Well-Versed

I often feel a sense of kinship with investor relations and communications professionals who are well-versed in crisis communications.  We share an understanding of the pressures, stresses and urgencies experienced.  Another commonality is we often journal about our experience.  From simple timelines to full case-studies, journaling (even if done after the fact) stimulates the reflection critical to making sense of the situation, your role in it and lessons learned.  Such reflection is important to honing one’s leadership skills.

I’ve certainly experienced my share of crisis.  My journal has served as a resource for many of the stories and advice shared via these blog posts.  For one crisis – about a failed capital refurbishment project – I later converted my journal entry into verse, which I’m sharing below.  This story is available, along with many other case studies, on NIRI-Chicago’s website in a traditional case study format.


 

On the shores of a sweet-water sea,
Stood a fire-breathing furnace – the biggest in the west.
It produced materials that built our cities and industries,
Voraciously consuming fuel day and night without rest.

But the fire-breathing furnace worried about the air,
And the quality and efficiency of the fuel it burned.
With our engineers in the green mountains fair,
Our customer found a cleaner technology in which to turn.

Eager that its new technology should grow,
And the ability to meet EPA standards demonstrably show,
Our engineers designed an innovative new facility
To provide the furnace fuel and generate electricity.

The construction contractor was anxious and had much to prove.
To lay the foundation, they tried something new, guaranteeing it wouldn’t move.
But our engineers pointed to their plans,
And warned the foundation might not stand.

The new facility began to settle – the engineers were right.
Yet the company waited fifteen years to begin to fight.
We can fix this and make it better” said the new boss,
And we will no longer tolerate it operating at a loss.

An $85 million refurbishment effort was begun.
We repaired, rebuilt and replaced – the process was no fun.
Nevertheless, we were hopeful,
And often talked about the EBITDA potential.

But two years later and $40 million over plan, the facility was still in a poor state,
The COO’s head was put on a plate.
This announcement was two weeks before quarter end,
So, a reinvigorated focus on operations was the message we decided to send.

Now faced with another earnings miss and the prospect of more of the same,
Only transparency could help save the company’s name.
Two weeks early earnings were announced,
Down nearly 20%, our stock price was trounced.

The facility was better we pleaded,
And a new test underway just might be the cure.
But we didn’t estimate the capital needed,
As we needed to see if the test worked for sure.

Post-earnings the IRO and CEO went on the road,
And spent even more time on the phone.
Before and after facility photos we showed,
But shock and anger was our investors’ tone.

Our news came at the worst of times.
Not a shred of good news could we find,
Our customers were teetering and closing plant gates,
While shareholder wealth continued to deteriorate.

It wasn’t long before we heard from the sharks,
A seat on the board was their mark.
Negotiations then ensued,
The number of activists added to the board was two.

The board decided to pursue a new direction,
And we laid out a new plan of action.
Refurbishment of the facility would continue,
But the search for strategic alternatives was on the menu.

However, in this industry there are no quick fixes,
Solutions that require perseverance are what sticks.
A few years later the stability for which we all yearned,
Was in place and business results finally began to turn.

 

Lisa Ciota
President/Founder
Lead-IR Advisors, Inc.