When pitted against other states in the union, it’s often said that Mississippi scrapes the bottom of the barrel (or ranks at the top of a not-so-flattering list). Often overlooked, however, are conditions that can contribute overall to a favorable business climate: a strategic geographic location, tax-exempt financing programs and the nation’s lowest cost of living are just a few factors that lure companies to the Magnolia State and encourage home-grown entrepreneurs to set up shop here.

There are more than 43,000 small- to medium-sized private businesses operating in Mississippi. Though recovery for local economies has been slower than that of the national economy, evidence of resurgence for Mississippi companies is on the horizon: the combined annual sales of the Mississippi Business Journal’s Top 100 Private Companies in Mississippi topped $25 billion for the first time ever with the Journal’s 2015 list. To boot, 10 of those companies began in the past 15 years – making their successes all the more impressive.
Dozens more Mississippi companies are poised for growth in the coming years, yet many may be unaware of how to take their company to the next level.

What is Growth Capital?
As a company generates profits, owners may elect to reinvest some of that money back into the company, establishing a growth capital fund. Fund dollars can be socked away, earning interest, until it’s deemed the company has a use for it – an acquisition or expansion, for example. More often than not, however, a company’s needs or opportunities exceed the cash on they have hand. What then?

Options for Capital
Each company and its needs are unique, and there are many sources of capital – from traditional lenders, like banks and other institutions, to venture capital firms to Uncle Moneybags, your great aunt’s second husband. But there are two main categories of financial capital: debt and equity. To best illustrate their uses, advantages and drawbacks, I’ll refer to client scenarios we’ve seen over the years.

Scenario 1: Growth through Acquisition
Consider Company X: a developer and manufacturer of medical devices and technologies headquartered in the Southeast. The company owned intellectual property, including multiple patents, and was funded historically with private, individual investors. Now, Company X had the opportunity to acquire an established, 25-year-old manufacturing and assembly company with solid free cash flow.

Company X was able to use multiple sources and forms of financial capital to make this acquisition. Since the company being acquired had real assets that could be used as collateral and adequate cash flow to repay the debt, Company X was able to utilize commercial bank debt capital. (In addition, individual investors contributed equity capital, resulting in their owning a piece of the combined company – similar to owning shares of a stock in a publicly traded company. But more on equity capital in our second scenario.)

Debt capital is attractive in many instances, including its all-around fit; debt financing is used to fund most any type of business. In addition to banks and other lenders that traditionally come to mind, financing is also available through the Small Business Administration (SBA) and local institutions. Relative to equity capital, debt capital is typically a short-term financing option, and the relationship with the lender is concluded once funds have been repaid.

On the flip side, the downside of debt capital is the monthly obligation that accompanies it. Companies strapped for cash must consider the burden of repaying a chunk of their monthly revenues to the lender. Whereas a company may have flexibility in repaying equity capital, the debt note will come due each month, regardless of the company’s success. Consequently, a dip in revenue can spell trouble for some enterprises.

Scenario 2: Reducing Competition through Acquisition
Consider Company Y: a second-generation, family-owned textiles business. Company Y’s owners had been in business for more than 15 years, financing the company’s growth themselves, largely via bank debt that the family guaranteed. Company owners had the chance to make an acquisition that would dramatically shrink their competitive landscape. Despite sizable annual revenues, the company was already leveraged with bank debt and had limited options to secure additional debt capital from a traditional lender. Therefore, the only real form of financial capital the business could use to make the acquisition was equity capital – that is, cash in exchange for an ownership stake in the company.

When considering equity capital, it’s important to understand that accepting money from others – now investors in your company – changes the game in a number of ways. Issuing ownership in exchange for capital means you’ll have to determine the value of your company – oftentimes more an art than a science, and a subjective one at that. Particularly in the case of a family-owned business, owners may be reluctant to share ownership with anyone new – especially someone outside the family. It’s safe to say that infusing equity capital into a company ushers in a fair amount of new “red tape.”

One upside of equity capital is that it doesn’t have to be paid back on a monthly basis, thereby diverting funds from the company. On average, investors look for a return on their dollars in the subsequent three to five years – allowing majority owners breathing room to nurture the company and make it profitable. In addition, if the business goes under, there’s no one to pay back. And, although bringing in another owner may be a downside to some, the introduction of new blood and new experiences and perspectives can ultimately benefit the company.

