Monthly Archives: April 2017

Financial Analysis on an Oil Corporation Takeover

Gulf Oil Corp.–Takeover

Summary of Facts

o George Keller of the Standard Oil Company of California (Socal) is trying to determine how much he wants to bid on Gulf Oil Corporation. Gulf will not consider bids below $70 per share even though their last closing price per share was valued at $43.

o Between 1978 and 1982, Gulf doubled its exploration and development expenses to increase their oil reserves. In 1983, Gulf began reducing exploration expenditures considerably due to declining oil prices as Gulf management repurchased 30 million of their 195 million shares outstanding.

o The Gulf Oil takeover was due to a recent takeover attempt by Boone Pickens, Jr. of Mesa Petroleum Company. He and a group of investors had spent $638 million and had obtained around 9% of all Gulf shares outstanding. Pickens engaged in a proxy fight for control of the company but Gulf executives fought Boone’s takeover as he followed up with a partial tender offer at $65 per share. Gulf then decided to liquidate on its own terms and contacted several firms to participate in this sale.

o The opportunity for improvement was Keller’s principal attraction to Gulf and now he has to decide whether Gulf, if liquidated, is worth $70 per share and how much he will bid on the company.

Problems

o What is Gulf Oil worth per share if the company is liquidated?

o Who is Socal’s competition and how are they a threat?

o What should Socal bid on Gulf Oil?

o What can be done to prevent Socal from operating Gulf Oil as a going concern?

Competition

Major competitors for obtaining Gulf Oil include Mesa Oil, Kohlberg Kravis, ARCO, and, of course, Socal.

Mesa Oil:

o Currently holds 13.2% of Gulf’s stock at an average purchase price of $43.

o Borrowed $300 million against Mesa securities, and made an offer of $65/share for 13.5 million shares, which would increase Mesa’s holdings to 21.3%.

o Under the re-incorporation, they would have to borrow an amount many times the value of Mesa’s net worth to gain the majority needed to gain a seat on the board.

o Mesa is unlikely to raise that much capital. Regardless, Boone Pickens and his investor group will make a substantial profit if they sell their current shares to the winner of the bidding.

ARCO:

o Offer price is likely less than $75/share since a bid of $75 will send its debt proportion soaring, thus making it difficult to borrow anything more.

o Socal’s debt is only 14% (Exhibit 3) of total capital, and banks are willing to lend enough to make bids into the $90’s possible.

Kohlberg Kravis:

o Specializes in leveraged buyouts. Keller feels theirs is the bid to beat since the heart of their offer lies in the preservation of Gulf’s name, assets and jobs. Gulf will essentially be a going concern until a longer-term solution can be found.

Socal’s offer will be based on how much Gulf’s reserves are worth without further exploration. Gulf’s other assets and liabilities will be absorbed into Socal’s balance sheet.

Gulf Oil’s Weighted-Average Cost of Capital

o Gulf’s WACC was determined to be 13.75% using the following assumptions:

o CAPM used to calculate cost of equity using beta of 1.5, risk-free rate of 10% (1 year T-bond), market risk premium of 7% (Ibbotson Associates’ data of arithmetic mean from 1926 – 1995). Cost of equity: 18.05%.

o Market value of equity was determined by multiplying the number of shares outstanding by the 1982 share price of $30. This price was used because it is the un-inflated value before the price was driven up by the takeover attempts. Market value of equity: $4,959 million, weight: 68%.

o Value of debt was determined by using the book value of long-term debt, $2,291. Weight: 32%.

o Cost of debt: 13.5% (given)

o Tax rate: 67% calculated by net income before taxes divided by income tax expense.

Valuation of Gulf Oil

Gulf’s value is comprised of two components: the value of Gulf’s oil reserves and the value of the firm as a going concern.

o A projection was made going forward from 1983 estimating oil production until all of the reserves were depleted (Exhibit 2). Production in 1983 was 290 million composite barrels, and this was assumed to be constant until 1991 when the remaining 283 million barrels are produced.

o Production costs were held constant relative to the production amount, including depreciation due to the unit-of-production method currently used by Gulf (Production will be the same, so depreciation amount will be the same)

o Because Gulf uses the LIFO method to account for inventory, it is assumed that new reserves are expensed the same year that they are discovered and all other exploratory costs, including geological and geophysical costs are charged against income as incurred.

o Since there will be no more exploration going forward, the only expenses that will be considered are the costs involved with production to deplete the reserves.

o The price of oil was not expected to rise in the next ten years, and since inflation affects both the selling price of oil and the cost of production, it cancels itself out and was negated in the cash flow analysis.

o Revenues minus expenses determined the cash flows for years 1984-1991. The cash flows cease in 1991 after all oil and gas reserves are liquidated. The cash flows derived account for the liquidation of the oil and gas assets only, and do not account for liquidating other assets such as current assets or net properties. The cash flows were then discounted by net present value using Gulf’s cost of capital as the discount rate. Total cash flows until liquidation is complete, discounted by Gulf’s 13.75% discount rate (WACC), come to $9,981 million.

Gulf’s value as a going concern

o The second component of Gulf’s value is its value as a going concern.

o Relevant to the valuation because Socal does not plan to sell any of Gulf’s assets other than its oil under the liquidation plan. Instead, Socal will utilize Gulf’s other assets.

o Socal can choose to turn Gulf back into a going concern at any time during the liquidation process, all that is needed is for Gulf to start exploration process again.

o Value as a going concern was calculated by multiplying the number of shares outstanding by the 1982 share price of $30. Value: $4,959 million.

o 1982 share price chosen because this is the value the market assigned before the price was driven up by the takeover attempts.

Bidding Strategy

o When two companies merge it is common practice for the purchasing company to overpay for the purchased firm.

o Results in the shareholders of the purchased company profiting from the over-payment, and the shareholders of the purchasing company losing value.

o Socal’s responsibility is to their shareholders, not the shareholders of Gulf Oil.

o Socal has determined the value of Gulf oil, in liquidation, to be $90.39 per share. To pay anything over this amount would result in a loss for Socal shareholders.

o Maximum bid amount per share was determined by finding the value per share with Socal’s WACC, 16.20%. The resulting price was $85.72 per share.

1. This is the price per share that Socal must not exceed to still obtain profit from the merger, because Socal’s WACC of 16.2% is closer to what Socal will expect to pay their shareholders.

o The minimum bid is usually determined by the price the stock is currently selling at, which would be $43 per share.

1. However, Gulf Oil will not accept a bid lower than $70 per share.

2. Also, the addition of the competitor’s willingness to bid at least $75 per share drives the winning bid price up.

o Socal took the average of the maximum and minimum bid prices, resulting in a bid price of $80 per share.

Maintaining Socal’s Value

o If Socal purchases Gulf at $80 it is based on the company’s liquidation value and not as a going concern. Therefore, if Socal operates Gulf as a going concern their stock will be devalued by approximately half. Socal stockholder’s fear that management might takeover Gulf and control the company as is which is only valued at its current stock price of $30.

o After the acquisition, there will be large interest payments that could force management to improve performance and operating efficiency. The use of debt in takeovers serves not only as a financing technique but as a tool to hopefully force changes in managerial behavior.

o There are a few strategies Socal could employ to ensure stockholders and other relevant parties that Socal will takeover and use Gulf at the appropriate value.

o A covenant could be executed on or before the time of the bid. It would specify the future obligations of Socal management and include their liquidation strategy and projected cash flows. Although management might respect the covenant, there is no real motivation to prevent them from implementing their own agenda.

o Management could be monitored by an executive; however, this is often costly and an ineffective process.

o Another way to ensure shareholders, especially when monitoring is too expensive or too difficult, is to make the interests of the management more like those of the stockholders. For instance, an increasingly common solution towards the difficulties arising from the separation of ownership and management of public companies is to pay managers partly with shares and share options in the company. This gives the managers a powerful incentive to act in the interests of the owners by maximizing shareholder value. This is not a perfect solution because some managers with lots of share options have engaged in accounting fraud in order to increase the value of those options long enough for them to cash some of them in, but to the detriment of their firm and its other shareholders.

o It would probably be the most beneficial and the least costly for Socal to align its managers concerns with that of the stockholders by paying their managers partly with shares and share options. There are risks associated with this strategy but it will definitely be an incentive for management to liquidate Gulf Oil.

Recommendation

o Socal will place a bid for Gulf Oil because its cash flows reveal that it is worth $90.39 in a liquidated state.

o Socal will bid $80 per share but limits further bidding to a ceiling of $85.72 because paying a higher price would hurt Socal’s shareholders.

Managerial Economics – Application of Economic Theory in Solving Business Problems!

Managerial economics is concerned with various micro and macro economic tools and the analysis of which can be used in managerial decision making to solve business problems. Micro economic tools that are used in this subject include demand analysis, production and cost analysis, break-even analysis, pricing theory and practice, technical progress, location decisions and capital budgeting. The macro economic concepts that are directly or indirectly relevant to managerial decision-making comprise national income analysis, business cycles, monetary policy, fiscal policy, central banking, government finance, economic growth, international trade, balance of payments, free trade protectionism, exchange rates and international monetary system.

The scope of this managerial science is wide and it has close connections with economic theory, decision sciences and accountancy. Traditional economics talks about the theory and methodology while managerial economics applies economic theory and methodology to solve business problems. It uses the tools and techniques of analysis to provide with optimal solutions to business problems.

