In particular, the company would zero in on what had been identified in that initial session as three make-or-break short-term initiatives:
• A New Chairman
• Get the Debt Down
• Increasing company sales, now.
Padraig Berry again: “I told them, ‘You’re heading down the toilet, we can’t wait any longer, here’s what you’ve got to do.’ So it wasn’t me sitting back listening to them, giving feedback, it really was me being active, almost like a Chairman, saying guys, we’ve got to do the following things and we’ve got to do them now or there won’t be a future. There’s no point having a conversation in six months’ time, there won’t be a six months’ time.”
1. The New Chairman
Founder Frank acknowledges that Padraig Berry arrived into a company in crisis. He was however sceptical that one man could breeze in and solve what were obviously serious problems with a wave of his wand.
“You’re always wary of saviours,” he says.
It helped however that Berry had amassed considerable business and entrepreneurial experience in his career; he had walked the walk. “Padraig’s been through a lot of change himself,” says Frank. “He’s reinventing himself, he doesn’t give up.”
He admits however that they did have some tough meetings. It was during one of those tough meetings that Berry floated the idea that Frank relinquish the chairmanship to someone more suited to the role. To his credit, Frank could see that this made sense.
“At the time,” he says, “the CEO was reporting to me as chair and I was reporting to him because I was in sales. So this was completely unworkable.”
Merely stepping aside to allow a new chair to take over was never going to be a runner however. Whoever replaced him had to enjoy Frank’s full confidence. In the early stages of the process, Berry was actually offered the job himself. He declined, but assisted Frank in sourcing and installing the right person.
“I don’t feel it was hugely difficult for me to step back as chair,” says Frank, “because I’ve put somebody in place who is doing a far better job than I can do.”
That one action, replacing the chairman of the board, has had a hugely positive impact on the business, says CEO John. “We recruited a chairman who had taken a company our size and grew it more than ten times. So we got a guy with the right experience, the right demeanour. The rigour that he’s brought to board meetings has been really good. He is holding me accountable to deliver on my commitments and he’s also giving me exactly the kind of support that I need.”
Tom was the original investor in the company; he subsequently worked as finance director and has been solely responsible for raising all of the finance to date. As such, he has a 70% controlling stake in the company. He says that up until Padraig Berry’s intervention, the board meetings were farcical.
“You couldn’t really call them board meetings,” says Tom. “The company was just limping along, I was bringing in money to keep it alive and the founder was doing everything except being chairperson of the board.”
Since the installation of the new chair, meetings have been transformed and a professionalism that was entirely absent in the past now sets the tone. Each member of the board receives a pack ahead of each meeting, while the meetings themselves are carefully structured and expertly run.
“There’s a plan set out for the next twelve months, which is fantastic and fair dues to Padraig, he managed all that process of getting the founder to step down. I don’t think that would have happened without him.” says Tom.