Insights From Various Leadership Roles

As a growth strategist/executive advisor, I have noticed that:

despite high unemployment, the primary barrier to growth for midsized companies is not sales or financing…it’s difficulty attracting bright employees who are continuous learners.  The executives are quick to say that their companies are ready to train new employees to “do things [their] way.” But job applicants show up late or ask about the number of vacation days during early stage interviews. Our clients ALL have unfilled job vacancies.  Several clients are looking for sales professionals. So…how many high-potential people are settling for their current jobs despite feeling uninspired?

As the host of a syndicated peer to peer talk show, I have noticed that:

most of the Presidents of INC 500 listed companies have a laser focus on customer driven innovation. Yes, they spend time attracting/retaining top talent and financing growth; but those efforts are approached in ways that enable the development and delivery of innovative products/services that customers need and want.

These Presidents also utilize dashboards, balanced scorecards, or other similar tools to keep a watchful eye on important performance ratios. And they expect department heads to hit goals, initiate improvements, and prevent slippage.  It’s not OK for a key ratio to be missed without a corrective action plan.

They stay informed about things like the value of the dollar, but none of the guests from INC 500 companies whine about the economy.   

As a growth strategy speaker at business conferences, I have noticed that:

owners of mid-sized businesses are initially skeptical when I pose the concept of tripling gross revenue while only doubling operating costs.  Uncertainty has sucked many business owners down into incremental thinking and survival mode.  In many ways, those companies no longer have Presidents or CEOs. They have regressed to duplication of effort and micro management.  Too many department heads are no longer expected to optimize productivity and customer satisfaction…the President is.

But it doesn’t take long for Presidents/CEOs to recognize that their job is the big picture, growth strategy, and long term resilient success.  No excuses.  As business leaders, if we can’t even imagine several options that could triple our gross revenue, how on earth could we actually do it?

As a growth financing intermediary, I have noticed that:

business owners are still complaining about the process. Although interest rates, ROI, and board participation demands are more favorable, the due diligence step has become more detailed.  A company that receives growth financing must prove that it has a scalable business model, provides a differentiated product that customers clearly want, and can consistently generate a reasonable profit. 

Too many applicants for private investor financing ask investors to cover their day to day operating expenses instead of solving their profitability issues before approaching investors. And too many applicants are looking for small amounts of money, which just wastes the potential investor’s time.

Too many applicants haven’t taken the time to learn about various financing instruments.  A mid-sized company that could/should finance growth through stronger joint ventures or clearer equity deals with key stakeholders will probably be turned down by a venture capital fund.  I’ve seen business owners look right past licensing, franchising, and corporate sponsorship opportunities.

As an advocate for mid-sized companies, I have noticed that:

the lobbying of many statewide chambers of commerce is focused more and more on large corporations and micro sized businesses… sometimes to the exclusion of mid-sized companies. This is happening, in large part, because owners of mid-sized companies have been letting our memberships in statewide chambers of commerce lapse.

When association dues are compared to the electric bill, this may seem like a frugal thing to do. But the national and statewide chambers of commerce can provide a strong voice for members. The thing is, they can’t help change the policies and regulations that stunt our growth if we aren’t members and let them know our priorities.

The needs of huge publicly traded corporations are often very different from the priorities of privately held innovation driven mid-sized companies.  Plus the largest corporations have their own government relations departments and directly pay professional lobbyists. Being part of an effective statewide chamber of commerce can feel like you have your own government relations department and professional lobbyists on staff. A few hundred dollars of dues to have some say about the issues that encourage or stunt business growth seems a small price to pay.

As a Business Owner/Executive/Employer, I have noticed that:

targeted market research is more important than ever…and needs more frequent updates than ever. Baby Boomer business owners who wanted to continue to work for 5-6 more years will suddenly decide that their succession plans must immediately change because they “have had it” and will retire soon. Leaders of growing businesses that had been fighting industry consolidation are quietly entertaining proposals from “roll up artists.”  Leaders of stagnant companies suddenly awaken to the need to clean house, create new products, go global, or upgrade technology.  Readiness for dramatic change is impossible to read if your market research is too infrequent to catch the changes.

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Growth Strategy Tip


Thank you for conducting a most dynamic seminar [for] our members meeting. Growth and change are critical issues in our industry. Your enthusiastic, participative style was very well received.

Steven Cunningham (retired), President/CEO

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