  • Relationship with economics:

Managerial economics borrows concepts from economics just as engineering does from physics and medicine from biology. The analysis of both micro and macro economic concepts add valuable inputs to the organization. Say, national income forecasting is an important aid to business condition analysis which in turn could be a priceless input for forecasting the demand for specific product groups. The theories of market structure can be analyzed for the purpose of market segmentation.

  • Relationship with decision sciences:

Decision models are created to format the solutions for problem situations and the process utilizes techniques like, optimization, differential calculus and mathematical programming. This also helps to analyze the impact of alternate course of action and evaluate the results obtained form the model.

  • Relationship with accounting:

Accounting data and statements constitute the language of business. The accounting profession considerably influences cost and revenue information and their classification. A manager should therefore be familiar with the generation, interpretation and use of accounting data. Accounting moreover is viewed as a management decision tool and not anymore as a mere practice of bookkeeping. The concepts and practices of accounting can be very well applied to improve the economic scope of a project.

Economics is an interesting subject as it deals with the day-to-day problems of a common man and at the same time is concerned with the economic prosperity of a country as a whole. Its primary focus is on scarce resource allocations among competing ends. Individuals, enterprises and nations face problems of resource allocation. Managerial economics may be viewed as economics applied to problem solving at the level of the firm.

Role of Budgeting in Planning, Control, and Resource Allocation Process in UAE Companies

Budget

Before understanding the key concepts of budgeting, it is important to understand the meaning of budget. A budget is used to make a documentation of the translation of plans into money. So, the amount of money that needs to be spent in the planned strategies of the company would lie under the budget of that company. These planned strategies include the expenditure that a company incurs and also the income that the company predicts to make. So, in other words, a budget helps one to make an estimation of the amount of money that would be required for the company to handle the projects undertaken by it. It must also be understood that a budget is not made permanently. There are conditions under which a company can make changes in the budget and go as per as the needs of the market. As for example, if a company sees that the use of computers is not as had been planned in the budgeting; it would either replace it with something or not make any investment at all in the field. This is where the utility of controlling comes into the picture. Other than this a budget is also significant from other perspectives. If one talks about the resource allocation, budget has an equally important role to play in it. The reason for the same is that let’s say that a company has budgeted that it can afford a certain amount of power supply for a certain project that is conducted in a village. Under the conditions, the amount of human resource that would be required to carry out the project can be determined from the budget itself. Normally a budget is of three types. They have been mentioned as follows:

Survival Budget: This form of budgeting is important in the boundary conditions. It estimates the minimum resources so as to complete a particular project. So, if a company has a look at the survival project, there is one obvious analysis that can be done. This is that under the most optimistic of the situations, the resources allocated would be sufficient. There would be very little margin of error under the conditions.

Guaranteed Budget: This budget is formulated when there is a guarantee of a particular amount of income at the time of formulation of budget. So, when a budget is made from this perspective, this income is taken into consideration. If somehow, the debtors are not able to provide the income that the company used as guarantee before making the budget, it would have to switch over to the survival budget formation.

Optimal Budget: The third form of budget is the optimal budget. This budget is used under the conditions when there is extra money in the company accounts or else the company feels that it could raise extra money from the market. So, if the position of the company is good then this form of budgeting can be applied. As for example if we consider a very famous company in the infrastructure sector, Emaar, we would find that the company has the ability to raise a lot of extra capital from the market. So, Emaar can hope to use it in utilizing the money to plan a few more interesting projects like it had made the longest mall in the world and the tallest tower in the world. Both these projects were outcomes of an optimal budget made by the company.

Budgeting Responsibilities

Owing to the circumstances under which a budget is fruitful, the organizations should be highly selective in handing over the responsibilities of making the budget. There are a few pre-requisites of making a budget. They are as follows:

The concerned employee should have a clear understanding of the company’s values, strategies, and plans that lie in the near future.

The employees must know the importance of cost-efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Also, the concerned employee must have knowledge about the resources that would be used to generate and raise funds.

The above pre-requisites are essential for the company if they have the motive of using budgeting in the planning, controlling and resource allocation purposes.

So, it is generally recommended that a company has a budgeting team that has an optimal size so as to prevent any discrepancy with the formation of the budget. Under all situations where the concerned members of the finance department have difficulties in planning the budget, they would have to consult the board of members for the same. For a situation like this to arise, the planning in the company must certainly have been wrong. So, we can see that the new planning would depend solely on the fact that budget allows the same to happen. Under all other conditions, the estimated plan would have to change. (Budgeting, 2010)

Role of Budgeting in Planning

Here we are taking the telecommunication giant, DU into account to understand the role played by budgeting in the planning process. It was only about a couple of years ago that the company introduced its new plan. This new plan was about introducing the pay-by-the second plan amongst the services of the company. This was done as per as the optimal budget plan of the company. DU had formulated a budget where it got the option of introducing a new facility with the extra money that it hand in hand. As the company analysis shows that DU was climbing the ladders of success even then, so this was certainly a major step in the making. Moreover, the funds that had been allocated in the budget were enough for the fact that the company could start this service any time it wanted. So, it chose the time when the nearest rival company Etisalat had screwed up its plans after introducing the Blackberry services. As an optimal budget is that which allows the time for starting a new investment, this was just the time and DU made the most of the opportunity. Today this plan is among the most revenue-fetching plans that the company had ever introduced in its services. So, budget played an extremely important role in the planning of this success of the firm. Had the company planned to use the extra money as a surplus or retained or reserve, it would never have been able to introduce this service. So, one can see the importance of making the right budget at the right time can help in planning for great successes in a company. There are other examples also where one can see the planning being aided by preparation of budget. The tourism department of Abu Dhabi was guaranteed of the fact that it would have a considerable amount of income from the flourishing tourism in the country due to the onset of some of the most peculiar activities in the country. Under the situation, the department used the guaranteed budget to enhance the cultural activities of the country. A number of museums have been renovated because of a planned budgeting under the guaranteed budget plan. The department had planned that with the money they would have from the already existing resources in tourism, it would evoke a cultural feeling in the country and its natives, It has been able to do it successfully as per as the statistics of the museums of the region are concerned. So, once again we see that budgeting has helped in planning of such an important landmark in the country.

As in general one can say that budgeting is about aiding a company to make plans for the future. It is that process where a company can be assured of the fact that it would have enough money so as to carry out the requisite projects. We are all acquainted with the fact that the world is about competition as of today. Every company needs to plan new projects so as to show its core competency. Under the conditions, no company can automatically start investing on its research and development. It has to come through a substantial degree of planning which could only be possible after the budget of the company allows it to do so. In all other situations it would finally have to terminate the services with an excess of demand or supply.

There are also other instances where a company can use the principles of budgeting in order to carry out its planning. This can be seen in the case of training. Every planning of training has to be supported by budget. This is one of the foremost criteria of training. There are a number of instances in the country where the Government is implementing programs like Emiritzation. If the budget of the company does not support such plans they would certainly not be executed. The loss can be huge under the conditions. The first case would be a monetary loss as an incomplete training would actually be of no used as it would be insufficient to fulfill the company’s criteria. If some small companies do place employees with an incomplete bit of training, it would make the company even smaller!

So, we can see how budgeting governs this chain of planning which of not executed in a suitable manner could bring about adverse results. (The Importance of Budgeting, 2010)

Role of Budgeting in Controlling

As in the case of planning, budgeting also has a special role to play in controlling of an organization. We have seen that a plan would simply lay the conditions of taking on a particular activity. What follows is its controlling in the implementation phase. Let’s say that a company wishes to promote its products or services in the trade fare of Dubai. This is one of the places where controlling comes into play with respect to budgeting. Dubai Trade Fare is one of those occasions when a number of companies use the best of means to promote their products. With an adequate amount of control, the companies would never be able to compete in the pool of so many. So, a budgeting has to be done to choose the HR and marketing department which would be responsible to control the scenario.

Without a proper budgeting in this respect, the company would make inefficient decisions and after a while, there would be no control over the promotional measures of the company.

There are also a number of chances where a company goes with leisure expenses. It does increase the value of the company for a particular period of time but after a while there has to be an end to it. Now, with a planned budget under the conditions, the companies would be able to restrict themselves from over-spending as the budget would not suit their expenditure. This requires the company to make a survival budget. As we can see a survival budget would certainly take care of the budgeting requirements of the company. If the employees are aware of the fact that they would not be able to complete their respective projects with the type of expenditure they are doing, they would certainly shift to other economic reasons. This way a company can also control the activities of the employees. Once a planned budget is produced the whereabouts of the employees can also be checked as they would be on a hire. The amount of time given to them in the budget would be fixed. If they are unable to finish their respective works in this stipulated time they would see the effect on their salaries or wages. So, this way, the company’s activities, employees, time and money can all be under control with the introduction of budget in the company’s financial plan. The company would certainly become more efficient if it works in a controlled manner. So, this would be for the mutual benefit of both the employees and the company as well. (Controlling a Budget, 2010)

Role of Budgeting in Resource Allocation

A company’s success is highly dependent on the resource allocation. This has to be done optimally so as to complete a certain project. The law of economics suggests that a company has the least resources and has to make the most of it. So, only an appropriate resource allocation would help this happen. This would be in terms of human resource, raw materials, equipments, money, time and all other attributes that take for making a project successful. Here again, the budgeting of the company plays an important role to play. The reason for the same is that in all the sectors that have been talked about here, only a planned budget could decide the maximum a company can afford. Let’s say that ADNOC has the plan of staring a new subsidiary. Under the conditions, it would have to make a budget where the company could allocate the amount of human resources in order to make this happen. Not only this, there are a series of activities that would have to be done in the process. Much of the time, there would be two processes going on and at times even one. So, a planned budget would estimate the amount of money that the company can afford throughout the process. Based on this, the processes would have to be allocated in a manner where the company can make the best use of the human resource available. If ADNOC has 200,000 AED for the purpose, and there are 10 slots, rather than allocating 20,000 AED per slot, the company would have to see the priorities of each slot. If a particular slot requires double the number of processes than the others, the resources would have to be allocated accordingly for the same. Now this can only be possible with an appropriate amount of budgeting. If the budget of the company does not allow double resource allocation for a particular slot because of other activities, then the company would have to come up with other alternatives. Had there been an inability of a budget, the company would allocate double resources and finally land up with none available for a process that has little requirement. So, we can see that even the process of resource allocation requires budgeting to a large degree.