In the case of Company Y, we helped secure capital in exchange for a stake in the company, allowing our client to make the acquisition, retain a majority stake in Company Y and shrink his competition. A few years later, we helped the owner sell Company Y, whose valuation and position in the marketplace was strengthened because of the prior acquisition.

Scenario 3: Launching New Products
Lastly, consider Company Z: a young, emerging technology company. With a decade-long proven track record in the market, Company Z was about to embark on an aggressive growth plan through the introduction of multiple products. Company Z funded its early growth with equity capital, while establishing solid commercial banking relationships that provided them with several debt capital vehicles for day-to-day operations. Because Company Z had adequate cash flow for debt repayment, when evaluating options to finance the launch of these new products, they elected to use mezzanine capital and subordinated debt.

Mezzanine capital is considered a hybrid between debt and equity. It generally looks like debt capital in that it has an interest rate, a term and associated conditions, but with the added upside of longer maturities and more flexible terms and structure. Generally, it is subordinate to commercial bank debt, which, in terms of repayment, sits in a senior position. A mezzanine lender typically has warrant coverage, allowing the security to convert to equity in the company if the loan is not paid on time or repayment conditions aren’t met. Variations of this type of financing may also allow the borrower to repay some of the money in equity as well.

In this case, Company Z chose mezzanine financing because it was far less expensive than equity capital and had less stringent terms and conditions than that of commercial banking/senior debt.

Again, no one type of financing is suitable in every situation. There are many factors that should be considered when seeking capital, and consultation with a qualified capital intermediary is strongly recommended. With analysts anticipating the second consecutive year of growth in the state’s gross domestic product since the downturn, Mississippi’s private companies could be poised to ride the wave.

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Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC
(BSA), announced today the company’s continued expansion with the addition of Sam J. Jenkins, Managing Director, to its Memphis location and Blair R. Badham, Managing Director, to its Birmingham office.

“We’re excited about our continued growth in both Memphis and Birmingham and are pleased to add two accomplished professionals to our team,” said President and CEO Matt A. Thornton.  “Sam and Blair have extensive corporate and investment banking expertise, and they will be tremendous assets to our team and to the clients we serve.”

Sam Jenkins

Sam Jenkins

Jenkins has more than 35 years’ experience in corporate finance and investment banking, including a 28-year career with First Tennessee Bank.  As Executive Vice President of corporate banking, he led and managed the bank’s efforts to attract and maintain Middle and Corporate Market clients across the country, helping develop and implement marketing and business development strategies. Under Jenkin’s leadership, the Corporate Banking Group was ranked first company-wide for overall Contribution Income (NIBT), Contribution Income per FTE, Treasury Services Sales, Deposits Acquisition, Derivative and Loan and Ancillary Fee Production for 2005-2008.

Jenkins joins the BSA team from Capstone Financial Services, a Memphis-based corporate advisory firm he founded in 2009 to serve commercial and corporate clients, community and regional banks and private equity capital providers across the Southeast. He holds a B.A. from the University of Alabama, with a focus on finance and banking, and an M.B.A. from the University of Memphis, where he graduated first in his class.

Badham brings over a decade of experience in corporate finance, strategy and operations to the group.  Previously, he served as Director of Business Development for EBSCO Capital, the investment division of EBSCO Industries with $300 million in committed equity capital.  Headquartered in Birmingham, EBSCO Industries is a privately held conglomerate comprised of over 20 businesses and more than $2.5 billion in annual revenue.

Blair Badham

Blair Badham

During his time at EBSCO Capital, Badham established the firm’s business development function and was responsible for deal origination, investment opportunity analysis and the overall marketing strategy for the firm, an effort that led to the successful sourcing and closing of a number of new platform and add-on acquisitions.

Prior to his tenure at EBSCO Capital, Badham served in multiple capacities for Jemison Metals, a Birmingham-based steel service center, where he helped the firm grow by expanding its presence with Fortune 500 manufacturers.  Badham began his career in commercial banking, where he worked in the commercial and industrial lending group at First Commercial Bank for five years.

Badham earned a B.S. from the University of Alabama and an M.B.A., with honors, from Samford University’s Brock School of Business.

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On January 1, 2011 about 8,000 Baby Boomers (people born between 1946 – 1964) turned 65 years of age. Every day for the next 18 years, others will turn 65 at the same rate. While many may know about this trend, a lesser known fact is that, according to the US Census Bureau, 70% of all businesses (with more than 1 person on the payroll) or 4.2 million businesses are owned by people over 53 years old.

