The credit manager’s biggest value add involves establishing appropriate policies to monitor and manage risk before orders are released, not in managing the collection team.  Unless credit limits and credit terms are set appropriately and credit risk is managed proactively, the chances of collections improving as a result of this departmental merger and the layoff of the credit manager are somewhere between (a) highly unlikely and (b) it’s never gonna happen!

That’s my opinion anyway.  What’s yours?

Michael Dennis’ Covering Credit Commentary. Michael’s website is  www.coveringcredit.com.

“Relentless Progression” or Staying In Cruise Control?

June 22nd, 2012 Comments off

     In continuing the theme of my last post, I can’t help but reinforce the theme of relentless progression. As it relates to my day-to-day professional endeavors, I really don’t see much of a divergence from what I do in the office versus the activities that I pursue personally. For those that know me, cycling is a passion that gives me a balance, but one I pursue with a laser focus. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting out on PCH in the mornings and just going for a “ride”, but at the end of the day I’m recording and monitoring my wattage, heart rate, caloric burn, and how that ride fits into my longer term training plan. There is nothing about my execution that doesn’t fit into a longer term plan.

     That same approach is what I carry into the office on a daily basis. Yes, time is spent developing the Quarterly and Annual Budget, but that is merely a point in time and really doesn’t address the executional aspect of achieving the plan. Nor should the Budget be viewed as another exercise or used as a set of bookends at the end of the day. It’s essentially the promise you’re making to your employees and key stakeholders on what will be delivered. There’s no doubt that we all have to deal with dynamic environments that will lead to a drift in the plan, but ultimately, it’s the execution on multiple fronts that will allow you to respond and ultimately deliver a bottom line result that is in line with expectations.

Drift? Why don’t you just anticipate the drift in your planning process? I have yet to meet a colleague that has the perfect crystal ball. One of my favorite examples of the drift process is a 5-year Plan that we had worked through, and ultimately approved by the Board, during the time I was at Pacific Sunwear. We outlined the obvious elements of revenue, margin, expenses, capital expenditures, store growth, along with every other key item. It was really a very detailed plan. Keep in mind that this was the Summer of 2001. Two months later we had the unthinkable events of the September-11, combined with a recession. Only a few months after we had the plan approved….MAJOR drift.

     The drift can be an entire market, a specific customer, or the cost of your inputs in the supply chain, but the ultimate question is whether you have the ability to quickly respond and mitigate the risk. For me personally, the drift might be a bad night of sleep, a week of sickness, or work commitments that conflict with my training plan. It’s being able to respond and keep a definitive focus on the end goal and achieve that goal.

     What have you done to maintain control on your operating expenses and pull back where necessary?

     Are you clear about ALL the contributing elements to your margin and where you can adjust?

     What have you done to ensure you’re carrying proper inventory levels to take advantage of opportunities, but not leave yourself exposed to additional reserves?

     What have you done to ensure you haven’t created too narrow a range in your supply chain that you can’t respond to significant changes?

It’s all in the day-to-day execution….

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael

In Pursuit of “Relentless Progression”…

June 11th, 2012 Comments off

     One of the more interesting aspects of working in a senior Finance role is the opportunity to delve into all operational areas of the company since it’s the sum of the parts that ultimately contribute to achieving revenue and income goals.  In my continued pursuit of improving financial and operational performance, I’m constantly reading and talking with my peers. One of my recent “reads” (code for cd books for my commute…) was the full unabridged version of the Steve Jobs biography.  One word…Fantastic. While the book certainly brought to light the extreme abrasiveness of Jobs, it also highlighted his extremely detailed and disciplined approach to business. There is no way that this biography can be legitimately summarized in a single blog entry, which is why I’ll likely be back to visit this book in future postings.

     It’s easy enough to focus on some of the more obvious elements that drove Jobs in his daily regiment such as the relentless focus on continual product innovation and the pursuit of simplification. Ultimately, these two traits resulted in the development of advanced, superior, and elegant products. However, it’s the elements of personnel and departmental management that struck the most significant chord with me.

     While my own teams are no stranger to accountability, Jobs took this word to an entirely new level. Jobs was beyond militant in his assertion of responsibility and accountability….in fact, relentless. Jobs set the goals, defined the teams, and drove the teams like a mule train. If you were on Jobs’ team and were not delivering on his extreme expectations then you were likely out. Jobs was clear about the end goal and the date that goal was to be delivered. Ambiguity was not a word in his vocabulary or execution.

     It’s known that one of my favorite phrases at the office is Relentless Progression (RP). After finishing Job’s biography, I feel as though he was operating at RP x 10. Jobs drove his extreme version of Relentless Progression by employing only the highest level of talent. Jobs was not an individual who hired B-talent. Apple was not built on anything less than hiring A-talent….at least as long as Steve Jobs was in control. In fact, the discipline displayed by Jobs extended beyond Apple to every other project he worked on, employees he hired, as well as the vendors he chose to collaborate with.

     The question here is what choices are you making daily in your operational execution? Are you making the right hires that will ultimately deliver your expected revenue and income levels? Are you making the right vendor selections that will deliver on your product, quality, and delivery needs? It’s that pursuit of Relentless Progress that keeps me motivated…

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael

10Q w/ CorpFin Cafe – Ken Tudhope / Project Pro Search

June 3rd, 2012 Comments off

            I’m fortunate enough to call Ken both a friend, as well as a valued member of my network. It’s amazing to see what Ken has been able to accomplish with his firm over the last 5-years.  Thanks to Ken for his participation…and I hope you enjoy this new addition to my blog.