Talking about the company Emaar, as per as the organizational size of the company, there has to be a proper budgeting done. The reason for the same is that every department requires an adequate amount of human resource and funds. If the company’s budget for a particular project is 200 million AED, the company would also have this budget divided into different departments. Every department would have to use only the allocated funds to support its human resource and all other requisites prior to conducting the project. If the construction department spends so much that the company is not able to use any funds for its advertisement, in this world of competition, even a company like Emaar would have to bow down to others in the league. There are so many options that people have for residents that promotion under forced conditions could change every profitability ratio of Emaar. So, here again we see the hierarchy that could be affected because of the inappropriate use of resources that would result from the non-availability of a budget that could suit the purpose. (The Basic Budgeting Problem, 2010)

Conclusion

So, one can see that a budgeting process has a number of utilities in the projects of a company. This could be from the perspective of planning, controlling or resource allocation. Every company has the desire to be at the top. Finance has a special role to play in the same. Te steps of laying down an appropriate budget are as follows:

Firstly, the concerned person should lay down all the places of investment with respect to a particular project.

Next, make an estimation of the unit cost of every product that would be manufactured in the process.

Next, analyze the resources that would be sufficient to provide for the unit costs found.

Next make a proper budget format so that it is clear to all the departments and they the amount of allocation for them in all the respects.

It is also advisable to make notes so as to be able to explain the budget better.

Next, it is required to take a feedback on the budget so as to see whether it is applicable to all the departments or not. If not, then it would have to be re-planned.

Finally, make the final documentation so as to be able to help in planning, controlling and resource allocation as has been suggested earlier.

With all the above processes followed, a company can afford to perform all the financial activities in its respective projects. It must be remembered that only a systematic design of budget as has been concluded could be used for the mentioned cause.

What Exactly is an MBA Degree?

An MBA (Master of Business Administration) is a graduate degree obtained at a university or college that offers both theoretical and practical training to provide graduates general knowledge about general business management functions. The MBS degree may have a specific focus as: accounting, marketing or finance.

An MBA degree represents a level upward from an undergraduate business course and its achievement places the graduate far above other candidates owning just an undergraduate degree.MBA programs has become to be offered by most universities and colleges during the past two of years. For instance, only in the UK, 116 business schools are currently offering MBA courses and the number of students graduating this form of education has risen from 4,000 in 1990 to over 10,000 in 2000.

In order to be accepted in an MBA program, an applicant must take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) – for the US education system. The GMAT is a standardized test that aims at determining the aptitude of a candidate for an activity in business management studies. It is presently made up of an essay section containing two free-response essays of 10 minutes each; two multiple choice sections, one mathematical section and one verbal skills section.

Apart from the GMAT test, other admission criteria focus on significant work experience, academic transcripts, references and personal interviews. Extra-curricular and community service activities represent an interest for the admission boards.

The MBA degree courses offer students knowledge on economics, organizational behavior, marketing, international business, finance, government policy, accounting and information technology management.

The traditional MBA degree offers students a broad range of general courses in the first year of studies, followed by a specialization in the second year.

Specialization in particular areas as: technology management, accounting, strategy or specialized business, marketing and finance is being offered by many MBA degrees.

There are several ways of attending MBA courses.Nowadays MBA degrees can be accessed through online, distance learning or e-learning as the program offered by the Open University Business School. Due to the large variety of MBA degrees offered worldwide, the elite business schools are being accredited by independent bodies as the Association of MBAs. This association acts as a global network for the MBA community: MBA students, MBA graduates, schools, businesses and employers.

Consequently, the MBA degree represents a leading management qualification that creates highly competent professional managers.

Serial Entrepreneurship, Multipreneurship, Individualpreneurship, and The Self-Reliant Career

A serial entrepreneur is an individual who starts mainly multiple upwardly mobile enterprises and moves on to the next, either when a new management team takes control, or if the enterprise becomes lifestyle in nature. Because serial entrepreneurs have experience with multiple enterprises, they tend to be bigger risk takers than those that have started only one enterprise. As a consequence, their experience better positions them to respond to problems and to avoid failure over time. Many have learned from past mistakes. A serial entrepreneur will typically always work for themselves, and employ others.

A multipreneur is an individual who pursues multiple upwardly mobile and/or lifestyle business activities as a portfolio, either serially or in parallel. These activities can be within one business, such as new product and/or service line extensions, new product and/or service lines, new markets, or new business units; as new related or unrelated businesses; or as varied careers. A multipreneur may move from being self-employed to being employed by others to being self-employed again.

An individualpreneur is a focused multipreneur. The term “individualpreneur” is derived from the term “individualprise,” which in turn is derived from the term “individual enterprise.” The notion of an individual as an enterprise is based upon the practice of all income sources on an individual’s tax return being actively managed as a portfolio. Thus, individualpreneurship is a “top-down” mindset starting with the summarization of employment, entrepreneurship/business ownership, and investing activities as driven by multipreneurial initiatives. Each multipreneurial activity may be event or opportunity driven.

Multipreneurs (and hence individualpreneurs) include solopreneurs (individuals who work alone), webpreneurs (those doing business primarily on the internet), and can be employed working for others in parallel or between their entrepreneurial endeavors.

Because a married couple can file a joint individual tax return, the notion of individualpreneurship extends to both husband and wife (and their dependents as appropriate). This is notion is consistent with the concept of families pursuing many income generating activities during the agricultural age, such as farming, glassmaking, metalwork (smithy), needlework (weaving), stonework (masonry), and woodwork (carpentry).

Thinking and behaving as an “individualprise” helps an individual perform better, not only as an entrepreneur/business owner, but also for an employer, especially in an executive capacity. This is because they understand the concepts of income generation and expense, asset, liability, and capital management. They should also have a broader understanding of legal, finance, human resources, information technology, business development, and operations activities. For visionaries in the corporate world, intrapreneurial capabilities are also important for enacting and responding to change.

For many jobs, there is a lifecycle from value-added to commodity work over time. As jobs become commoditized, they are often outsourced to scale providers who perform the tasks at lower cost. Thus, to keep the economy healthy, it is necessary to provide for capital formation in new innovative enterprises that generate new job opportunities as the old jobs erode. Both serial entrepreneurs and multipreneurs who see and pursue multiple opportunities for innovation help keep the economy healthy. Typically for every one innovative job generated by an entrepreneur, there are many infrastructure and support jobs generated, either in the same enterprise, or in related.

Those seeking employment positions where such a lifecycle exists must recognize that a job search is a marketing campaign just as a business would adopt. Therefore, it must be treated as such by the job hunter if a satisfactory result is to occur. Thinking as an enterprise, the individualpreneur is more likely to achieve a satisfactory result in a job search because they are aware of the need to add value and promote it as such in the marketplace. Individualpreneurs appreciate the benefit of business relationships and networking, and the value of referrals.

Individualpreneurship is a discipline for building an individualprise for a sustainable self-reliant career. Sustainable means being able to continue over time, either by developing, enhancing, or maintaining the current state, or by changing it. Self-reliant means having the confidence to exercise one’s own judgment so as to be able to continue over time in a career – endeavors of achievement in both personal and professional lives.

As a multipreneur, an individual is willing and able to consider new and emerging opportunities as existing ones mature and decline. As an individualpreneur, they focus on those opportunities that offer the best likelihood of sustaining a livelihood over time.

Individualpreneurship embraces the entrepreneurship disciplines of entrepreneurship, leadership, and management, which apply to every individual in business, whether as an employee, as an entrepreneur/business owner, or as an investor. In the corporate world, leadership and managerial capabilities, and especially the ability to communicate effectively, are essential for advancement through the ranks.

Building a Kingdom – Case Study of Kingdom Financial Holdings Limited

This article presents a case study of sustained entrepreneurial growth of Kingdom Financial Holdings. It is one of the entrepreneurial banks which survived the financial crisis that started in Zimbabwe in 2003. The bank was established in 1994 by four entrepreneurial young bankers. It has grown substantially over the years. The case examines the origins, growth and expansion of the bank. It concludes by summarizing lessons or principles that can be derived from this case that maybe applicable to entrepreneurs.

Profile of an Entrepreneur: Nigel Chanakira

Nigel Chanakira was raised in the Highfield suburb of Harare in an entrepreneurial family. His father and uncle operated a public transport company Modern Express and later diversified into retail shops. Nigel’s father later exited the family business. He bought out one of the shops and expanded it. During school holidays young Nigel, as the first born, would work in the shops. His parents, particularly his mother, insisted that he acquire an education first.

