Randy Dewey is the Founder of LIFT Leadership and author of When the Unthinkable Happens: How to Lead Your Team and Pivot Your Business for Growth and Opportunity.
After leading ten company turnarounds — adding over $1.8 billion in corporate value collectively — he learned one unequivocal fact: the “unthinkable” situation is a cycle of “when” not “if.”
Whether you are struggling with deplenishing cash reserves, lack of resources for new product launches, or your biggest customer threatening to leave, as a leader, you must embrace the resulting crisis as an opportunity to pivot your business.
Listen to this informative Publish. Promote. Profit. episode with Randy Dewey about what to do when the unthinkable happens.
Here are some of the beneficial topics covered on this week’s show:
– How including real world elements and stories in your book can help sell more copies.
– Why getting through something terrible makes you stronger on the other side.
– How unthinkable circumstances can sometimes provide unique opportunities.
– How the LIFT method works and why your business should be using it.
– Why it’s important to find the right company to help publish your book.
Connect with Randy:
Guest Contact Info:
Welcome everybody. It’s Rob Kosberg here. I’m excited to bring you another episode of the Publish Promote Profit podcast with yet another fantastic guest. I have Randy Dewey here today. Randy is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of, When the Unthinkable Happens: How to Lead Your Team and Pivot Your Business for Growth and Opportunity. Randy is terrific for many reasons, and I think you’ll learn quite a bit. He’s a 30-year C-suite executive. He’s worked in 10 different companies all over the place, nine different sectors, 32 different countries, and having flown over a million miles. Even just hearing that makes me shutter just a little bit. I hate the idea of that. I’m not scared of flying. I just don’t want to. He has created his LIFT program, which is lead, inspire, focus, and transform. He founded LIFT Leadership as a consulting and educational practice to C-suite and C-suite leaders. Very, very excited Randy, to have you on and look forward to diving in deep into the LIFT principles and talk to you a little bit about your experience in the C-suite.
Thank you, Rob. Thanks for having me today. It’s great to be with you.
I know a little bit about Randy. Randy has 11 children by the same wife, I might add. It is important maybe to mention that. Eight different cities your kids were born in. Let me just start here because this is something that always intrigues me. Why the C-suite? I mean, it’s a sacrificial life. You’ve been a turnaround expert really. You’ve gone into struggling companies. You worked with Blackstone that sent you into struggling companies. Most people should know what Blackstone is. The largest asset manager in the world, if I’m not mistaken, or one of them. Why the C-suite? There is a lot of sacrifice in that. Let’s start there.
In the early parts of my career, I came out of college and I got my first job and I had some really interesting sort of conversations with certain C-suite people. As I started to realize the power and the influence that they had, I started to really get enamored with the idea of leading large groups of people through difficult times. I was always a history buff. I read so many stories over the years about people that have led people through tumult, and difficulty, and how they did it, as well as keeping your moral compass in check as you went along the way really inspired me. I sort of set my mind at a very young age that I was going to do whatever it took to, to crawl to the top. I crawled to the top. I mean, I spent time in human resources and operations and sales and marketing and finance. I finally got my way up into the C-suite. Then I spent a few years in different functions in the C-suite and then ultimately into the job as CEO. I spent a lot of time in turnarounds and I gravitated to it only by chance because I fell into a business that was in chapter 11. I knew I was going to file because Blackstone and others had told me that they were in the throes of that. For me, I just took the opportunity and thought, you know what, I will make my way here. Oddly, I got into that job. It was really difficult because within the first couple of months as you filed and then as you got your dip financing, all of a sudden people started leaving from around the boardroom table. Ultimately, I was the last guy standing on the management team and the folks from New York flew in wondering what was going on. They just asked me to keep the tires on and help that company through the tumult while they replaced the people that had left and sure enough, they replaced everybody, but the president and I had that battlefield promotion and I just loved it. They loved me doing it because we were able to get through in record time, got the company restructured, went from negative eight figures per year in EBITDA to positive eight figures in a very short period of time. Then we sold the business for nine figures. Here was a company that was ready to go away and then turned around and got sold for a handsome profit. Anyways, that set a course for me working with PE firms going through and just helping them with those troubled assets. As I came to learn, it’s not a fault of management, it’s sometimes a fault in circumstance of situations. Sometimes it’s too much turnover within management. The business starts to lose its way. As I did these 10 turnarounds over these three decades, I started seeing the commonality, the themes that were in there. I started finding myself repeating the process. That’s when I realized that, “You know what, there’s a book in here and there’s a method to the madness and the things that I do. So, why don’t I start formalizing that?” I always had it on my to-do list that I wanted to write a book and the time became now. I was pivoting again from out of the C-suite into a constative role and advisory role. That’s when I put the book in place and wrote it. You and your firm got it out there.