*I first met you through FEI about 5-yrs ago, but when did you actually start Project Pro Search?
10/2007.  Not real good timing for a start-up, just months before the beginning of the Great Recession.
*You actually have a background in Accounting & hold a CPA. Do you feel that this gives you an edge over other recruiters in that you have a working insight of their needs?
I believe that I am the only professional recruiter in Orange County who is BOTH an actively licensed CPA and an active CMA.  I think I have “Knowledge and Network.”  The CPA and CMA certify the knowledge, and yes, I think it gives me the ability to add more value than most of my competitors.  I understand the technical aspects of the jobs I recruit for, which reduces risk to my clients and saves significant time since I don’t present unqualified people.
*What are some of the core traits that you look for before taking on a candidate?
Paying clients don’t give me very much leeway so I stick to their  job specification and find people that meet the requirements. In my career as a recruiter, I have seen so many resumes that now see patterns that are lost on those who only recruit periodically.  I can quickly determine a quality career over time, from those with a lesser experience.  Also, because I have a large network of people that trust me, I get lots of confidential information about candidates.  This is information you will never get by calling the names on the reference list.
*MBA or CPA?
General or technical?  I have both and I’m glad I do.  I like the MBA because it grew my mind and gave me a great foundation for my business career.  I like the CPA because it puts me in a Society of Professionals with a standard of conduct and a code of ethics.  You didn’t ask, but the CMA is an excellent program; more broad coverage like the MBA with the standards and code of ethics like the CPA.
*Is it true that you’ve really had over 1,500 individual networking lunches?
Actually today was 1,521!  When I got into recruiting, a mentor told me “if you go to lunch with a client one time per week, in a year you’d have established a relationship with 50 people and that would be a great start for your new career.”  In that moment I decided once per week wasn’t good enough and that’s I’d go every day.  That was 6 years ago and I’ve only missed a few days.  I patterned my Lunch Counter after Scott Ginsberg, “The Name Tag Guy” who counts the number of days he’s warn a name tag.  When Twitter came out I started tweeting the number of my lunch every day when I returned to my office after lunch.  For some reason people love it and it has created all kinds of goodwill.
*What are some of the current trends that you are seeing in the hiring of Finance or Accounting candidates?
It is the best of times and the worst of times.  If people don’t have the right technical skill set and attitude it is very difficult to get a job.  If they do have the right skill set then there are plenty of competing opportunities.  Clients are increasingly looking for systems ability and people / communication skills.  Computers are handling basic accounting and financial planning so companies need people who can process massive amounts of BIG DATA using real statistical techniques and then draw conclusions and influence decision makers.  On the down side, we see people all the time who don’t have these skills.  Last week we had a case where the candidate was an executive who had not really used MS Office (a staff person did it for them).  That’s fine as a long-time executive in a company, but it doesn’t work in a job search, even for an executive.
*I’ve seen many recruiters and firms come and go over the last 5-years while you’ve been able to stay the course, as well as grow. What do you attribute this to?
This is an excerpt for the “About Me” section of my www.networkingnote.com blog.  In a word, it’s networking.
Project Pro Search has grown significantly every year during the Great Recession as a start-up company competing against billion dollar public corporations. OUR NETWORK SIMPLY DELIVERS BETTER CLIENTS AND CANDIDATES THEN THEIR ADVERTISING AND MARKETING even with multi-million dollar budgets.  For many in our industry it’s just a job, at Project Pro Search it’s our life’s work.  They serve companies, while we serve friends. We can’t imagine letting down our friends.
*For individuals, better to work with a stable of recruiters or with a few selective individuals?
Just remember, recruiters work for clients not candidates.  Anyone who is confused by this should read my friend Darrell Gurney’s book “Headhunters Revealed!”  I think people should notify as many recruiters as possible, but be careful on two things.  Don’t let them waste your time with jobs that don’t fit YOUR criteria.  I am a contingent recruiter who gets paid if you take MY job.  Don’t confuse the two. Second, be weary of recruiters who are not of quality.  Some of our candidates complain about recruiter sending their resumes out without permission, we would never do that.
*One of the biggest lessons learned in your professional career?
There is a saying that “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”  I believe it!  Since leaving my prized Fortune 100 executive finance position, work is no longer work.  I love what I do and money chases me.  I recommend people go deeply into their heads and hearts to determine what their passions are and move in that direction.  You will be amazed!
*Turn the tables…the one question you would ask yourself?
Where do you expect to be in 5 years?
I would like to sell my business and move more deeply into teaching networking.  This could be as a consultant, instructor or trainer.  For years, I’ve said that someday I’m going the be the Executive Director at the Paul Merage School of Management at UCI.  I would love to teach young professionals the power of networking and there is no bigger fan of an MBA than me.  I just published my first book called “The Key:  A Networking Guide to Meeting, Connecting, and Succeeding.”  It’s the story of a young professional woman at a Big-4 CPA firm  who  learns how to networking early in her career and the benefits that this affords her (along with a conceptual guide of how she did it).  I like it because it shows that networking doesn’t take resources, budgets or organizational power and the sooner one begins the more the social capital compounds.