What are the prospects for transferring those businesses when the owner is ready? The need to liquidate ownership will impact all of us, young and old, as the boomers try to capture the wealth that they have created over their lifetime. But there is good reason to believe that there is going to be far less of it than they might expect. In fact, the elements of a perfect storm are brewing.

If every owner in the over 53 crowd is depending on selling their business to fund the next stage of their life (be it retirement or something else), the amount of capital required to close all those transactions is over $10 trillion dollars. Where is the money going to come from to fund those acquisitions?

There has been a stock market bubble, a housing bubble, a dot-com bubble, but never before have we seen an owner demographic bubble. This “age wave” is coming like a tsunami.

There is currently about $535 billion in funds available (“private equity overhang”) to acquire businesses — nowhere near the amount of equity needed to do even 10% of the transactions that will be up for sale. Even if fresh investment capital becomes available, the amount of supply will drive values down significantly.

There is a Market Transfer Cycle, and every 10years there has been some kind of recession. It is currently a seller’s market but the bull has had a long run and it will get tired sometime over the next three years. It always does. When it does, it will become a buyer’s market of major proportion and only the strongest deals will get transacted.

There are three major forces at work and together they are impacting the owner’s situation exponentially:

  • Many businesses for sale. In addition to those businesses owned by retiring baby boomers, there are over 7,700 companies in inventory that are currently owned by private equity firms that will become available. Furthermore, there are owners less than 65 years old who will be seeking capital for growth initiatives. There will be lots of competition for the retiring business owners and all of it will drive prices down.
  • There are not nearly enough funds to satisfy all the sellers looking to transact. Private equity fundraising won’t be able to keep up. Limited funding will make buyers very selective and only the A++ deals will get done and even they will have reduced purchase price multiples.
  • The economy goes in cycles and there is only about another three years left to the current seller’s market. Can an owner really afford to wait it out until the market cycles back? It may take significantly longer than any time in the past.

What’s the result? Only the best deals — maybe top 10% — will get transacted. If owners miss this current cycle they will have to wait at least eight years until the market starts to turn in favor of doing deals again, all the while, the boomers are flooding the market with their companies up for sale.

So, if you are a business owner, with thoughts of selling anytime in the next eight years, how do you achieve getting your company in a very competitive position for a transaction?

First: Establish a sense of urgency and a realistic view of the value of your business today. Look at it the way a buyer would. Remember the value for the buyer is based on what he can get out of it, not what you put into it.

Second: Get a road map developed now to increase value. This can be done without significant growth, dramatic improvement in earnings or even increasing your debt. Hitting the current seller’s market window means getting the business ready for a sale process in the next two years (it might take another year to find, negotiate, and close on an acceptable transaction).

Third: Create priorities for how you focus your efforts over the next 2-3 years. You’ve spent a lifetime working “in” the business, now it’s time to start working “on” the business. This isn’t like selling your house where you can get it market-ready in a month or so.

And finally: Get some help from an expert. The storm is coming and riding it out without eroding value will be extremely difficult. The issues here are vast and complex so find a professional who has a portfolio of clients that have done precisely this. You can’t go it alone and expect to be successful. You haven’t done it thus far and so you probably are ill-equipped to do it in the future. After all, you still have a business to run and other demands on your time. The ROI on this kind of help is significant but there aren’t that many qualified advisors available who can help you plan and execute a value enhancement process that will get you where you need to be -well within that top ten percent.

Boomers have been a driver of economic growth and consumer spending even before the early eighties (remember the hula hoop?) when they started to reach their peak earning years. This demographic group turbocharged rates of home ownership, consumer spending and, most important of all, employment. Almost everyone has either paid or benefited from the taxes they have generated. Will their business ownership legacy be another boon or a victim of a perfect storm?

This article was written by Gary Ampulski and was originally published on FORUM by Axial, April 8, 2015.  Gary is Managing Partner of Midwest Genesis and is not affiliated with Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC.  

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Brookhaven Medical, Inc., has announced the acquisition of FutureMatrix Interventional and CreatiVasc Medical, Inc., in a deal that further facilitates collaboration on a medical device aimed at reducing complications during dialysis treatment for the more than 400,000 dialysis patients in the United States.