Well, it’s certainly done well. The book was launched not long ago. It hit Wall Street Journal bestseller, top on the list, number three or four, or on the Wall Street Journal list, USA today, bestseller number one on Barnes & Noble overall. So, congratulations on all of that. I mean, the book is definitely resonating with people.
I think partially because there’s a real-world element to it. I wrote in every chapter a story from the trenches. It was a battlefield story. When I talked about sales and marketing or reporting and finance or restructuring, or how to get the business strategy fixed and corrected, there was a story in every chapter. I took a historical story because as I said earlier, I’m a history buff. I love the Fall of Constantinople and some of the things that happened. So, I took a historical story and themed it through the book as well to just help some of the lessons of the past, be the teacher of today. It was a real fun project. I realized it.
Well, congrats again. The title, When the Unthinkable Happens, talk to me about some of the unthinkable things that you have found yourself in, if you can, because the first thought everybody will have a different first thought when they see that title. What does that even mean? It could mean the times. I had terrible financial trouble because I owned a real estate company during 2007 and 2008 during the financial crisis, and we couldn’t get funding. We couldn’t close deals, et cetera. So talk to me about some of these unthinkable things. From there, I’m going to want to talk about, “Okay, what are some of the patterns that you saw as far as fixing them?”
My story comes from the same era and period that you’re talking about, because I went into a bank and it was eight weeks before Lehman Brother collapsed.
I was the COO of the bank and I had come from automotive and a bunch of other manufacturing companies. I found myself in a bank, which was interesting in and of itself, not having a lot of banking background. Eight weeks later, Lehman Brothers collapsed. We watched 400 some odd banks going to disappear from the world as a result of the subprime mortgage crisis. What was interesting is that in the course of that job, the CEO fortunately had made a bit of a fumble and he ended up losing his job as a result of that. I was now battlefield promoted. I talk about the story in the book, but he actually got taken out by the government because the bank was at risk of falling. In Canada, we hadn’t had any banks fall. It was a super important period of time. Here I am in the midst of a sector, never been in before in the bank and in the middle of the bank, worst banking crisis in modern times, and all of a sudden, overnight disappears as CEO. Now, I’m leading the bank through the worst crisis that they certainly had faced in modern times. For me, it resonates with a lot of the other stories. They just are different stories, but the one theme is that a crisis is not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of when. Are you prepared for it? When it does happen, what do you do with it? How do you then shepherd the business through the difficulty and then move, then take it, not just in an element of survival, but it’s really, how can you actually take this situation within the obstacles and then find the opportunity for growth and scale within there. It’s not just let’s get through these, guys. It’s like, “Let’s just get through this, but become stronger as a result of it. Let’s take whatever it is, the themes or difficulties or opportunities or whatever the market suggests that you know is our new place in that new market. How do we then capitalize on the circumstance, not just try and weather it? So that’s been, I guess, part of the theme of my life. When the Unthinkable Happens is really just a call towards those moments in time where unthinkable things just happen in business and how do you then handle it and how do you take it to grow?
We just came out of a global pandemic. Well, I guess if you ask some, we haven’t come out of it yet, but we certainly are maybe not as much into throes of it as we were. I remember when that began, I think it was the second week of March, I was watching the Players Championship on TV and Hideki Matsuyama shot nine under the first day. The second day, they canceled it. I was like, “They just canceled the Players Championship?” I’m like, “What is going on?” For me, I mean, everybody probably had a different experience, but to me, all of that was a whole new kind of error of something unthinkable happening. It led to some wonderful things from my business, from the standpoint of we became a virtual company, which is something I had always wanted, but was afraid of. We were forced into that because of the shutting down of businesses, et cetera. Maybe if you could talk to me about whether it’s your LIFT process or whether it’s just another type of steps or process when something unthinkable happens to then turn that to a positive. What are the things that you do to create the positive experience?
