There are many important considerations that face a company’s management team in preparing for a transaction: enterprise valuation, industry multiples, managing key client relationships, management team focus and delivering the news to employees are just a few.  However, there are several items that we consistently see receiving little focus, or are focused on too late, that can have a material impact on deal proceeds and the closing process.

Having GAAP Financials

Scott Stone

Financial statements prepared according to GAAP or IFRS are critical, especially if a sophisticated or larger buyer is involved. Any differences in accrual methods of the seller and the buyer or GAAP will work against seller.  Vacation and PTO accrual are a good example, as differences in accrual methods will either come out of the seller’s pocket or will negatively impact employees, thus straining the relationship between buyer and seller.

Establishing Target Working Capital
Pay attention to this early, preferably before going to market.  If seller is not prepared to understand how it will function, they will be unable to defend themselves in final negotiations – and it will cost them cash at closing.  The structure of the working capital calculation and the company’s working capital cycle should be taken into consideration when deciding when to take the company to market.  Depending on structure and timing, the seller may find himself inadvertently financing a significant portion of the sale of the company.

Establishing Timeline Expectations
Setting sellers’ expectations at one year for the sale of a business is hard enough, and becomes even harder if buyers submit a bid with an unrealistically short period of exclusivity.  Buyers should be asked to resubmit a bid with a more realistic timeframe, or the bid value itself should be discounted in the auction.

Blair Badham

Maintaining a Competitive Environment
Having more than one bid is not enough. Sellers should not put themselves in a position of needing the transaction to close for financial reasons, or they will risk turning over complete control of the process to the buyer.  Therefore, messaging about the reasons for sale are extremely important in the early stages as well as in the final stages of the process, and alternative bidders should be kept “on deck” so the seller has options if the deal falls apart.  Simply put, if the seller is going to walk away, or threaten to walk away, they need a place to walk to.  It’s also important to manage the seller’s interaction with buyer representatives when discussing deal points – if the seller falls in love with the deal, a valuable bargaining tool is lost.

Paying early and close attention to these four items will help sellers maximize their cash at closing and also allow them to arrive at the finish line in a more predictable and less stressful manner.

For more information about preparing your company for a sale or any other BSA service offerings, call 877.832.7629 or contact any member of the Butler Snow Advisory Team.

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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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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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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.


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.


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


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

There is no magic formula for being a great leader. Each day brings new opportunities and unforeseen challenges. To excel as a leader takes wisdom. President Calvin Coolidge once said, “Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers. It may not be difficult to store up in the mind a vast quantity of facts within a comparatively short time, but the ability to form judgments requires the severe discipline of hard work and the tempering heat of experience and maturity.” My interviewee this week, Gary J. Herring is one of those leaders who brings wisdom and experience to the important role of training tomorrow’s leaders. Since 1987, Herring has been Head of School at First Presbyterian Day School in Jackson.


Gary Herring

A native of Brandon, Herring grew up in a family of educators. He earned an undergraduate degree in business from Ole Miss and went on to get a Masters of Business Administration from Auburn and Masters of Education in Curriculum and Supervision from Mississippi College. Herring shared, “I believe that my background in accounting, personal management, and finance prior to coming to education was essential in becoming an effective leader in education. Running a school requires the same combination of principles as running a business (i.e. the management of people, money, and facilities for the accomplishment of set goals and strategic plans).”

Herring credits his predecessor Joe Treloar with helping to shape him as a leader. Herring said, “Treloar was a true southern, soft spoken, giant of a man. I spent a year under his tutelage. Every morning he would sit me down and explain how decisions were made and the reasons behind them.” Herring continued, “My father was a teacher and principal in Brandon. He was a godly example of how one treats other people.” Herring has great perspective on the role of education in our society. He shared the old proverb that says “we educate our children not for today or tomorrow, but for seven generations in the future.” Herring explained, “No matter if we are public school administrators or Christian school leaders, we must realize that we educate for eternity.”

