During a particularly protracted meeting, one of her employees remarked to Laura, in less than friendly tones, that she was a “complete control freak”.
After affording this unsolicited criticism due consideration, she replied, with absolutely no irony whatsoever, “Thank you very much”.
In Laura’s experience her willingness to control was a positive influence on her business.
She reflected with ruthless honesty, “How many times in my life or career when I took great care with a decision, project, or issue did things go pear-shaped?”
“Conversely, have there been occasions over the years when I relaxed, failed to exercise normal diligence, or was persuaded I was fussing too much?”
Laura concluded that, in her experience, regrets only emerged when she compromised, or took her eye off the ball.
She had learned this the hard way.
Laura’s business had been started by her father, but she had invested the last seven years of her life helping the business grow into a thriving enterprise.
She was good at persuading clients to use her small logistics company. Customers were won over once Laura explained that her larger competitors, despite their huge automated warehouses and extensive resources, would never care enough about smaller customers to make them top priority.
Laura’s genius was in researching clients and identifying those with just the right profile to benefit from her company’s personal touch.
Dad had stepped down as Managing Director three months ago to become Chairman, appointing Laura in his place.
In Laura’s eyes her father could do no wrong, but she was less than impressed with one of his final decisions. Two months before retiring he promoted Ray to Finance Director, making him the only other director in the business in a position that also held voting rights.
When challenged, her father had explained that Ray’s promotion was a reward for years of loyal service, but Laura couldn’t shake the feeling that her Dad still felt she lacked experience.
To make matters worse, Laura felt the promotion had gone to Ray’s head. Though she was now Managing Director, and despite the fact that Ray only owned a token 3% shareholding, he seemed to be taking complete control of all matters financial.
Whilst this was annoying, Laura had bigger fish to fry.
Sales were booming and the infrastructure was showing the strain.
Laura concluded that she needed to extend the warehouse.
Out of courtesy, she discussed the idea with her father who was broadly supportive, but recommended she run the idea past Ray to get a financial perspective.
Against her better judgement Laura scheduled a meeting with Ray a few days later.
To her surprise not only did Ray seem aware of her plans, but had come to the meeting with a set of alternative proposals.
Laura’s intention had been to extend the warehouse from its existing foot print increasing the Company’s capacity by 40%.
Ray immediately pointed out that Laura’s idea was misguided and lacked ambition.
Despite her initial fury, Laura resisted the temptation to tighten Ray’s tie and listened as he explained that the land around the existing warehouse was extremely valuable.
The Company could sell the existing surplus land and the profits would not only pay for a much larger area on a green field site but there would be sufficient proceeds left over to make a significant dent in the costs of a new warehouse.
In short, Ray’s plan was that for the same investment the Company could purchase a larger, purpose built warehouse on a green field site to work in tandem with the existing warehouse.
Laura expressed concern that dividing the operation could lead to duplication of effort, an increase in overheads and loss of cohesion.
Ray countered this by pointing out that dividing the operation would expand the catchment area for the business and open up a broader base of potential new clients for Laura to exploit.
Rather than call a Board meeting chaired by her father, Laura called in on him on the way home that evening. It soon became clear that though she could always rely on his vote, her father felt she should think hard before squashing Ray’s plans.
Against her better judgement Laura worked hard with Ray in the months that followed to develop a robust business plan, including a much analysed cash flow forecast.
Finally satisfied that Ray’s ambitious plan made sense for the business she handed the development of the new site over to her Co-Director whilst Laura set about ensuring there was enough business to fill the new warehouse.
In the intervening months the project was a major source of discussion at Board Meetings. Ray presented figures that demonstrated the plan was proceeding on time and on budget. Laura and her father congratulated Ray on his stewardship of the development.
At one Board meeting Laura noted that Ray was now presenting the management accounts, and the figures surrounding the project, on spreadsheets. Previously, all results came directly from the company financial software.