Well, now is the perfect example of this because you’re right. An unthinkable situation happened. I remember when they said, “Oh, we’re going to flatten the curve. It’s just couple weeks, couple months.” Here it was two years in the making before things really started to sort of iron out a little bit, and we’re not quite there yet. It was an unthinkable circumstance. It’s not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of when. Within the circumstances, how do you find your way to actually find growth and opportunity? You did. In a sense, you were able to pivot your business in a direction you always wanted to go, but never for whatever reason. The circumstance provided you an opportunity for you to take advantage of it. Everybody in the company, as you know, rallied around the new change, because it was the reality of the outside world that was forcing the circumstances. You get a lot of inherent sort of energy within the company to make those changes and those pivots. I think today we’re seeing the things improve because of COVID, but it’s not gone. There’s lots of things that are about to happen in my view. I think there’s another big wave. If you look just as a data point in the last 18 months, it’s been a historic low in bankruptcies for business. Why? Because we’ve had government stimulus propping companies up. The Paycheck Protection Program.
I didn’t know that. There’s an enormous amount of stimulus going on. But that gravy train so to speak is going to end soon. Now, companies are expected to stand on their own two feet without any government support, but the markets still haven’t completely returned. What do you do? We still have ocean liners stacked up on the West Coast unable to be processed into LAX or into any of the ports all on the Western seaboard. I was reading the article the other day that was saying, if you’d lined up all the shipping containers back to back, you could run them all the way from LA to Chicago and back. That’s how many.
The collective wait time on the water is now over 50 years collectively if you added up all the waiting that all those ships have been doing. You’ve got that happening. You’ve got supply chain interruption. You’ve got Silicon problems because of Silicon factories that were down. Now you have chip problems. You’ve got a lot of things that have affected a lot of different sectors and those things aren’t fixed. Just because we’re starting to see some of the improvement, there’s still going to be a ripple effect. The question then becomes what you do about it. Are you going to have to switch your supply chain? Are you going to have to find new routes? Are you going to repatriate manufacturing back to the US which is surely needed in some industries? Too much offshore going on anyway. Do we then find a way to repatriate back? If we have more made in America products, how does that then translate into margins? How do you then get your end customers to actually embrace the cost improvement? What do you do to actually pass through some of that, so you maintain your margins, but yet maintain supply and maybe an improvement in quality or your offering? I think there’s a lot of very important questions, businesses need to be asking themselves, not just saying, “Okay. Let’s just hang on long enough for COVID to go away and then everybody to come running back like they were the day before COVID broke out.” It never works that way. How do you then take the situations and the new realities and then actually build strategies to help yourself pivot through those moments and actually LIFT, lead, inspire and focus and transform your company.
Well, that’s my question for you now. We just stated the problem. Like you said, I mean the unthinkable is unthinkable meaning that something is going to happen. It’s not if, it’s when, and it’s something that is unexpected and then it happens. How do you navigate? Walk me through that, whether it’s LIFT or something else, how do you navigate? What are the first things that you look for and do?
Well, certainly, it’s going to be the moral situation within the company, the vision, the values, the ethical position of the company. Oftentimes when things aren’t going well in a company, they’ve lost their way, there’s always going to be an issue with the vision. It’s either gone away, it’s now words on a wall or it’s the old guy’s vision and not the new regimes. You’ve got to go through and do a full reset because the organization’s been pained because that vision has either expired or drifted away, or the market realities have caused a whole new situation. Now, you haven’t updated your vision and you updated your strategy. You have to go back to those sort of fundamental basics. Then that of course is going to be required because you got to really enable your people to start engaging in the business and then finding out how all this market data and all these realities, or how the customers are now behaving, or what has now changed within the priorities of your customers. Getting that information is going to require you really sparking your people to start engaging in a full refresh. Refresh of the vision, refresh of the business plan, refresh of the realities or the assumptions you’ve made about your end markets, hearing the customer’s voice, understanding what the new needs are, understanding what’s happening in your supply base, or some of your raw material bases. Taking that sort of situational refresh, getting the values of vision and the direction figured out, and then starting to translate that into the end markets. Then you have to look at what is your core competency, because of course every strategy is critical, but it requires you to either go one or two steps away from your core, which then creates risk. Okay, what is that risk? How do I build a risk profile and mitigation strategy to make sure that, “Okay, if I’m going to take new products to existing customers, okay, we know those people, but there’s risk because maybe they don’t want it. Okay, how do we mitigate that risk? How do we get those new offerings to the customer?” If it’s a new customer and a new product, now you’re a couple, two or three or four steps away, and it maybe is a new market and a new geography. Well, the risk profile starts to escalate quite quickly. It doesn’t mean you don’t do it necessarily, but you want to try if you’re going to make a shift and a pivot in business. You want to start with one step away from your core, maybe a new product in the existing market that would be great. If you have to go with a refresh product in a new market, well, that’s a different risk. You’ve got to be able to really build your risk profiles and make sure that you don’t leverage the future of the company on it. You’ve got to be careful with your balance sheet because cash is going to be very precious. There’s going to be a lot of people looking for capital in the next couple of years. If you’re going to need a lot of infusion of capital, you’re going to have to find that capital from within your own company. If you have to go outside to source it, you want to be a position of leverage and not being just taking whatever, you can get at high interest rates. So, you want to be prepared. You want to prepare your balance sheet to actually ask for capital. That requires you to do a whole lot of work on your own existing cost structure. It’s a multi-prong, multi-faceted approach, but there’s a method in there and it’s called LIFT and it’s in the book.
