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Make sure your decision making has a company value and net worth building process

Like so many executives, I prided myself early in my career on being decisive, make that quickly decisive. I came to realize I was placing as much importance on the speed of my decision making as I was its effectiveness. In my first general management assignment at Ingersoll-Rand Corporation, the group president said to me, "Larry, good leaders learn the art of decision making." He went on to explain that the art of decision making included having a repeatable process for runing each decision through in your mind. Doing so over time would help you build the decision-making muscle so critical to building the worth of your business.

The next piece of advice given to me early on was to ensure that before I jump to making the decision, I should first start with determining if I have the right people and right information available to me in order to make the best decision. Not making this my first step puts me in danger of making a poor decision and one I might regret later. So before starting to solve the issue and make your decision, think about whether you have included others that perhaps have prior experience with the particular matter and can add great value by keeping you from repeating mistakes others have made.

Let me share the muscle that I was encouraged to build early in my leadership career pertaining to effective decision making. These questions come naturally to mind whenever I'm navigating the smallest to largest of decisions. With smaller decisions, I run through these same questions but just very quickly. For more a meaningful decision, I am much more methodical in how I address each:

1.) Do I need and/or do I have access to the person or people that could help me look at this decision from all the right perspective? Is there someone on my team who might have experience with this particular matter, someone on my Board, my accountant or lawyer, etc. and am I including them in this particular decision?

2.) Do I have the data or information I will need to make the best decision? Using my gut is great with some decisions but for others, could be dangerous. As the old expression goes, "In God we trust, all others bring data".

3.) What is the magnitude of the decision, so I know what level of thought/time to give it? If it's a minor decision and easily reversible if I were to make the wrong decision, perhaps I can shoot more from the hip. But if I assess the magnitude could be greater, I need to give it due time and energy.

4.) Will this decision impact my company value in the near and/or long term? If it has the potential to do so, that clearly tells me I need to address it very carefully. If not, I can move to decision making much more quickly.

5.) Relating to specific drivers of company value, do I understand the impact this decision will have on my company brand/reputation in the market, on my employees and on my financials?

6.) Is there a precedent for making this decision? Perhaps I've made it before and want to be consistent or perhaps need to be consistent for legal purposes. Or in making this decision, what precedent might that set for me and my business going forward?

7.) Have I played the movie forward on this decision? Meaning, have I thought through any ramifications from my decision by anticipating how others might react (and do I care?) and do I understand how their reactions might then impact me so I can anticipate the fallout I may have to manage?

8.) Who are the various stakeholders that I should convey my decision to? Who are those that will need to know and should hear it directly from me, so as to avoid confusion and who should I communicate with simply out of respect?

9.) For the higher magnitude decisions, how will I monitor the impact on my business? I need to monitor the higher magnitude decisions not only for their potential business impact but also for the purposes of learning from them to further build my decision making muscle.

10.) And ultimately, I ask myself how might a future investor or acquirer perceive the decision made on this matter? Is this a decision they would ever see the outcome of and if yes, need to ensure they see it was well thought through otherwise they may question lots of things about the business if they believe your company lacks a good decision making process!

In order to build your company valuation and overall worth, it takes building lots of various muscles. Decision making is perhaps the largest muscle group of all. Start today by evaluating whether your decision making muscle is repeatable, scalable and whether you should step back and rethink this key aspect of your leadership and your business.

Understand your financial trends

Early in a new year is a good time to look back at the year just ending and do some trend analysis. Looking at your financial trends can help tell a story about whether your business is building worth or losing worth. And if it's building worth, congratulations and make sure you know why it increased so you can protect whatever it is and continue to build upon it. But if the trends tell you you're losing worth, now is the time to stem it. When the day comes that you will want to exit your business and perhaps sell to a third party, guess what they are going to do? They are going to take your financials and look for trends. Knowing this is going to happen some day, you should start now doing the same thing for yourself.