On completion of high school, Nigel failed to enter dental or medical school, which were his first passions. In fact his grades could only qualify him for the Bachelor of Arts degree programme at the University of Zimbabwe. However, he “sweet-talked his way into a transfer” to the Bachelor in Economics degree programme. Academically he worked hard, exploiting his strong competitive character that was developed during his sporting days. Nigel rigorously applied himself to his academic pursuits and passed his studies with excellent grades, which opened the door to employment as an economist with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ).

During his stint with the Reserve Bank, his economic mindset indicated to him that wealth creation was happening in the banking sector therefore he determined to understand banking and financial markets. While employed at RBZ, he read for a Master’s degree in Financial Economics and Financial Markets as preparation for his debut into banking. At the Reserve Bank under Dr Moyana, he was part of the research team that put together the policy framework for the liberalization of the financial services within the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme. Being at the right place at the right time, he became aware of the opportunities which were opening up. Nigel exploited his position to identify the most profitable banking institution to work for as preparation for his future. He headed to Bard Discount House and worked for five years under Charles Gurney.

A short while later the two black executives at Bard, Nick Vingirayi and Gibson Muringai, left to form Intermarket Discount House. Their departure inspired the young Nigel. If these two could establish a banking institution of their own so could he, given time. The departure also created an opportunity for him to rise to fill the vacancy. This gave the aspiring banker critical managerial experience. Subsequently he became a director for Bard Investment Services where he gained critical experience in portfolio management, client relationships and dealing within the dealing department. While there he met Franky Kufa, a young dealer who was making waves, who would later become a key co-entrepreneur with him.

Despite his professional business engagement his father enrolled Nigel in the Barclays Bank “Start Your Own Business” Programme. However what really made an impact on the young entrepreneur was the Empretec Entrepreneur Training programme (May 1994), to which he was introduced by Mrs Tsitsi Masiyiwa. The course demonstrated that he had the requisite entrepreneurial competences.

Nigel talked Charles Gurney into an attempted management buy-out of Bard from Anglo -American. This failed and the increasingly frustrated aspiring entrepreneur considered employment opportunities with Nick Vingirai’s Intermarket and Never Mhlanga’s National Discount House which was on the verge of being formed – hoping to join as a shareholder since he was acquainted with the promoters. He was denied this opportunity.

Being frustrated at Bard and having been denied entry into the club by pioneers, he resigned in October 1994 with the encouragement of Mrs Masiyiwa to pursue his entrepreneurial dream.

The Dream

Inspired by the messages of his pastor, Rev. Tom Deuschle, and frustrated at his inability to participate in the church’s massive building project, Nigel sought a way of generating huge financial resources. During a time of prayer he claims that he had a divine encounter where he obtained a mandate from God to start Kingdom Bank. He visited his pastor and told him of this encounter and the subsequent desire to start a bank. The godly pastor was amazed at the 26 year old with “big spectacles and wearing tennis shoes” who wanted to start a bank. The pastor prayed before counselling the young man. Having been convinced of the genuineness of Nigel’s dream, the pastor did something unusual. He asked him to give a testimony to the congregation of how God was leading him to start a bank. Though timid, the young man complied. That experience was a powerful vote of confidence from the godly pastor. It demonstrates the power of mentors to build a protégé.

Nigel teamed up with young Franky Kufa. Nigel Chanakira left Bard at the position of Chief Economist. They would build their own entrepreneurial venture. Their idea was to identify players who had specific competences and would each be able to generate financial resources from his activity. Their vision was to create a one – stop financial institution offering a discount house, an asset management company and a merchant bank. Nigel used his Empretec model to develop a business plan for their venture. They headhunted Solomon Mugavazi, a stockbroker from Edwards and Company and B. R. Purohit, a corporate banker from Stanbic. Kufa would provide money market expertise while Nigel provided income from government bond dealings as well as overall supervision of the team.

Each of the budding partners brought in an equal portion of the Z$120,000 as start-up capital. Nigel talked to his wife and they sold their recently acquired Eastlea home and vehicles to raise the equivalent of US$17,000 as their initial capital. Nigel, his wife and three kids headed back to Highfield to live in with his parents. The partners established Garmony Investments which started trading as an unregistered financial institution. The entrepreneurs agreed not to draw a salary in their first year of operations as a bootstrapping strategy.

Mugavazi introduced and recommended Lysias Sibanda, a chartered accountant, to join the team. Nigel was initially reluctant as each person had to bring in an earning capacity and it was not clear how an accountant would generate revenue at start up in a financial institution. Nigel initially retained a 26% share which assured him a blocking vote as well as giving him the position of controlling shareholder.

Nigel credits the Success Motivation Institute (SMI) course “The Dynamics of Successful Management” as the lethal weapon that enabled him to acquire managerial competences. Initially he insisted that all his key executives undertake this training programme.

Birth of the Kingdom

Kingdom Securities P/L commenced operations in November 1994 as a wholly owned subsidiary of Garmony Investments (Pvt) Ltd. It traded as a broker on both money and stock markets.

On 24th February 1995 Kingdom Securities Holding was born with the following subsidiaries: Kingdom Securities Ltd, Kingdom Stockbrokers (Pvt) Ltd and Kingdom Asset Managers (Pvt) Ltd. The flagship Kingdom Securities Ltd was registered as a Discount House under Banking Act Chapter 188 on 25th July 1995. Kingdom Stockbrokers was registered with the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange under ZSE Chapter 195 on 1st August 1995. The pre-licensing trading had generated good revenue but they still had a 20% deficit of the required capital. Most institutional investors turned them down as they were a greenfield company promoted by people perceived to be “too young”. At this stage National Merchant Bank, Intermarket and others were on the market raising equity and these were run by seasoned and mature promoters. However Rachel Kupara, then MD for Zimnat, believed in the young entrepreneurs and took up the first equity portion for Zimnat at 5%.

Norman Sachikonye, then Financial Director and Investments Manager at First Mutual followed suit, taking up an equity share of 15%. These two institutional investors were inducted as shareholders of Kingdom Securities Holdings on 1st August 1995. Garmony Investments ceased operations and reversed itself into Kingdom Securities on 31st July 1995, thereby becoming an 80% shareholder.

The first year of operations was marked by intense competition as well as discrimination against new financial institutions by public organisations. All the other operating units performed well except for the corporate finance department with Kingdom Securities, led by Purohit. This monetary loss, differing spiritual and ethical values led to the forced departure of Purohit as an executive director and shareholder on 31st December 1995. From then the Kingdom started to grow exponentially.

Structural Growth

Nigel and his team pursued an aggressive growth strategy with the intention of increasing market share, profitability, and geographic spread while developing a strong brand. The growth strategy was built around a business philosophy of simplifying financial services and making them easily accessible to the general public. An IT strategy that created a low cost delivery channel exploiting ATMs and POS while providing a platform that was ready for Internet and web-based applications, was espoused.

On 1st April 1997, Kingdom Financial Services was licensed as an accepting house focusing on trading and distributing foreign currency, treasury activities, corporate finance, investment banking and advisory services. It was formed under the leadership of Victor Chando with the intention of becoming the merchant banking arm of the Group. In 1998, Kingdom Merchant Bank (KMB) was licensed and it took over the assets and liabilities of Kingdom Securities Limited. Its main focus was treasury related products, off-balance sheet finance, foreign currency and trade finance. Kingdom Research Institute was established as a support service to the other units.

The entrepreneurial bankers, cognisant of their limitations, sought to achieve critical mass quickly by actively seeking capital injection from equity investors. The aim was to broaden ownership while lending strategic support in areas of mutual interest. An attempt at equity uptake from Global Emerging Markets from London failed. However in 1997 the efforts of the bankers were rewarded when the following organisations took up some equity, reducing the shareholding of executive directors as shown below: ïEUR Ipcorn 0.7%, ïEUR Zambezi Fund Mauritius P/L 1.1%, ïEUR Zambezi Fund P/L 0.7%. ïEUR Kingdom Employee Share Trust 5%, ïEUR Southern Africa Enterprise Development Fund – 8% redeemable preference shares amounting to US$1,5m as the first investee company in Southern Africa from the US Fund initiated by US President Bill Clinton, ïEUR Weiland Investments, a company belonging to Mr Richard Muirimi, a long standing friend of Nigel and associate in the fund management business took up 1.7%, Garmony Investments 71.7% -executive directors. ïEUR After a rights issue Zimnat fell to 4.8% while FML went down to 14.3%.

In 1998, Kingdom launched four Unit Trusts which proved very popular with the market. Initially these products were focused at individual clients of the discount house as well as private portfolios of Kingdom Stockbroking. Aggressive marketing and awareness campaigns established the Kingdom Unit Trust as the most popular retail brand of the group. The Kingdom brand was thus born.