A man of faith, Herring begins each day seeking wisdom through study and prayer. He said, “I try to follow the principles that I find in Proverbs. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10). Herring also relies on old fashioned “good sense.” He explained, “Sometimes I find that common sense is the best solution to difficult issues. There are times where rules and policies do not fit certain circumstances, and I must use my God-given common sense.” Herring also believes in not asking anyone to do anything that he is not willing to do himself. He said, “I don’t ask anyone to go where I am not willing to go ahead of them.” Herring also recommends hiring talented people and not micro-managing them. He said, “I believe in hiring very competent people and letting them do their jobs without interference.”

Herring believes in genuinely caring for those with whom he works. He shared, “Other people will accept your instruction or correction if they believe that you care about them. Parents will support an administrator’s decisions they don’t particularly like, if they know he or she loves their child. I believe the same is true for employees. You must care about them personally and demonstrate that.

When employees hurt, you must hurt with them.” There are thousands of children that have been positively impacted over the years by Herring’s leadership, vision, and wisdom. I am thankful for servant leaders around the state of Mississippi like Herring who are on the front line in developing tomorrow’s leaders.

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, December 18, 2014.] Read More


Ashley Pittman

Raising a daughter, I think a lot about the workplace that she will likely enter in a few short years.  She will find a significantly different marketplace than the one her mother, and particularly her grandmother, entered.  There will be considerably more opportunities for her; however, I find that the world still sends very confusing messages to women in marketplace.  Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, rekindled the public discussion about successful women in the marketplace with her best-selling book Lean In.  She noted, “We can each define ambition and progress for ourselves. The goal is to work toward a world where expectations are not set by the stereotypes that hold us back, but by our personal passion, talents, and interests.”  My interviewee this week, Ashley Pittman, is a great example of someone who has achieved success by following her own passion and interests.  She is a successful attorney and has built a career in helping others.

Pittman is a native of Jackson and earned her undergraduate and law degrees at Ole Miss.  Upon graduation from law school, she clerked for a year with the Mississippi Supreme Court before joining the law firm of Stubblefield & Yelverton, PLLC.  During her 15-year legal career she has also been raising two children and went back and earned a LLM in tax law from the University of Alabama.  Today, her practice areas include Estate/Tax Panning, Asset Protection, Fertility Law/Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) Law, Establishment of Parental Rights, Surrogacy, Embryo Donation and Adoption.  In addition, Pittman serves as General Counsel for Hurst Review Services, an international test preparation company based in Brookhaven.

Pittman is in the forefront of the emerging area of Fertility Law. She explained, “Through my estate planning and probate work, I became interested in the impact of modern fertility technology on both estate planning and parental rights.” Pittman serves Of Counsel to the International Fertility Law Group, Inc. and the Reproductive Law Group, Inc.  She noted, “Fertility medicine and reproductive technologies are rapidly changing, and the law is trying to keep up.” Based on her expertise, Pittman was asked to write a chapter in Professor Debbie Bell’s book Bell on Mississippi Family Law, and Professor Bell has Pittman speak each semester to her family law class at Ole Miss on the topic.

I asked Pittman about the secrets to her success in juggling a busy career with family and other life responsibilities.  She noted, “I have been very fortunate to work with colleagues who have provided me flexibility over the years.”  For young women, she emphasizes that there is a way to find some balance but you have to work hard to achieve it.  She said, “Females need to approach the work force with a strong positive attitude. As long as they do that, good things will follow.”  Pittman also shared, “The career path that you may envision today may change as you progress. As you gain life experience, you will also gain new interests and passions.  Allow your path to change and adjust your goals along the way.”  We also discussed how important it is to ask for what you want.  While you may not always get exactly what you want, you never get what you don’t ask for.

Mississippi has many success female professionals and executives. Many of these are acknowledged each year in the MBJ’s Top 50 Leading Business Women.  I was encouraged by Pittman’s positive attitude, her passion for her work, and her encouraging words for future generations of Mississippi’s women leaders.  I hope you will be too.

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, December 12, 2014.] Read More

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