They got to get the book. You said something while you were walking us through how you look at it, what you do. I’d like you to expound on a little bit. You said companies are going to be looking for capital in the future. You mentioned before that you talked about just supply chain issues, Silicon, the 50 years of overall wait time, all of these things impact supply chains, impact profit and loss statements. The government has been not just the government in the United States, but all governments all over the world, they’ve been flooding the markets with cash, printing it “making digits appear out of thin air.” What do you see as the immediate future in the next one to two years, and then the longer-term future five to 10 years coming from this that people need to be aware of?
Well, certainly there’s going to be a natural, unfortunately, culling of some businesses through this process. It’s a couple things. One, you had an arbitrary, sort of inflating of some companies that probably would’ve fell into insolvency, but because of government funding and stimulus money, we’re able to live to another day. The unfortunate part is once that balloon empties, then it’s gone, they’ll fall into the bankruptcy that they probably should have went into in the first place. Then, there’s good come companies that still have a vibrant business plan, but they were too slow to act. We’ve seen this right out of the gate of COVID. We all thought, okay, flatten the curve a couple weeks. Well, they didn’t deal with their cost structure. They let the government money come in to help with keeping those in people employed, but they didn’t need those people, but they had the money access, so they kept them around, but yet the business started to change and the needs started to change, but they kept thinking, okay, well, the curtain is going to open again and things are going to change. I don’t want to take too much action. I’ll lose too many good people. There was a lack of urgency on changes. What did that do? Ultimately, it ended up eroding the balance sheet because when you have to fundamentally make that kind of change, it typically costs you money to make that change. Sometimes in the form of severance, you’re getting rid of certain people or you need to hire certain people, but you got to put out cash to make certain changes in the business. If you’re sitting going, “Okay, well, I’m getting this government money and in order to get this money, I have to keep things the way they are,” then you arbitrarily delay what you should be doing now. What we’ve seen, I think in the first 12 months, was a lot of people sitting on their hands, but just hoping that everything would go back. Well, then after six months you go, “Okay. Well, it’s not going back, but I’ve got all these people and we are starting to hear things might improve.” Then, there was this long delay. There’s going to be a number of companies, as these stimulus packages all start dropping off, then all of a sudden now they didn’t do the work they should have did during this period. Now they have pretty good businesses, but now they’re too fat and they’ve gone down and made changes, but their balance sheets eroded. Now, all of a sudden, they’re in a liquidity crisis and now they’re looking for capital. The second part of that problem, which I think gets exacerbated is that they’re not the only ones looking for capital. Now, you’re going to have a rush for capital because all the government money is now gone. Now, all of a sudden, now the bar for who gets what is now raised because institutions now say, “Okay, you know what? You got to be operating cash positive. You got to be this. You got to have these kind of debt to equity ratios and so on and so forth.” They can be a little bit selective and picky about who they lend to. If you’re the one looking for the money, all of a sudden, now you got many parties at the table. All of a sudden now your position is far weaker in which you can ask for it, which you can expect. I think that the problem is going to get really magnified in the next 24 months. The unfortunate part to answer your longer term question is that there’ll probably be some really good companies that go away because they weren’t prepared for this. That’s going to be to the benefit of their competitors, because someone’s going to have to eat up that space and those opportunities will be lost by those companies. Unfortunately, we’ll probably see some good companies just caught in this sort of vortex for a period of time and they just don’t have the balance sheet to weather it.