Acquisition of Discount Company of Zimbabwe (DCZ)

After a spurt of organic growth, the Kingdom entrepreneurs decided to hasten the growth rate synergistically. They set out to acquire the oldest discount house in the country and the world, The Discount Company of Zimbabwe, which was a listed entity. With this acquisition Kingdom would acquire critical competences as well as achieve the much coveted ZSE listing inexpensively through a reverse listing. Initial efforts at a negotiated merger with DCZ were rebuffed by its executives who could not countenance a forty year old institution being swallowed up by a four year old business. The entrepreneurs were not deterred. Nigel approached his friend Greg Brackenridge at Stanbic to finance and effect the acquisition of the sixty percent shares which were in the hands of about ten shareholders, on behalf of Kingdom Financial Holdings but to be placed in the ownership of Stanbic Nominees. This strategy masked the identity of the acquirer. Claud Chonzi, the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) GM and a friend to Lysias Sibanda (a Kingdom executive director), agreed to act as a front in the negotiations with the DCZ shareholders. NSSA is a well known institutional investor and hence these shareholders may have believed that they were dealing with an institutional investor. Once Kingdom controlled 60% of DCZ, it took over the company and reverse listed itself onto the Stock Exchange as Kingdom Financial Holdings Limited (KFHL). Because of the negative real interest rates, Kingdom successfully used debt finance to structure the acquisition. This acquisition and the subsequent listing gave the once despised young entrepreneurs confidence and credibility on the market.

Other Strategic Acquisitions

Within the same year Kingdom Merchant Bank acquired a strategic stake in CFX Bureau de Change owned by Sean Maloney as well as another stake in a greenfield microlending franchise, Pfihwa P/L. CFX was changed into KFX and used in most foreign currency trading activities. KFHL set as a strategic intention the acquisition of an additional 24.9% stake in CFX Holdings to safeguard the initial investment and ensure management control. This did not work out. Instead, Sean Maloney opted out and took over the failed Universal Merchant Bank licence to form CFX Merchant Bank. Although Kingdom executives contend that the alliance failed due to the abolition of bureau de change by government, it appears that Sean Maloney refused to give up control of the extra shareholding sought by Kingdom. It therefore would be reasonable that once Kingdom could not control KFX, a fall out ensued. The liquidation of this investment in 2002 resulted in a loss of Z$403 million on that investment. However this was manageable in light of the strong group profitability.

Pfihwa P/L financed the informal sector as a form of corporate social responsibility. However when the hyperinflationary environment and stringent regulatory environment encroached on the viability of the project, it was wound up in early 2004. Kingdom pursued its financing of the informal sector through MicroKing, which was established with international assistance. By 2002 MicroKing had eight branches located in the midst of, or near, micro-enterprise clusters.

In 2000, due to increased activity on the foreign currency front within the banking sector, Kingdom opened a private banking facility through the discount house to exploit revenue streams from this market. Following market trends, it engaged the insurance company AIG to enter the bancassurance market in 2003.

Meikles Strategic Alliance

In 1999 the entrepreneurial Chanakira on advice from his executives and the legendary corporate finance team from Barclays bank led by the affable Hugh Van Hoffen entered into a strategic alliance with Meikles Africa whereby it injected some Z$322 million into Kingdom for an equity shareholding of 25%. Interestingly, the deal nearly collapsed on pricing as Meikles only wanted to pay $250 million whilst KFHL valued themselves at Z$322 million which in real terms was the largest private sector deal done between an indigenous bank and a listed corporate. Nigel testifies that it was a walk through the incomplete Celebration Church site on the Saturday preceding the signing of the Meikles deal that led him to sign the deal which he saw as a means for him to sow a whopping seed into the church to boost the Building Fund. God was faithful! Kingdom’s share price shot up dramatically from $2,15 at the time he made the commitment to the Pastor all the way to $112,00 by the following October!

In return Kingdom acquired a powerful cash-rich shareholder that allowed it entrance into retail banking through an innovative in-store banking strategy. Meikles Africa opened its retail branches, namely TM Supermarkets, Clicks, Barbours, Medix Pharmacies and Greatermans, as distribution channels for Kingdom commercial bank or as account holders providing deposits and requiring banking services. This was a cheaper way of entering retail banking. It proved useful during the 2003 cash crisis because Meikles with its massive cash resources within its business units assisted Kingdom Bank, thus cushioning it from a liquidity crisis. The alliance also raised the reputation and credibility of Kingdom Bank and created an opportunity for Kingdom to finance Meikles Africa’s customers through the jointly owned Meikles Financial Services. Kingdom provided the funding for all lease and hire purchases from Meikles’ subsidiaries, thus driving sales for Meikles while providing easy lending opportunities for Kingdom. Meikles managed the relationship with the client.

Meikles Africa as a strategic shareholder assured Kingdom of success when recapitalisation was required and has enhanced Kingdom’s brand image. This strategic relationship has created powerful synergies for mutual benefit.

Commercial Banking

Exploiting the opportunities arising from the strategic relationship with Meikles Africa, Kingdom made its debut into retail banking in January 2001 with in-store branches at High Glen and Chitungwiza TM supermarkets. The target was principally the mass market. This rode on the strong brand Kingdom had created through the Unit Trusts. In-store banking offered low cost delivery channels with minimal investment in brick and mortar. By the end of 2001, thirteen branches were operational across the country. This followed a deliberate strategy for aggressive roll-out of the branches with two flagship branches ïEUR­ïEUR one in Bulawayo and the other in Harare. There was a huge emphasis on an IT driven strategy with significant cross-selling between the commercial bank and other SBUs.

However, it was further discovered that there was a market for the upmarket clients and hence Crown banking outlets were established to diversify the target market. In 2004, after closing three in-store branches in a rationalization exercise, there were 16 in-store branches and 9 Crown banking outlets.

The entrance into commercial banking was probably held at the wrong time, considering the imminent changes in the banking industry. Commercial banking does provide cheap deposits, however at the price of huge staff costs and human resource management complications. Nigel concedes that, with hindsight, this could have been delayed or done at a slower pace. However, the need for increased market share in a fiercely competitive industry necessitated this. Another reason for persisting with the commercial banking project was that of prior agreements with Meikles Africa. It is possible that Meikles Africa had been sold on the equity take-up deal on the back of promises to engage in in-store banking, which would increase revenue for its subsidiaries.

Innovative Products and Services

KFHL continued its aggressive pursuit of product innovation. After the failure of the KFX project, CurrencyKing was established to continue the work. However this was abolished in November 2002 by government ministerial intervention when bureau de change were prohibited in an effort to stamp out parallel market foreign currency trading.

Sadly this governmental decision was misguided for not only did it fail to banish foreign currency parallel trading but it drove underground, made it more lucrative and subsequently the government lost all control of the management of the exchange rate.

In October 2002, KFHL established Kingdom Leasing after being granted a finance house licence. Its mandate was to exploit opportunities to trade in financial leases, lease hire and short term financial products.

Regional Expansion

Around 2000 it became evident that the domestic market was highly competitive, with limited prospects of future growth. A decision was made to diversify revenue streams and reduce country risk through penetration into the regional markets. This strategy would exploit the proven competences in securities trading, asset management and corporate advisory services from a small capital base. Therefore the entrance had low risk in terms of capital injection. Considering the foreign exchange control limitations and shortage of foreign currency in Zimbabwe, this was a prudent strategy but not without its downside, as will be seen in the Botswana venture.

In 2001, KFHL acquired a 25.1% stake in a greenfield banking enterprise in Malawi, First Discount House Ltd. To safeguard its investment and ensure managerial control, an executive director and dealer were seconded to the Malawi venture while Nigel Chanakira chaired the Board. This investment has continued to grow and yield positive returns. As of July 2006 Kingdom had finally managed to up its stake from 25,1% to 40% in this investment and may ultimately control it to the point of seeking a conversion of the license to a commercial bank.

KFHL also took up a 25% equity stake in Investrust Merchant Bank Zambia. Franky Kufa was seconded to it as an executive director while Nigel took a seat on the Board.

KFHL had been promised an option to gain a controlling stake. However when the bank stabilized, the Zambian shareholders entered into some questionable transactions and were not prepared to allow KFHL to up it’s stake and so KFHL decided to pull out as relationships turned frosty. The Zambian Central Bank intervened with a promise to grant KFHL its own banking license. This did not materialize as the Zambian Central Bank exploited the banking crisis in Zimbabwe to deny KHFL a licence. A reasonable premium of Z$2.5 billion was obtained at disinvestment.

In Botswana, a subsidiary called Kingdom Bank Africa Ltd (KBAL) was established as an offshore bank in the International Finance Centre. KBAL was intended to spearhead and manage regional initiatives for Kingdom. It was headed by Mrs Irene Chamney, seconded by Lysias Sibanda with the concurrence of Nigel after managerial challenges in Zimbabwe. Two other senior executives were seconded there. She successfully set up the KBAL’s banking infrastructure and had good relations with the Botswana authorities.

However, the business model chosen of an offshore bank ahead of a domestic Botswana merchant bank license turned out to be the Achilles heel of the bank more so when the Zimbabwe banking crisis set in between 2003 and 2005. There were fundamental differences in how Mrs Chamney and Chanakira saw the bank surviving and going forward.

Ultimately, it was deemed prudent for Mrs. Chamney to leave the bank in 2005. In 2001 KFHL acquired the mandate as the sole distributor of the American Express card in the whole of Africa except for RSA. This was handled through KBAL. Kingdom Private Bank was transferred from the discount house to become a subsidiary of KBAL due to the prevailing regulatory environment in Zimbabwe.

In 2004 KBAL was temporarily placed under curatorship due to undercapitalisation. At this stage the parent company had regulatory constraints that prevented foreign currency capital injection.