“These are two premier medical device companies with great management and engineering teams,” said Brookhaven Medical CEO John Feltman.  “As Brookhaven-logoa major investor in CreatiVasc’s research and development since 2013, we are pleased to welcome CreatiVasc and FutureMatrix to the Brookhaven family. Medical advancements on the part of both companies support Brookhaven’s mission of embracing innovation to improve clinical outcomes resulting in cost savings for the healthcare system.”

FutureMatrix and CreatiVasc have collaborated for two years to develop an advanced balloon technology, key to the CreatiVasc Hemoaccess Valve System®.  This device allows the flow of blood in an AV graft to be turned on and off between dialysis sessions.

“We believe this innovation will reduce or perhaps even eliminate the complications associated with clotting and infection that commonly occur in dialysis patients who have AV grafts,” Feltman said.

According to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, greater than 75 percent of patients with AV grafts must undergo an interventional surgical procedure within 12 months of implantation. Use of the Hemoaccess Valve System® stands to dramatically improve the quality of life for dialysis patients by largely eliminating these frequent interventional surgeries – effectively saving billions of dollars in associated healthcare costs, including those funded by Medicare.

“The Hemoaccess Valve System® has the potential to become the standard of care for dialysis graft implants, and we believe it may represent the most significant innovation in dialysis devices in more than 30 years,” Feltman said.

CreatiVasc expects to begin expanded human clinical trials for the Hemoaccess Valve System® in Summer 2015, and the device is expected to enter the market late next year.

Brookhaven also announced that CreatiVasc CEO Steve Johnson will serve as President of Brookhaven Medical, Inc.

“We have a dedicated team leading Brookhaven and are optimistic about our future,” Feltman said. “There are many exciting new products and customers in our pipeline, and we are evaluating several possible acquisitions as we move forward with our plans to build Brookhaven into a major diversified medical device company.”

Brookhaven Medical is a client of Butler Snow Advisory.  Members of the BSA team worked with Feltman on the company’s transaction, including Rick Gernert, Matt Thornton and Wesley Roberts.

About FutureMaxtrix
FutureMatrix Interventional is a leading multinational developer, manufacturer and marketer of innovative medical technologies in vascular, urology and surgical specialties.  Founded in 1993, FMI employs 340 employees at its manufacturing facility in Athens, Texas.

About CreatiVasc
Based in Greenville, South Carolina, CreatiVasc Medical, Inc., is an eight-year-old company that is currently developing a revolutionary Hemoaccess Valve System® for dialysis patients.  CreatiVasc is one of only three companies in the United States chosen for inclusion in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Innovation Pathway.  The Innovation Pathway ultimately aims to shorten the overall time and cost for the development, assessment and review of major breakthrough medical technologies that hold the promise of improving patient care and generating significant savings for the healthcare system.

About Brookhaven Medical, Inc.
Brookhaven Medical, Inc., is based in Atlanta, Georgia, and is an emerging developer, manufacturer and marketer of innovative medical technologies and solutions.  Brookhaven Chairman and CEO John Feltman is a serial entrepreneur and former investment banker who has two decades of experience creating and investing in a wide range of medical device companies.

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Boyce Adams, Jr.

When I starting writing this column in 2008, my goal was to share positive stories about leaders making a difference in the state of Mississippi.  I have had the good fortune to interview inspirational leaders from around the state.  Great leaders “pay it forward,” and I have always tried to help them do that by sharing some of their leadership insights. It has been particularly exciting to visit with young and energetic leaders who are on the rise. My interviewee this week, Boyce Adams Jr., is one of those leaders.  Adams is president of Columbus-based TheBiz, a start-up business accounting software company, and he serves as vice-president for Marketing and Sales for its sister company BankTEL Systems.  BankTEL is a true Mississippi success story.  With over 1,400 clients, it is an Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Technology Company and was named one of the Deloitte Top 500 Fastest Growing Companies in 2014.

Adams grew up in Columbus and went on to Vanderbilt University in 2007 where he was an Ingram Scholar,  which emphasizes academic excellence, leadership, and community service.

After college, Adams worked at the White House in the Office of Presidential Personnel and later as special assistant to the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. He then returned to Mississippi in 2009 to join his father, Boyce Adams, Sr., at BankTEL.