What trends am I referencing? Revenue, Gross Margin, Sales-General & Administrative costs, Net Margins, R&D investments are good starting points. Look at each of these and graph them for at least the last 3 years, 5 is even better. When you do this, step back and ask yourself what are the trends telling you. Ask yourself, if I had to share these today with a potential acquirer, what story would it be telling them? Would they see a rapidly growing and evolving company, a lumpy and inconsistent performing one or even one that is decelerating in performance or even deteriorating? This story will tell them what valuation to place on your business if they were to make you a purchase offer. Know your trends and know the story now for your own business so if you don't like the story it's telling, you still have time to address it. Don't lose valuable time now that you could be using to build the value or worth of your business. Use time as your friend!

"Data is the new oil"

This expression by Clive Humby in 2006 relates to the most valuable resource in the world today, beating out oil, and it's data. Why is this concept being embraced by both small and large companies around the world? Because the data being referred to pertains to our customer's buying patterns.

Over a year ago, Amazon applied for a patent that pertains to their ability to use the data they collect about each of us so they can predict when we will need and/or desire certain products in the future. If our Prime account shows that we purchase detergent about every 4 months, Amazon will see this from their data analytics and can proactively send us a bottle without us ever having to tap or swipe a finger. I'm sure they will let us opt out of such a program or decide when they are wrong and return the product, but that's not the issue for now. What is of importance now is thinking about this example of a company mining their data about our buying patterns and using it to build the long term value of their company.

With this data mining example in mind, here are questions I encourage business owners and CEO's to think about:

1.) What data is your company gathering already about your customer buying patterns? Is this data helping you understand what they buy, when they buy, combinations of products they buy, even what they might return for refund, etc?

2.) Are you capturing your customer data in a manner that allows you to learn meaningful things from it? Capturing and storing of data isn't building enterprise value of your company unless you're using that data for helping to make strategic decisions.

3.) Do you capture any customer data that another company might find value in having? You might be capturing data about customer buying patterns that the original producer of that product might want to see so it can help them make their strategic decisions. Thinking in this way might afford you the opportunity to build a new revenue stream for your company.

4.) Are you using your customer purchasing patterns to help you better forecast your business, improve production and/or distribution efficiencies, bundle your products or services in new ways and even identify opportunities for adding complementary products or services?

5.) Ask yourself what key strategic decisions you have about your business and think about whether the data you're capturing (or could be capturing) is helping you make those decisions.

In this world today, each of us is someone else's value building data because every tap, click and swipe is being captured and those behaviors and patterns are being mined by some business for their benefit. It's time to start thinking about how the data your company is collecting (or should be collecting) and maintaining on your networks could be benefitting your business. Think about your data in a new way....and that is how can it start helping you build greater long term value and worth for you and your shareholders!

Is your team aligned to start the New Year

Here are some key questions that every business owner and CEO should be asking themselves this time of year:

1. Have me and my team defined our financial goals and supporting key strategies for the year?

2. Do these goals and strategies align with my longer term "what does great look like" (Optmizing Your Company Exit Valuation) for my business?

3. Does my leadership team understand our goals and strategies for the New Year?

4. Have I met (collectively and individually) with members of my leadership team to help them understand and embrace the role they play in enabling and supporting successful plan implementation?

5. Does my team's incentive plan align with driving the right behaviors to ensure the effective focus and implementation of our goals and strategies?

6. Have I established a mechanism for an effective cadence (daily, weekly or monthly) of monitoring and reporting on our progress?

These are just some of the healthy questions a good business leader is asking themselves and dialoging with key members of their team. If you answer "no" to any of the questions, now is the time to strengthen how you're leading your team. No company ever created great shareholder value or exited one day at a premium valuation by having a misaligned team. Whether you are thinking about exiting your business successfully in just a few years or even 10 years, now is the time to ensure you have value creating alignment with and amongst your team.

Here is a basic tool (Annual Team Goal Cascading Template) I used in my businesses so I could see how everyone's focus for the New Year was adding up to the bigger picture. In most cases, I built this template with my key leaders so it helped them better understand our bigger picture, understand the importance of their focus and gave them an appreciation and understanding of their peers so they could act as a team in delivering our desired results...and build our company value.