A solution was found in the sourcing of local partners and the transfer of US$1 million previously realised from the proceeds of the Investrust liquidation to Botswana. Nigel Chanakira took a more active management role in KBAL because of its huge strategic significance to the future of KFHL. Currently efforts are underway to acquire a local commercial bank licence in Botswana as well. Once this is acquired there are two possible scenarios, namely maintaining both licences or giving up the offshore licence.

The interviewees were divided in their opinion on this. However in my view, judging from the stakeholder power involved, KFHL is likely to give up the off shore banking licence and use the local Kingdom Bank Botswana (Pula Bank) licence for regional and domestic expansion.

Human Resources

The staff complement grew from the initial 23 in 1995 to more than 947 by 2003. The growth was consistent with the growing institution. It exploded, especially during the launch and expansion of the commercial bank. Kingdom from inception had a strong human resourcing strategy which entailed significant training both internally and externally. Before the foreign currency crisis, employees were sent for training in such countries as RSA, Sweden, India and the USA. In the person of Faith Ntabeni Bhebhe, Kingdom had an energetic HR driver who created powerful HR systems for the emerging behemoth.

As a sign of its commitment to building the human resource capability, in 1998 Kingdom Financial Services entered a management agreement with Holland based AMSCO for the provision of seasoned bankers. Through this strategic alliance Kingdom strengthened its skills base and increased opportunities for skills transfer to locals. This helped the entrepreneurial bankers create a solid managerial system for the bank while the seasoned bankers from Holland compensated for the youthfulness of the emerging bankers. What a foresight!

In-house self-paced interactive learning, team building exercises and mentoring were all part of the learning menu targeted at developing the human resource capacity of the group. Work and job profiling was introduced to best match employees to suitable posts. Career path and succession planning were embraced. Kingdom was the first entrepreneurial bank to have smooth unforced CEO transitions. The founding CEO passed on the baton to Lysias Sibanda in 1999 as he stepped into the role of Group CEO and board deputy chair. His role was now to pursue and spearhead global and regional niche financial markets. A few years later there was another change of the guard as

Franky Kufa stepped in as Group CEO to replace Sibanda, who resigned on medical grounds. One could argue that these smooth transitions were due to the fact that the baton was passing to founding directors.

With the explosive growth in staff complement due to the commercial bank project, culture issues emerged. Consequently, KFHL engaged in an enculturation programme resulting in a culture revolution dubbed “Team Kingdom”. This culture had to be reinforced due to dilutions through significant mergers and acquisitions, significant staff turnover because of increased competition, emigration to greener pastures and the age profile of the staff increased the risk of high mobility and fraudulent activities in collusion with members of the public. Culture changes are difficult to effect and their effectiveness even harder to assess.

In 2004, with a high staff turnover of around 14%, a compensation strategy that ring fenced critical skills like IT and treasury was implemented. Due to the low margins and the financial stress experienced in 2004, KFHL lost more than 341 staff members due to retrenchment, natural attrition and emigration. This was acceptable as profitability fell while staff costs soared. At this stage, staff costs accounted for 58% of all expenses.

Despite the impressive growth, the financial performance when inflation adjusted was mediocre. Actually a loss position was reported in 2004. This growth was severely compromised by the hyperinflationary conditions and the restrictive regulatory environment.

Conclusion

This article shows the determination of entrepreneurs to push through to the realisation of their dreams despite significant odds. In a subsequent article we will tackle the challenges faced by Nigel Chanakira in solidifying his investments.

Crowd-Funding May Not Be the Best Way to Finance Your Business

It began with the passage on April 5, 2012, of the JOBS Act, officially known as the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act. No, not the concept of crowd-funding. That’s been around for several years, thanks largely to Kickstarter. I’m talking about the federal government’s involvement in crowdfunding. Without the hyphen, incidentally, is the other popular way to spell the process whereby people with ideas – or causes – attempt to convince people with money-to-spare to contribute to their particular idea or cause.

The JOBS Act added a new dimension to crowd-funding – a group of people called investors. Prior to April, crowd-funding was loosely based on a system best be described as “donation-and-reward.” In return for you donating a small dollar amount to my idea or cause, if I reached my stated funding goal, and if what I said I’d create with that money became a reality, I’d send you a sample of my product… or a T-shirt promoting my cause. Simple enough, right? Donation and reward.

That JOBS Act, however, allows people with significant amounts of money to now “invest” in small and start-up companies. And, because the rules for “investing” fall under the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), the JOBS Act has given the SEC until Jan. 1, 2013, to draft and implement rules and regulations for those who want to invest in companies defined by that Act.

There’s a significant difference between investors as defined in the JOBS Act and “donors” under the original crowd-funding concept. Investors loan money with the intent of getting it back, either with interest or in the form of stock in the company in which they invest.

Under the original “donation-and-reward” program, if the person seeking a certain amount of money reached his or her stated goal, each person who donated to that goal basically kissed his or her donation good-bye. If the project to which they contributed became successful, each donor got a “reward,” whatever they’d been promised when they made their donations.

Crowd-funding under the JOBS Act isn’t going to be the answer for every type of business. The most money – the smart money – is will likely fund high-tech businesses or those that best satisfy a major consumer need or want. And that funding is virtually certain to go first to companies that have a well polished, written business plan.

Yes, a written business plan, the curse of so many owners of small and start-up businesses. With JOBS Act crowd-funding, a well written business plan will be a must. No one smart enough to have amassed enough money to invest in a business will be foolish enough to invest in a company that lacks a well written business plan. Those investors will want to see financial projection – sales, profit margins, manufacturing and labor costs – at least three years of those projections, along with other pertinent information.

Is the effort to attract such investors worth it? At this point no one knows for sure because the SEC regs are barely in the drafting stage and likely won’t be implemented until early 2013. Meanwhile, crowd-funding using the time-honored, hassle-free “donation-and-reward” system continues to thrive.

The Importance of Case Studies in Management Education

If you try and notice the education sphere today, there is a lot of buzz about students enrolling themselves in good established management schools and wanting to acquire their management education. Experts believe this is majorly because of the rising competition in the business sphere. A business school becomes very helpful for students because it has a theoretical as well as practical approach towards the topics and subjects of the student’s choice. These management education courses are practical because they include case studies; that is real life business situations that have occurred in major companies, along with how the company resolved the issues to rise to the top again. This is of tremendous help to a beginner manager while he is learning to apply his knowledge in a way that will get maximum benefits for his company.

After studying a number of case studies thoroughly, the students are assigned projects in order to help them develop various managerial skills like those of leadership, decision-making ability, motivational speaking ability, etc. Thus, management education hugely contributes to the overall growth of an aspirant and converts him into a thorough professional who is ready to enter the business field confidently. This is what gives individuals an edge over the others during job interviews. Thus as a result of all this, there are so many people who want to do courses from business schools.

Why these business schools are different is because they work on the problem areas of the students and teach them take not just decisions but responsibility for them as well. Initially the student is asked only to observe case studies. During this stage, the student learns to investigate and analyze the situation of the company at that particular point in time. The observation skills of the students increase tremendously during this first stage of solving case studies.

Further on, the students are asked to imagine themselves as professionals in the industry and devise solutions for the set of business problems that the company is facing at that time. This is where the students learn to strategically plan and brainstorm with the objective of coming up with good solutions. These projects also help to enhance team building skills of the students. The feedback of the professors who are actually experienced industry professionals lets the students know where they actually stand with respect to the actual business sphere. This is very important because it is a reality check that goes a long way in motivating students to pull up their socks and do all it takes to reach a respectable position with respect to the actual business sphere.

The Importance of Business Acumen Training For Managers and Employees

The message to CLOs is becoming clearer and clearer. Company leaders want them to align educational offerings with the organization’s strategic objectives.

That’s not an easy challenge. They must ensure that education and communication initiatives reinforce the company’s goals. They must help employees understand these goals and develop the skills and motivation to contribute to them.

And at the most basic level of alignment, they must make sure that every employee understands how the company makes money. That includes understanding how profitability is driven, how assets are used, how cash is generated and how day-to-day actions and decisions, including their own, impact success.

Developing business acumen is fundamental to business alignment. Consider Southwest Airlines, which was founded in 1971. With 33 straight years of profitability, the airline has become widely recognized for the motivational culture it creates for employees and its extraordinary dedication to customer service.

Much of the industry has suffered during the years of Southwest’s growth, including many airlines that have merged or declared bankruptcy. Southwest buys the same planes and the same jet fuel as other airlines, and pays its employees competitive wages and benefits. What’s the difference?

Unlike some of its competitors, Southwest’s management team involves employees in the company’s financial results, explaining what the numbers mean and, more important, helping to link everyone’s decisions and actions to the bottom line. The airline has an open culture, one of inclusion at all levels, and employees understand their roles in providing great service and keeping costs in line.

Certainly there are other factors that contribute to the success at Southwest, but it’s difficult to ignore the positive impact of an approach that develops the business acumen of all employees and managers so that they can contribute to the airline’s success.

An Educational Challenge

Unlike those at Southwest, individual contributors and managers in many organizations today have not been educated about the big picture of their businesses. They have a narrow focus on their own departments and job functions and aren’t able to make the link between their actions and the company’s success. Multiplied by hundreds or even thousands of employees, this lack of understanding – the lack of true business acumen – means that too many decisions are being made and too many actions are being taken that don’t align with business objectives.