Adams’ leadership and entrepreneurial skills were evident early.  In high school, he decided he wanted to learn to fly.  After obtaining his pilot license, he decided to recoup his investment by becoming a flight instructor.  He shared: “While it was not always easy convincing a middle-aged person they should learn to fly from an 18-year-old, it was a great lesson in challenging the status quo thought that age was the only measure of a person’s abilities, knowledge, or experience.”

Adams is a problem solver.  He explained, “There are always challenges in life whether it’s business or anything else.  I’ve always looked at ways to solve problems instead of dwelling on them. I like to take a step back when I’m involved in a project and determine perspective. Why are we doing this? Is it working? Can we do it better?”  These type questions help eliminate waste and inefficiency, and allow Adams and his team to focus on providing greater value to their customers. Adams honed these problem solving skills while working at the FAA.  He noted, “I learned from the administrator of the FAA how to take time after completing a task to reflect on it and learn how to improve upon it for the next time.”

Adams also has learned the importance of facing your fears.  He said, “Fear is the biggest impediment to achieving goals. Nothing is perfect and learning from mistakes is an important part of striving for success. Even the best leaders make mistakes, sooner or later. How I respond to those mistakes is what determines whether or not I’m an effective leader.”  He encourages leaders to give young people opportunities to grow and atain their goals. Adams emphasized, “In this fast-moving world of technology and practically instant access to information, listening to ideas and input from younger members of your business or organization is very important. Keeping younger members of your team involved will allow them to develop leadership skills and also for you to gauge what’s on the horizon in your organization.”

Adams has helped his company grow from 500 clients to 1,400 clients in 50 states and more than 15 countries.  I am encouraged not only by the success of Adams and his businesses, but also by his commitment to service in his community.  Leaders like Adams will shape Mississippi’s future. I look forward to it.

Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, February 5, 2015.

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According to an American Medical Association study in 2012, 53 perccent of physicians were full or part owners of a practice; 42 percent were employees; and 5 percent were independent contractors. Of particular note is that in 1983, 75.8 percent of physicians were self-employed. This trend has continued as approximately 75 percent of physician hiring in the last two years has been by hospitals.  Anyone familiar with the medical industry knows the challenges of being an independent physician practitioner today. The amount of complexity involved in operating a medical practice from a regulatory and financial perspective is staggering.  Since the health care industry is such a large part of Mississippi’s economy, I am always interested in learning from leaders in the medical field.  My interviewee this week, Dr. A. Terrel Williams, is a successful ophthalmologist and practice owner.

Dr. A. Terrel Williams

Dr. A. Terrel Williams

Williams is a native of Churchill and graduated with degrees in history and chemistry from Millsaps College.  He noted, “I believe that the liberal arts education that I received at Millsaps has been a great benefit to me in my quest for learning and knowledge. It gave me a broad perspective and allowed me to learn about a range of areas, including religion, philosophy, art, and politics as well as science.” Williams received his medical degree from the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and he completed a surgery internship at Tulane.  After completing three years of eye research at LSU’s Eye Center, he completed his ophthalmology residence back at UMMC.  Williams began his private practice career with Dr. William Aden before opening his own solo practice in 1990.  Since then, Williams has built a very successful practice focusing on cataract surgery, contact lenses and dry eyes.

One of the things that struck me about Williams was his diverse interests and knowledge.  I quickly picked up that he was a leader committed to continual learning.  He shared, “I have always had an interest in business and economics. In 2008, after my youngest son went to college I obtained a healthcare MBA at George Washington University with an emphasis in health care policy.”

While none of his sons followed his footsteps into medicine, they have all pursued business careers and have traveled broadly.   He shared, “When my sons were young we traveled extensively, including visits to China and Uganda.  I took them along on mission trips around the world which I believe taught them and me a great deal, and when they were older they pursued humanitarian works on their own.”

We discussed the challenges faced today by today’s medical practitioners. Williams noted the difficulty in navigating the ever-changing healthcare industry landscape.  He explained, “Physicians today in private practice not only have to stay on top of the latest development in their medical field, they also need to know and understand the ‘business’ of medicine as well as the regulatory environment.”  He shared that physicians coming out of school today have to decide whether they want to become employed practitioners and just focus on medicine or be in private practice which require knowledge and skill in running a business.