Will your company be disrupted....or be the disrupter?

Every business owner and CEO must ask themselves the following questions: 1.) Where could my company be disrupted by an existing or new competitor? 2.) Where does my company have the opportunity to be the disrupter within our industry?

As business leaders, we are faced with the reality of these questions. With the unprecedented level of advances in technology, these questions are more and more relevant every day. My advice to business owners is to have internal dialog with their teams about where their company could be vulnerable to actions by a competitor and be distrupted. And equally important, discuss where your company could implement plans that disrupt others. In doing so, technology will play a potential key role. My advice is always to look at technologies as enablers because they are not the end games in and of themselves. Start by considering what your business needs and opportunities are. Your opportunities to avoid disruption or to be the disrupter fall within 3 major categories and potentially a 4th. Is your business need/opportunity related to Revenue Growth, Improved Operations, Enhanced Customer Experience or Improved Employee Engagement? The dialog should start by identifying which of these are your primary priority for either avoiding disruption or as an opportunity to disrupt others. Once you know this, then you can look at the various technologies available to all businesses to leverage which can help you get to your end in mind.

Don't lose another day in thinking about avoiding disruption and playing the role of distrupter. Doing so can help you protect and build your company long term worth.

Knowing how future acquirers will value your company

If a potential acquirer knocked on your door today and intrigued you enough to open a dialog about a possible sale of your business to them, do you know what the top 10 most important areas of your business that they will do the deepest dive in for determing the value of your business? If yes, well done as this would indicate you've done your homework in years prior and know that you have your strategic priorities right for building company worth. But if you're not comfortable with your answer to this question, then resolve for yourself today that it will become an important priority for you in the new year ahead.

Knowing how to excite future acquirers to want to look at your business for possible acquisition and then also retain their excitement through due diligence (or the proctology exam as I fondly refer to it) is your most important job in building and ultimately delivering an optimal exit valuation for you and your shareholders. You don't want to work on your business for years, only to one day want to exit and present your business to potential acquirers only to then find out what is going to excite them to pay you a premium. If this occurs, it's too late generally to fix the situation and you'll be filled with unncessary regret. 

Knowing where future acquirers will place the greatest value on your business will help you set your strategic priorities to ultimately help you exit for a premium. Check out this brief article and sample template (Article) to help you know how to begin to tackle this critical business need for building company worth.

Play the movie forward

Too often business owners utter the phrase, "If I could turn back time" as it relates to decisions they've made for their business. The phrase is most often used when referring to decisions they made months or even years earlier and unfortunately, it's used with great regret. I had a boss one time tell me that every leader needs to learn how to assess each business decision and whether it will have impact on future compnay value. Too often, in our desire to make progress and get things off our desk, we might make snap decisions regarding such things as adding a new customer, expanding a product line, buying a piece of equipment or hiring a new employee. But the key is to know which decisions will have a meaningful impact on the future value of your company. Just like when we pick up the remote control to the TV and fast forward to play the movie forward to see an outcome, we more regularly need to do the same with business decisions. Some decisions are certainly tactical and whatever decision is made will have no impact on future company value so little time or thought needs to be given. But as leaders, we need to be able to assess that a decision we're addressing may in fact play a meaningful role in the value of your business. In my past running of businesses, I'd often say to my team, "let's play the movie forward on this decision and talk about what it will mean in the eyes of potential customers, banking partners, investors or acquirers." Looking through these lenses broadens your paradigms and more often leads to better decision outcomes. Certainly you need to make decisions for how they will impact you today (ie: impact on near term revenues and/or cash flow) but equally and potentially of greater importance is determining the impact your decision will have on future company value. 

Start today to build your teams muscle of playing the movie forward on decisions you're facing. Doing so could have a meaingful difference on the future value of your company.

The difference could be hindering your long-term company value creation.