How can training help bridge this knowledge gap? For many companies like Southwest, implementing learning programs designed to develop a strong foundation of financial literacy and business acumen has made the communication of financial results to employees easier and more effective.

Business Acumen: A Definition

Very simply, business acumen is the understanding of what it takes for a business to make money. It involves financial literacy, which is an understanding of the numbers on financial statements, as well as an understanding of the strategies, decisions and actions that impact these numbers.

Someone with financial literacy, for example, would be able to “read” the company’s income statement. This employee or manager would understand the terminology (revenue, cost of goods sold, gross margin, profit, etc.) and what the numbers represent (i.e., gross margin equals total sales/revenue less the cost of goods sold).

With business acumen, the individual would be able to “interpret” this same income statement, taking into consideration how company strategies and initiatives have impacted the numbers during specific periods of time.

Consider a simple comparison: In football, it’s necessary for players to know how the game is scored as well as how to play the game to change the score. In business, financial literacy is understanding the “score” (financial statements) and business acumen is understanding how to impact it (strategic actions and decisions).

Asking the Right Questions

When business acumen spreads through an organization, employees and managers begin to ask questions. These questions are directed not only at the organization, but also at themselves and their departments – questions about processes, products, systems, staffing and more that can lead to necessary and innovative decisions and actions.

Business acumen helps everyone understand that it’s not enough to ask, “How do we cut costs?” or to say, “We need to increase sales.” Digging deeper, employees with higher levels of business acumen will ask questions that take into consideration the far-reaching impact of potential decisions and demonstrate a greater ability to make the connections between performance and results.

Questions that could get to the root of disappointing operating ratios:

• Have production costs gone up? If so, why?

• Have we changed prices? If so, how has that affected our margins?

• Are there any competitive issues impacting our performance?

• Have there been any customer requirement changes?

• If our costs per unit produced have gone up, can we better control the efficiency of our production or service delivery?

• Is there a way to produce a greater product volume at the same cost?

• Can we raise prices, still provide value to the customer and remain competitive?

When questions become more specific, the right decisions can be made.

Business Acumen for Managers

Managers at all levels need a high level of business acumen to do their jobs. Every day, they make decisions about employees, projects, processes, expenditures, customers and much more – decisions that ultimately roll up into larger organizational results. Managers who make these decisions while looking through a departmental lens only, with a limited understanding of how these decisions affect financial results or how they are tied to the organization’s goals and objectives, are working in silos that can ultimately damage the company.

Managers are often promoted to their positions of responsibility because of their “technical” expertise. They’ve been successful customer service representatives, great salespeople, innovative researchers or well-respected IT professionals. They are now entrusted with decision making, budgets, projects and people. They often do not have financial literacy, nor have they developed a higher-level perspective about the business. Over time, especially if they move up the managerial ladder, they may develop these. Or they may not.

Organizations need managers who operate as part of the management team, taking accountability for their own results as well as the results of the entire company. Therefore, more and more organizations have built financial literacy and business acumen into managerial competency requirements and have integrated business acumen training into management curriculums.

Business Acumen for Employees

Although there is little debate about the need for managers to develop business acumen, organizations sometimes question the need for this understanding at employee levels. But frontline contributors, those who are most directly involved with production or customer service, for example, take actions every day that impact business results.

Consider the salesperson who discounts products, or the service representative who deals with an unhappy customer, or the maintenance person who notices a problem. The actions each of them takes might erode profit margin, lose a good customer or allow safety issues to escalate. Without an understanding of how their actions impact the company’s results, they might not have the context to consider alternatives.

Many organizations have determined that financial literacy and business acumen aren’t just for managers anymore. They have decided to develop a company of people who understand the business; who know what return on assets and return on investment mean; who know how inventory turnover rates affect results and the importance of positive cash flow; who see the connection between the company’s financial success and their own health benefits, 401(k) plans and more. In other words, they need people who understand the “business” of the business.

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins says, “We found no evidence that the ‘good-to-great’ companies had more or better information than the comparison companies. None. Both sets of companies had virtually identical access to good information. The key, then, lies not in better information, but in turning information into information that cannot be ignored.”

With an increased level of business acumen, managers and employees can better interpret information, making the connection between their actions and the company’s results.

Another Reality of Today’s Business World

A public company’s operating results are well known at the end of each quarter. Analysts, investors, the media, employees-everyone has access to a company’s financial results. With a significantly increased focus on accounting improprieties over the past few years, senior management has become highly conscious of the need to provide accurate and timely financial information. And employees have become much more likely to wonder about these numbers. “Is my company being honest? Are the numbers telling the whole story?”

Without a fundamental understanding of financial results and an ability to interpret them, employees may become suspicious and, ultimately, disengaged. Disengaged workers, in turn, negatively impact productivity and profits.

CEOs of public companies, then, must ensure that managers and employees are able to understand the numbers and have confidence in them. That means effective business acumen education as well as ongoing and open communication from the top.

Former GE chairman Jack Welch said in his book Straight from the Gut, “Getting every employee’s mind into the game is a huge part of what the CEO job is all about…There’s nothing more important.”

The Big Picture

As we have become a nation of specialists, armed with new information technology and enterprise-wide operating systems, it has become easier for managers and employees to become myopically immersed in their own jobs. This immersion can have the effect of obscuring their view of the big picture. They may not consider the cumulative effect of wasted assets. They may have little regard for the objectives and responsibilities of other team members, departments or divisions. They may lack the motivation to invest personal energy in critical project work.

Organizations that engage in developing business acumen provide a clearer vision and an overall context within which employees can work, while creating an environment that is more likely to break down internal barriers. There is less waste and less ambivalence. There is increased innovation. Employees are more engaged, they understand their role and its impact on business results, and they are more likely to believe that their efforts really matter. They are more likely to think like a business owner.

Think Like an Owner

To be successful, business owners must be able to helicopter above day-to-day issues and see the big picture. They must understand how the pieces of the business fit together to impact profitability and cash flow, and they must be able to assess the risks and rewards of potential decisions. The best business owners study the numbers, ask themselves tough questions, analyze their mistakes and take decisive action.

To truly understand the business, owners have to understand how that business makes money – in other words, how it produces sales, profit and cash. Organizationally, they know that it’s about people, processes and productivity. On the customer front, it’s about satisfaction, loyalty and market share. Ultimately, every action taken and every decision made in any of these areas will impact sales, profit or cash.

When managers and employees begin thinking like owners, they, too, look at the big picture, understand how all the pieces fit together, and assess risks and rewards. They understand, like an owner, how the company makes money, how it stays in business and how they contribute to its success.

The benefits to an organization of engaging managers and employees in this kind of ownership thinking are obvious. So how can a company develop the business acumen of its people?

Developing Business Acumen: Two Stories

Entrepreneurs are generally forced to develop business acumen on their own. They are hands-on with their businesses and have to make all the decisions as they go along, whether good or bad. They either learn from their mistakes or fail.

It’s very different for managers and employees in an organization.

They aren’t involved in all aspects of the business, and they make decisions primarily within their own areas of responsibility. Since seeing the connections isn’t easy, they need to learn in some other way.

Books and lectures can help. But business acumen is best developed experientially. Learners must be able to analyze situations, ask questions, discuss issues with other learners, consider options, make mistakes and see results.

Although there are a variety of ways to accomplish this kind of experiential learning, many companies have found that simulations, which mirror reality and allow learners to experiment in a safe environment, are one of the best ways. Here are the stories of two companies who chose to educate their learners with business simulations.

Comcast Cable Communications

The NorthCentral Division of Comcast – one of the country’s largest entertainment, information and communications companies, specializing in cable television, high-speed Internet and telephone service – set out to ensure that managers and employees throughout the organization had the financial acumen required to make good decisions. A companywide survey had clearly demonstrated this need – especially for managers of employees who had direct contact with customers.

For example, if a customer calls with a service problem, frontline employees and their supervisors can issue credits to the customer’s account in an effort to resolve the issue. Although this may be exactly what is needed for the situation, Comcast realized that employees making these decisions didn’t necessarily understand that a $10 credit could ultimately require more than $100 in revenue for the company to break even. Similarly, a service technician’s visit to a customer’s home might cost $50 directly, but the company might have to sell an additional $500 in services to cover the cost.

“The lack of financial acumen among supervisors and employees was largely understandable,” says Mark Fortin, senior vice president of finance for Comcast’s NorthCentral Division. “Almost 75 percent of the company’s employees are on the front lines in roles such as call center personnel or field technicians. They are trained to be good at what they do, but their backgrounds typically don’t include emphasis on financial literacy.”

Comcast human resource executives determined that a fundamental approach to the development of business acumen was needed. However, this approach also would need to be fast, engaging and job-relevant. Expanding upon its already robust Comcast University management curriculum, the executives chose to integrate a high-energy, tailored learning experience that would provide the “basics” and, at the same time, deal specifically with Comcast terminology, concepts and strategic imperatives.

As they participated, learners made decisions about products, processes, pricing and more, and they saw how those decisions impacted financial success. In the end, it became easier for them to make sharper day-to-day choices.

“The thing that sticks out for the frontline leaders, the field technicians, and the call center supervisors and managers who attend, is the high cost of sales in our business,” says Sophia Alexander, senior manager of curriculum and metrics for the division. “It’s like a bell goes off in their heads when they realize what it costs for us to earn what we need to earn to run the organization.”