For future leaders, Williams emphasized the importance of being teachable.  He said, “You have to realize that you never know everything, and thus always continue learning both to keep up with current teaching as well as for personal development.” He also explained that honesty and character are what truly count.   He always emphasizes to “Do the Right Thing” and encourages his employees to follow the Golden Rule.  I was inspired by Williams’ intentionality in his continual learning, and his focus on mission work around the globe.  He is a great example of how health care providers can still successfully operate in the complex world of medicine today.

Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, January 29, 2015.

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A critical function for leaders is to define the situation at hand for their organizations.  Napoleon is quoted as saying, “The role of the leader is to define reality and give hope.” Similarly, famed GE CEO Jack Welch’s once said, “Deal with the world as it is, not how you’d like it to be.” Defining reality includes the need to “confront the brutal facts” as business guru Jim Collins would recommend. I see too many organizations that deny reality and adopt blind hope as a strategy.  Being able to face reality and address it head on takes courage and perseverance.  It is easy to deceive ourselves as leaders.

dmcdaniel

Doug McDaniel

We must be vigilant in gathering the true facts of any situation – not just what we want to hear.

Doug McDaniel, President of McDaniel & Register, Inc., is a committed leader in his industry and community and has consistently strived to help objectively define reality and focus on what is most important in the organizations he has been involved.   McDaniel is a native of Jackson and an Ole Miss graduate. He credits the influence of his father and his early leadership positions in high school and college with fueling his interest in leading and serving.

After college, McDaniel worked for KPMG before beginning a career in the financial industry with Merrill Lynch in 1984.  After later working for A.G. Edwards for a number of years, he joined EFP Wealth Management which proved to be very successful and was later acquired by Stanford Financial.  McDaniel noted that dealing with the fallout of Stanford’s demise was certainly challenging as a leader.  Through support from family, friends, and clients, McDaniel pressed through that trying time and has built a very successful financial services business at McDaniel & Register.

“Don’t confuse process with progress.”

A man of deep faith and conviction, McDaniel has dedicated his time and resources to serving as an active leader in numerous community organization.  In particular, he has served as Chairman of the Board at Jackson Prep, Chairman of the Deacons at First Presbyterian Church, and Chairman of the Board of YBL (Young Business Leaders).  McDaniel was also a founding member of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.  In these leadership positions, he has become a student of how to unleash the potential of high impact boards.  He wisely pointed out that too often we boards have very talented members, but the full potential of the wisdom and experience of the members’ goes untapped.

McDaniel pointed me to Harvard professor Dr. Richard Chait’s work on governance and boards.

Chait’s books have helped shaped McDaniel’s view of how to be a more effective leader.  He shared two influential quotes by Dr. Chait, “Why chase the amoeba when you have a whale in the swimming pool?” and “90% of the work of governance (leadership) is defining reality.”

McDaniel also shared a story about watching an interview years ago of Jim Barksdale when he was with Netscape by Lou Dobbs of CNN.  Dobbs was asking Barksdale about how he managed the company in the complex and fast moving world of technology.  Barksdale answered the question by stating, “The main thing, Lou, is to keep the main thing the main thing!”  McDaniel also shared a very important consideration for leaders and boards, “Don’t confuse process with progress.”  In other words, just because a group followed an efficient process for a meeting does not mean that anything was actually accomplished.

I appreciate leaders like McDaniel who lead with conviction because they know who they are and their priorities.  I know he will continue to positive difference in the organizations he is involved.

Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, January 22, 2015.

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A common trait I have found in successful leaders is a commitment to preparation.  Benjamin Franklin noted, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”  On game day, well prepared athletes make it look easy.  However, we know that hours of hard work went into getting ready.  Legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant explained, “It’s not the will to win that matters—everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”  In our fast paced culture, it is easy to cut corners and not do our “homework.”  However, digging in and really being prepared makes all the difference.

Whether preparing for an interview, sales opportunity, or investor presentation, being prepared helps you stand out from the crowd.

Colby Lane has led a life of intention and preparation. He is a business leader on the rise and one to watch in the coming years.  Lane, a native of Brandon, earned a B.A. in Economics from Millsaps before going on Harvard Law School.  After practicing with Wilmer Hale in Washington D.C., he returned to his home state to serve as Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of Mississippi.  He then went on to serve as Deputy Chief of Staff and Chief Counsel for Governor Haley Barbour.  After a very successful career in the law and public service, Colby formed Eagle Ridge Growth Partners as an operator-led private investment company which recently acquired its first company, PEC Safety. As of November, Lane has assumed the role of CEO of that company.

clane

Colby Lane

During his career, Lane has benefited from learning from some very talented leaders. He shared, “After law school, I had the opportunity to work for a couple of world class lawyers, Mark Dewire and Jay Watkins, who taught me the value of preparation and actively listening to clients.  As a leader, I try to apply both learnings: always prepare (if anything over prepare) and always listen first, whether talking to an employee, customer or vendor.   It is amazing how much success comes from doing these two things.”