Ray explained that figures were still derived from the normal source but, because the existing financial software was not sophisticated enough to handle the new warehouse development, he had to consolidate the figures on spreadsheets.
Laura also noticed a change in Ray’s behaviour. He hadn’t taken a vacation since her father had stepped down. Ray was always in the office when Laura got to work, and was still tapping at his computer when she left for the day.
She put this down to Ray’s elevation and his desire to show he was worthy of her father’s faith in him. Though his behaviour made her feel uneasy, she didn’t want to be accused of sour grapes and turned a blind eye to Ray’s recent eccentricities.
From time to time Laura would ask to see figures on the new development, and one day went to see the site accompanied by Ray. The ground had been cleared and the foundations for the new warehouse had been excavated.
The work on the new site had progressed broadly to the expected point, but Laura was surprised to see no evidence of work being done, or equipment at the site.
Ray explained that the team that had cleared the site and excavated the foundations had finished their work and the builders were about to move in.
Over the next few weeks Ray’s behaviour changed even more dramatically. Normally a gregarious, affable man, he snapped at staff and even his appearance became a little dishevelled.
Matters came to a head three weeks after the site visit.
The Finance Director from the company that supplied Diesel to Laura’s firm called the office and demanded to speak to the Managing Director.
Normally Ray would intercept any such calls, but on this occasion he was in a heated discussion on the other line.
The lady who had taken the call explained that Ray was busy and could Laura please speak to the angry supplier, who introduced himself as Chris.
Before Laura could speak, the incandescent FD berated her for not returning his calls. He felt that she was disrespectful and that such behaviour would never have been tolerated when her father ran things.
Laura prided herself on her interpersonal skills and succeeded in calming her unexpected caller.
The Diesel man explained that the company’s account had fallen into arrears. Furthermore, Laura was only able to purchase fuel at Chris’ discretion, as he could no longer obtain credit indemnity insurance against her company’s debts.
Laura felt the ground lurch beneath her feet.
She explained to Chris that she would sort the problem that very day and ended the call with the barely placated supplier.
Laura then grabbed her car keys and rushed from her office, almost knocking Ray over as she burst through the door.
Ignoring his spluttering comments she headed straight for the car park and left the premises to the accompaniment of complaining rubber.
Upon reaching the building site for the new warehouse the lead ball in her stomach began to bounce around, and Laura felt certain she was going to throw up.
Not only were there no contractors in evidence but the site had been padlocked shut.
Ray’s figures had all added up until time was factored into the plan.
The cash just didn’t flow.
Far more cash than Ray had foreseen had to be paid out upfront.
To make matters worse the instalments from the purchaser of the land around the existing warehouse had been delayed.
The recently appointed FD had covered this up by presenting his management accounts on spreadsheets that he could manipulate before meetings.
The deposits and up-front costs had eaten up most of Ray’s budget and, as a result of slow payment by the land development company, he needed to make up the difference by slowing down payments to trade creditors.
Credit indemnity insurance companies had noted the sharp rise in overdue days and reduced their cover, causing more suppliers to demand payment.
The whole situation had spiralled beyond Ray’s control requiring ever more desperate measures to keep the problem hidden from the Board.
In fact, the company had enough liquidity to weather the storm and still get the new warehouse built. The rescue plan was only made difficult by the fact that Ray had tried to spare his blushes in front of the Board.
Laura had felt uncomfortable with the way the company was run since her father stepped down as MD. Had she been more experienced, she would certainly have challenged Ray’s appointment and insisted on having full control from the outset.
She would never again resist her intuition.
Following Ray’s departure, Laura moved her desk into the front office.
From there she could keep an eye on Jane, the new accountant, and overhear the calls coming into the business.
Laura ensured she was trained to use the company’s financial software, and often ran reports to answer her own questions.
Though there were no administrative functions in the new warehouse, Laura installed a desk there too, and the staff knew that she was likely to turn up at any moment and ask awkward questions.
The truth is no-one on the planet cares as much about your business, your service, or your product as you do.