In running various companies in my career, I saw my advisors fell within two camps. There were those that were great tactical advisors and those that were great strategic advisors. The difference being that the tactical advisors will stand ready to answer the questions you think to ask. The strategic advisors on the other hand will not just answer your questions, but they will add great value by knowing questions to ask you that will provide new insights and new paradigms to offer you a new way to look at business issues and opportunities. There is certainly a place for both types of advisors. Sometimes you just have a quick question on a more tactical related matter and tactical advisors can provide quick guidance. But how often does your advisor make you realize that the matter you're addressing is more strategic than perhaps you're thinking and there could be future impact from the decision on your long-term company value? Or how often do your advisors proactively raise valuable discussions points with you that will help you look out longer term? This is where the strategic advisors are worth their weight in gold. You don't want to spend years building your business only to find one day you didn't put all the needed puzzle pieces in place that will excite a future investor or acquirer. Doing so takes years and having access to advisors that have succeeded at doing such value building before can greatly increase the likelihood that you will be euphoric at time of exit.

Start by asking yourself today, are my advisors proactively helping me on my value building journey? If yes, well done, you have built a good base of advisors. But if the answer is no, then don't lose more time and surround yourself with those that have been down this company value building road before. To read the full article to help you think through how to optimize your advisors, (click here)

More pitches or a better swing?

There is a great baseball analogy that I've used over the years and it relates to growing your revenues and therefore, enabling the building of company value. When a baseball team has a player with a great batting average, the manager wants that player at the plate in front of as many pitches as possible. But if a player doesn't have a great batting average, the manager wants them working with a batting coach. This same concept applies to a business. Ask yourself, does my sales team already have a great batting average (aka Close or Hit Rate) so you just need to get them more pitches (aka Leads), or are they getting enough leads, but struggling to close enough of them? If you need more leads, this tells you it would make sense to invest in stronger marketing of your brand to generate more awareness of your company capabilities. But if it's a better close or hit rate you need on the leads you already have, then spending more money on marketing could be a waste right now. Start by assessing your sales team close/hit rate and if it's solid, get them more leads. But if it's not an acceptable rate, get them some coaching! Addressing this in either way can help you in building your long term company value.

Solid technically, scary culturally

I frequently come across companies where the owner or CEO knows they have an employee that is technically solid in their job, maybe even great at it, but this employee is also notorious for causing internal issues with either their peers or those that work for them. In other words, they don't play well with others and this causes ongoing personnel conflicts that can consume time and energy to deal with. Too often, owners or CEO's will overlook the shortcoming in this employee either because they believe the employee possesses an offsetting strength that makes them valuable to the company or just because there is a lack of willingness to make the tough decisions and address the situation. 

My advice to executives facing this situation is they are most often under-estimating the damage and cost this employee is causing to the company. There are real costs associated with toxic employees, some costs are hitting your business now and others will be felt in the years ahead. The short term costs can range from poor productivity due to morale issues within your team to the costs associated with having to replace those employees that get frustrated with the situation and choose to leave your company. Another cost is the one associated with the broader employee base losing confidence in their company leadership for failing to address the problem. Then, there is the ultimate cost that is painful to experience and that is when a future investor or acquirer comes in to value your business and they see signs of a weak or even toxic culture and it sours them on pursuing a transaction. Too often this is when owners and key executives kick themselves for not having addressed the situation far sooner. So it's not a matter of "if" you should address this difficult situation, it's a matter of "when". I share with owners and CEO's, employees want to trust and respect the leadership of their organization and critical to this is fostering a dynamic work culture that helps you build long term company value...don't let anyone get in your way of doing this. Be the strong leader that your employees want you to be.