Lane also noted that he learned a great deal from U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton about aggressively pursuing solutions. Lane noted, “Dunn always tried to find ‘yes’ and ‘can do’ and avoid ‘no’.  Too often an ‘easy no’ can stand in the way of success.”  While working for Governor Barbour, Lane learned how, in the face of crisis, the best teams and leaders stay calm and act.  He said, “A crisis may require you to work faster, but the best teams follow the same core principles and practices and make decisions. Inaction is paralyzing.”

For future leaders, Lane offered some sage advice.  He encourages people to “find the best people to work with and volunteer for the hardest projects.  You will learn from the best people and you will grow by succeeding (and failing) at hard projects.”  He also explained that he believes the job of a leader is to help the team win and take the blame when they don’t.  He said, “As a leader, it is essential to be transparent and explicit.   Let your team know exactly what your goals are and why you are pursuing them.  This clarity of purpose eliminates surprises.  And finally measure results.  As they say, what gets measured gets done.”

Lane has worked hard and developed a reputation for delivering results with high integrity.   His commitment to hard work, preparation, and service have allowed him to be successful at each stop in his career.  I know his new venture will certainly benefit from his skills, expertise, and preparation.  He will be one to watch in the years to come.

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, January 16, 2015.] Read More


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Martin Willoughby

The New Year brings a sense of renewal and change.  Studies show that almost half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately only about 10 percent of those will actually achieve their goals. As you might imagine, resolutions to improve health and finances rank at the top of the wish list.  One of the key ways to achieve resolutions is to let them become a habit.  Psychologist Williams James noted, “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.”  While it is frequently said that it only takes 21 days to make a new habit stick, my review of the scientific literature on the subject indicates that it takes our brains closer to 60 days to actually rewire around a new habit.  As we enter 2015, here are a few leadership ideas to consider making a habit.

Just Say No

It’s tough to say no. We might offend someone or miss an opportunity.  A friend of mine describes the need to “chase shiny things” versus staying focused.  However, great leaders know that the ability to say no is critical.  As Gandhi said, “A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”  Leadership expert Tony Schwartz similarly emphasized, “Saying no, thoughtfully, may be the most undervalued capacity of our times.” We have more options than ever and countless opportunities vying for our attention.  It is more important than ever to be purposeful about what we say yes to.  However, this is no easy task.  We often have to say no to many good things.  However, unless we say no to the “good” then we will never be able to focus our time, talent, and energy on the “great.”

Show Appreciation 

Studies have shown that for knowledge workers, money alone is insufficient to motivate performance.  Dan Pink summarized this research in his book Drive and noted that workers are best incentivized by creating an atmosphere of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  In addition, I believe that people need authentic and genuine appreciation.  As I interview employees in organizations, I am amazed at the number of them who have never been shown appreciation in any form.  Appreciation is like a gift.  There is no reason as a leader to be stingy with this gift.  Whether a subordinate, co-worker, or a boss, I highly encourage people to get in the habit of showing appreciation.

Follow Up

I believe one of the most difficult aspects of leadership today is living by the motto “say what you are going to do, and do what you say.”  As I was beginning my career, a wise businessman told me that if I would do good work, return phone calls, and do what I said then I would always have plenty of work to do.  I believe there is great truth in his advice.  As leaders, we need to make a habit of being excellent at follow up and execution.  In addition, if you have people that you are delegating to then you need to be very intentional about follow up.  One of my early mentors kept a legal pad where he wrote down every promise someone gave him regarding delivery on a project or task.  If you missed a deadline, you could expect an immediate phone call from him.  My observation was that his team knew that when they were assigned a task and deadline that he meant it.

I hope these ideas will be an encouragement to you to be the best leader you can be in 2015.  I look forward to sharing more stories about the leaders doing great things around Mississippi in future columns.

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, January 9, 2015.] Read More