Attending the learning session is not mandatory for supervisors and managers. However, there is an unwritten expectation that they will participate in business acumen training as well as other Comcast University core programs, according to Jan Underhill, senior manager of leadership development for the NorthCentral Division. That expectation, coupled with the fact that manager compensation has recently become tied to meeting specific financial goals, has kept attendance high.

Senior executive support also has been an important factor in creating interest and awareness around financial literacy. “Getting people to sign up is much easier when senior executives like Mark Fortin are strong advocates for the program,” says Underhill.

Feedback has been resoundingly positive. On average, for example, Level 1 feedback about the discovery learning based business acumen sessions has been 4.5 on a 5-point scale. That means that the program has exceeded expectations. Better than that, says Sophia Alexander, senior manager of curriculum and metrics for the NorthCentral Division, is the empirical evidence that the new insights and knowledge have made a difference. For example:

• Participant self-evaluations indicate that financial literacy has increased by at least 25 percent as a result of the business acumen training.

• After the training, there was a 20 percent increase in the participants’ ability to use basic financial terms and concepts on the job.

• Almost 45 percent of supervisory participants report that they are using their business acumen knowledge in daily communications with staff and peers.

“Some people, particularly in big companies, feel like there is an open checkbook. They think… I don’t own the company. It’s not my problem. Somebody will pay the bills. But in today’s environment, with some very large companies in trouble, everyone needs to be part of the solution. Business acumen education for managers and employees helps the company as a whole, but it also helps employees. It’s about self-preservation to some extent.” comments Fortin.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is one of the consistently profitable companies that makes “business literacy” a core component of its employee training programs. Every employee has a solid understanding of what a new customer, and new revenue, means to the company. Employees also know how the loss of a customer can impact the business.

According to Elizabeth Bryant, director of leadership training at Southwest Airlines, “Our training covers how the financial ratios such as return on assets and various margins are determined. Knowing that team managers, supervisors and all employees have this knowledge enables the company’s leadership to present detailed financial reports and explain to the teams where the margins need to be. Management can speak more in depth to all the employees, and the employees understand what the objectives are.”

Bryant added, “Because we don’t waste the little things, because we track every penny and every activity, we’ve all come to know the importance of each cent. With the pennies in hand, we spotlight the idea of compound interest- for example, how the small savings help us by year’s end and how small amounts of waste can conversely add up to hurt us.”

Consider the importance of a key operating metric for the airline industry – operating cost-per-seat mile. This is how much it costs an airline to fly one seat one mile. All the operating costs are divided by the total number of seat miles (the total number of miles of all the seats that were flown for a given period, whether a passenger was in the seat or not). Much of the industry has had cost-per-seat mile results at or over 10 cents. Southwest Airlines’ cost-per-seat mile is about 6.5 cents. The lowest cost-per-seat mile in the industry almost 25 years ago was just over 5 cents.

How do they do it? Certainly there are a number of factors that lead to success. However, one of the key influences is Southwest’s ongoing training in business acumen. This training ensures that employees know:

• How challenging it is to ensure ongoing profitability; making a profit can never be taken for granted

• The importance of utilizing the benefits of the good years to prepare for the tough years

• The impact of individual actions and decisions to the bottom line

In other words, Southwest invests in training to help employees think like business owners. This, in turn, produces real results, like its consistently low cost-per-seat mile. When Southwest’s learning team decided to implement a business acumen simulation several years ago, there was some initial concern about how well it would be received.

Bryant explained, “Some people, especially those without financial training, were nervous about the topic. We are such a people-oriented company that we didn’t want people to think that now we’re just a financially oriented company and everyone will be judged purely on financial performance. But we positioned the need for the business literacy training as another way to prove that we actually care tremendously for each employee. We explained that if you understand what the numbers mean then you can better understand how your work provides an integral contribution to the business.”

Southwest Airlines, according to Bryant, has never had a layoff – a rarity in the airline business. The more their employees understand the challenges of the business, the better they appreciate the importance of making smart decisions every day.

Bryant concluded that the discovery learning techniques in a robust business simulation work well in the Southwest culture because of the team orientation. “All the participants learn that they can’t individually make it all happen,” said Bryant. “They learn that they have to look beyond themselves, act and think like an owner, and realize that our efforts and financial results here are not just for a career, but for a cause. It’s this cause-oriented philosophy toward delivering a low-cost, high-quality service that allows people the opportunity to travel. Our success at achieving positive results translates to individual opportunities to work, to grow and to continually think of innovative ways to improve our business and serve our customers.”

The Classroom Advantage

These two companies chose to develop the business acumen of managers and employees by using a classroom-based simulation, facilitated by instructors at company sites. Although online options were available and were used in some cases to supplement the instructor-led training sessions, they decided that there were significant advantages to tackling this subject in a “live” session where they could leverage the power of:

• SHARED KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE: Learners bring their own perspectives and issues to the session.

• TEAMWORK: Learners work together, make decisions together and rely on each other as they learn.

• COMPETITIVE FUN: Small teams “play” against each other and enjoy a competitive environment.

• COMPANY-SPECIFIC DISCUSSIONS: The learners’ common interest in their own company’s financial and strategic issues allows for greater analysis and depth of discussions and a true “connection” between the learning simulation and the organization’s reality.

• LEARNING MOTIVATION AND COMFORT: Learners who may not be comfortable with the subject of finance find themselves playing a game in the comfort of a team environment.

Although there are a number of educational approaches available to organizations in the area of business acumen, classroom-based training that brings together teams of learners can help ensure that learning occurs and that connections to the business are made in ways that prompt action back on the job.

The Bottom Line

More than ever, successful companies will need to focus on developing the business acumen of managers and employees. These companies will realize that when their people understand the numbers, when they understand how their departments contribute to the company’s objectives and when they see how their own decisions and actions make a difference, they will begin to operate as part of a team rather than in a departmental or personal silo. And a critical piece of the alignment puzzle will be solved.

With widespread business acumen, companies can have a powerful asset – educated, knowledgeable and motivated employees. And with this asset, those will be the companies best positioned to succeed.

Business Strategy – The Five Generic Competitive Strategies

When I was younger… I [didn’t] want to be pigeonholed… Basically, now you want to be pigeonedholed. It’s your niche. – Joan Chen, actress

A business strategy represents the game plan that your company will use to run its business, gain market share, and conduct operations. This plan of action determines how the company appeal to and satisfy customers, compete effectively, and accomplish managerial objectives. Developing a strategy should mean there is a managerial dedication to follow a specific group of actions that will advance the company’s financial market performance and increase its bottom-line.

How will management grow the business while building a loyal customer base and out competing rivals becomes the perspective for both short-term and long-term goals. In order to boost performance and succeed, each functional piece of the business (research and development, supply chain activities, production, sales and marketing, distribution, finance, and human resources) must be unified in operation. Clearly, management’s choice of strategy should be guided by the mission statement and the vision of the company. The strategic choice made for the company and by the managers speaks loudly… “Surrounded by the countless unique business approaches and ways of competing we might have selected, we have determined to use this particular mixture of competitive and operating approaches in driving the company in the planned direction, increasing its market position and competitiveness, and advancing execution.” Hardly ever are these conclusions regarding strategy uncomplicated and painless for any company, and some of the conclusions may turn out to be mistaken – but that is not a justification for not making a decision on a specific path of action.

When developing a business strategy, your company’s present situation must be considered. Managers should be driven to evaluate the business environment for the particular industry and the competitive forces, the company’s recent performance and market status, its strong points and abilities, and its competitive weak points. Depending on the needs and the vision of the company, managers are forced to set a clear path for direction. By no means it this path absolute. Setting foot on this path of action requires the company strategy to evolve over time with both proactive and reactive activity. Developing the company strategy is in a cinch intended to guide the company in the planned direction while growing the business, and improving financial and market performance. Thus perfecting the company’s vision and empowering the company’s mission statement.

This article describes the five basic competitive strategy options – which of the five to make use of is an important and fundamental choice for any company. In developing this overall strategy, your company is beginning its pursuit for a competitive advantage. The main differences among competitive strategies comes down to (1) whether your company sets aim on a market target that is broad or narrow, and (2) whether your company is pursuing a competitive advantage linked to low-cost or product differentiation.

The five distinct competitive strategy approaches that stand out are below:

The Five Generic Competitive Strategies

1. A low-cost provider strategy – striving to achieve lower overall costs than rivals and appealing to a broad spectrum of customers, usually by under pricing rivals.

2. A broad differentiation strategy – seeking to differentiate the company’s product offering from rivals’ in ways that will appeal to a broad spectrum of buyers.

3. A best-cost provider strategy – giving customers more value for their money by incorporating good-to-excellent product attributes at a lower cost than rivals; the target is to have the lowest (best) costs and prices compared to rivals offering products with comparable attributes.

4. A focused (or market niche) strategy based on low costs – concentrating on a narrow buyer segment and out competing rivals by having lower costs than rivals and thus being able to serve niche members at a lower price.

5. A focused (or market niche) strategy based on differentiation – concentrating on a narrow buyer segment and out competing rivals by offering niche members customized attributes that meet their tastes and requirements better than rivals’ products.

Each of these five generic competitive approaches stakes out a different market position. The decision on which generic strategy to employ is conceivably the most vital strategic commitment for your company. This commitment will drive the rest of the strategic actions that your company agrees to and it sets the entire tone for your quest of a competitive advantage over competitors while “Creating Your Own Lane” in business success.