Wear two sets of glasses when signing customer or supplier contracts

I recently met with the owner of a business and we were discussing my 5 step campaign for building company value. Overall he felt pretty good that his company might one day command an above market valuation and from the sounds of it, he was doing a nice job of building value. He asked me for a few examples of areas where business owners get surprised at time of exit. I shared one particular one relateing to contracts and agreements his company has signed over the years. I asked him if he has signed any customer contracts with a clause buried within that provide for shaing of his Intellectual Property (IP) with the customer as a result of adding his component in to theirs. I asked him if he has signed any customer contracts with "Right of First Refusal" or "Change of Control" clauses contained within the document. He said he felt pretty good that he was clear in this regard but was going to check. Just a day later he called and said his CFO checked and they had in fact two customer contracts, one where IP was being shared and the other where the customer had the Right of First Refusal if he ever decided to sell his business. On one hand he's glad this issue was surfaced now as he is still a few years from exiting, but I'm now assisting him in figuring out how to re-negotiate both contracts which is going to take some time to navigate. He is also revisiting his internal process for review and approval of all contracts so he's not just wearing glasses that ensure what's best for his company but also putting on the glasses of the future potential acquirer and how they might view the contract and its potential impact on the value of the overall company. To read about the 5 critical steps you should be taking now with your company to one day optimize its value at exit, (click here for article).

Business is like a puzzle

Building long-term value in your business is like putting together a puzzle. Up until that last piece is in place, you have that sense of incompleteness. As you near placement of the last few pieces, you can feel the momentum and satisfaction growing. It's the same with building your business except for the fact that the end stakes are significantly greater. As I frequently meet with company owners and CEO's, a very common question I get is, "how much time will it take me to prepare my business for a great future exit outcome?"

My answer is when you have the 5 key puzzle pieces in place, you can begin your exit and will have the confidence and liklihood of achieving a great outcome. However, if lacking one of these puzzle pieces, my experience has shown 2 years at a minimum is required. This is because you need to allow time for planning the improvement, making the change and allowing time for the change to take hold and prove the targeted result. And if your business is missing multiple pieces of the puzzle, you are looking at several years of hard work remaining. This is why I encourage owners and CEO's to begin preparing their business now and getting the 5 puzzle pieces underway and in place. The longer you wait, the longer it will be to experience the euphoria of a great exit. To learn about the 5 puzzle pieces, (Click here)

This is the time of year when many business owners are giving thought to their strategic direction and plan for the year(s) ahead. For many, they jump in to their planning, discussing and capturing ideas for new strategic initiatives to be addressed in the period ahead and setting off to implementation phase. In leading my businesses over the years, I learned first hand the benefit of beginning strategic planning by asking a simple question of myself and my team - "Do we have an effective organization and culture in place for both developing and implementing an effective strategic plan?" My advice to small and mid-size business owners is before jumping in to strategic planning mode, first do an honest assessment of this question. Putting all your efforts in to developing a potentially great plan and yet not having an effective organization and culture in place for successful implementation, will only utlimately lead to disappointment and frustration.

The next effective question to discuss with your team is - "How did we do this past year in implementing our current strategic plan?" Faciliate a dialog to do an honest assessment on where you may have had gaps in effective implementation of strategic plan initiatives. Failing to identify these gaps and reasons that kept some or all of your supporting initiatives from being implemented may very well be the basis for why your team will struggle going forward again even with a new plan. Discuss with your team tangible targets and metrics from the prior year and assess how you did in terms of the actual results. Invest the time to look closely at prior established key strategic iniatives your business identified last year for acting on and assess how you and your team actually did. Doing so can result in identifying organization and culture barriers that still exist and unless addressed, will hold back your results in the period ahead.


We often hear about great leaders and what they did and continue to do that makes them so respected. What we seldom ever hear about is what they decided NOT TO DO. In helping private business owners build their company value, I often hear how busy their teams are and how hard they are working. In many cases this is true. But too often these hard working employees are spending energy on things that might have added value months or years earlier, but are no longer delivering the same value. Brave leaders know when and how to identify what their teams are working on and they tackle the tough decisions on what things should stop getting resources so they can be redirected to inititives or activities that will accelerate building company value. As you lead your company, remember that leadership is equally about knowing what to do as it is what not to do. You build long term value in your company by having an equal balance of both.

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