Well, they need to hire you as quickly as possible to begin making the changes and adjustments that are needed. So this is good. This is intriguing stuff. I mean, you’ve done this at the highest level. You’ve done this with the biggest asset manager in the world, Blackstone. It’s really interesting to hear your thoughts on this. I mean, I’m a small business owner, but hey my business is important to me. All of my staff and all of my clients. I guess being small allows you to be nimble and we were nimble. We were quick to act, which I think enabled us and allowed us to have a great year in 2020 and what is shaping up to be a fantastic year in 2021. The thing that I’m hearing mainly out of everything you shared is to be able to make the hard decisions and make them quickly because the longer you stall, even though you have cash in the bank or you may have government subsidies, you’re just going to end up having to make those decisions and by then it may be too late to actually do that. Thank you. It’s getting an education here, which is always kind of fun for me and for those listening. Let me pivot for just a moment because we’ve given them a lot to think about. I always like to ask either for those that have had their book out for certain length of time, how are you using your book? How are you using your book to grow your consulting business, to build authority and get your name out? Your book has only been out for a short period of time, but it’s already done so exceptionally well, again, hitting Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the best seller list, all of that. So I’ll ask you a different question. What would you say or tell somebody who has 30 years of experience like you and is thinking of writing a book, thinking of pivoting and it doesn’t have to be 30 years. You know what I mean? They have an expertise. They’re thinking of pivoting. They’re thinking of writing the book. What would you tell them? Also, what would you tell them about how to actually look for somebody to really help you with the marketing and publishing of that book?
Thanks for the question. When I started, as I said, I always had this desire to write a book and I really wanted to take a lot of my experiences. It’s part of your legacy. You want to sort of put the pin in on the things that you’ve done and there’s nothing like writing a book that really helps you put that line in the sand. “Okay. Here’s my life up to this point and here’s the difference I’ve made. Here’s the things I’ve learned,” and then, “Here’s what I want others to glean and enjoy and experience and understand as well. If there’s a way to give back into the past for those who want to pay it forward. It’s a great milestone. When you have a set of expertise like I have, one of them is not writing books and publishing them. So there’s an element of when I walked into the project, I was like, “Okay, I could write. I wrote lots of chapters. I crystallized my methodology. I thought through some very deep concepts and tried to simplify it to my audience.” It’s one thing to put a bunch of papers together in 450 pages, my book is, as you know, it’s a bit of a longer one, but taking that to actually production in publishing is a completely different animal for sure. It’s not an expertise that I had. One of the things I did learn over my course of time was that when I didn’t have the expertise, I got that expertise. I had many subject matter experts come in to help me when I faced a situation that I knew needed to be fixed or improved, or we needed that level of expertise to help us accomplish that goal or hit that milestone. I was never afraid to go out and get expertise to help me with the next leg of that journey that helped us get to that end goal. That was what it took for me when I realized, “Okay, I wanted to write a book, but who do I get as a partner?” When I went out there looking for partners to help me, Bestseller Publishing, and yourself Rob, we talked early on in the process there, I was just very, very admiring of your expertise and as well what your organization, what you’ve built. It’s an end to end solution. For those that need other aspects like you provide a lot of services and really equip someone that has expertise to actually take that expertise out and then put that into action, and then help them get their book out onto the world stage. I thank you for that. First and foremost, you guys did a fantastic job and I was glad when I picked you and I’m glad on the other side of it, that you were able to deliver on everything you promised, and I really appreciated all that you and your team did for me.
Well, thank you for saying that. I’m honored. I think your book, it does put a pin in it so to speak as you said. I think it is going to be an incredible foundation for you as a consultant helping tons of other businesses to do the very thing that you’ve been doing for the last 30 years. So I’m glad we could play a small part in that and really honor to be working with you. So thank you for that. Let’s give a link. I mean, where can people learn a little bit more about you, about the LIFT process, maybe get a copy of the book? Where’s the best place to send them?
Yeah. So randydewey.com is the best place to go. You can get to the book funnel there and that’ll give you a lot of information, help you get a pretty inexpensive copy of it. That’s a great place to go. Of course, the website is full of stuff. Also, you can find me all over LinkedIn. That’s certainly the platform that I spend quite a bit of my energy on. Between LinkedIn and my website at randydewey.com, you can learn all about me and the LIFT process.