“It’s always been like that,” Mr. Hines states repeatedly. It’s his standard remark to describe a lot of the ailments and pain he had lived through with his business for years and years.

The business used to be good, but something changed over the years, and the past 8 years or more just hasn’t been as fun as it used to be. No, the fun part kinda exited as the business results began to deteriorate faster and faster.

It’s beyond Mr. Hines, what made it so, and why the business just doesn’t perform as it used to. It had grown well, from just being a small mom and pop business with one employee. Now it is still mom and pop, joined by their hopeful son and 11 other employees.

Listening to Mr. Hines, there seems to have been a lot of pain and the pain still resides and lives well in the business. Cash has long since drained up and the debts just keep on rising. Pleads to the bank were now futile, and Mr. Hines and his wife have already taken out a second mortgage on their home long ago, and there is no more room for any more credits to be gotten from that avenue.

Many vendors have already given up on their business, and have stopped all deliveries till such time that all old outstanding amounts would be paid up, and then it would be cash on delivery for a while from then on until more faith in the company would be restored. To add insult to injury, several vendors have already engaged collection agencies.

Personnel is demotivated and discouraged. The discouragement is shared equally by Mr. Hines, his wife and their son. Perhaps it is time just to fold up and declare bankruptcy, they comment to me.

We look at their Profit & Loss statements and Balance Sheets from the past 2 years. Indeed, things don’t look too good. Mr. Hines frantically is biting on his nails. His hands are shaking and frankly there isn’t much nails left to bite. He’s been there already.

His wife seems very supportive still, but it’s obvious that the stress has taken its toll on the family life at home too. Their home. Well, for now it’s still their home. But they fear, they lose on the business and it’ll mean soon enough they’ll lose their house too.

Their son, Jim, too is discouraged. He naturally wants what’s best for the business, for his parents, and for things to turn around, but with the writing on the wall looking as it does, he has begun to wonder if perhaps he should seek employment elsewhere.

His function in the business is to program the CNC machines that are crucial for the business to carry out its finer work for their clients. Also, he is the only one who can do the technical drawings, so in other words, he holds a pretty important function for the business.

Previously, they had another guy. But he seemed to become more and more of a prima donna, and Mr. Hines feelings were that the guy eventually almost held the business ransom with his attitude about when to finish the necessary work and about how much he felt he was to be paid for the various assignments. So he was gone.

Then they had tried a couple of others by outsourcing. But they were always busy and seeing the business didn’t bring a lot of assignments with dwindling sales, the business just wasn’t much of a priority. It showed up in delayed return of work assignments. This coupled with somewhat hefty invoices, made it a blessing for mom and pop, when their son finished school and now could work with them handling these important areas of the business.

Mom and pop are visibly nervous as we carry on our conversation, and understandably so. This is their livelihood and all they have left. It’s the only thing they have known, besides some small job before they went on their own and ventured into the world of business ownership some 37 years ago.

We talk about what they are hoping to see happening. We talk about their dreams, and their true desires and goals. Much of their past glorified goals have by this time dwindled to just: “We just want to survive and make the business whole again.”

But a little more talk, and it’s clear that they would like to pay down their debts, get the business on right keel again, see it grow, and certainly return some decent profits. It’s clear they wish to be able to sleep better at nights again. “Oh, I can’t remember, when we last had a real good night sleep”, ads mom to the conversation.

Then she comments that her big wish would be that they would soon be able to retire. They are a little, shall we say seasoned, and she feels they are working too hard for this stage of their lives. Especially, Mr. Hines is working too much and it’s showing up in his health, which isn’t terrible, but is showing signs easily attributable to the burden of stress from dealing with these troubles. 

She shares her bigger dream with her husband: They would love to eventually be able to leave a sound business for their son. It would be their legacy.


I ask for a tour of the facilities and they kindly oblige. I note everything I see and imprint it in my memory. I get the chance to see the employees in action and I show an appreciation of their skills and work, while I keenly ask a bit of the process they follow to carry out their assignments.

Much of the information on the elements of CNC machines, welding and fabrication are all new to me. I have no prior experience, but I show nothing of this; I don’t want to scare them off as being incompetent. On the other hand, I don’t either pretend as if I know. That would be just foolish, and I’m sure, I would just soon be caught in such a “white lie”.

But for what I do, I don’t really need to learn most of the intricacies of machining or much of anything of the sort. I often joke to friends that I’m no handyman. “Give me a hammer and a nail, and I’ll probably break both of them”, I will typically joke. It’s not really the truth, but there is some truth to it. I have been spoiled and lucky (I guess) for most of my life that I could afford hiring professionals to do the handyman work when something broke in my house.

No, I’m no handyman. I’m a businessman. I know business and I know how the cogs interlace in a business. I understand numbers and I have an aptitude for finding out how to fix most businesses and their issues. Additionally, I have been through a lot in my life. As an entrepreneur and investor, I have been up and down, more times than I care to recall. Several downs were really tough, but that’s a story for another time. 

For now, let’s just say, I whatever you are experiencing in your business now, chances are I have been there. I have done that. I have several of the t-shirts.


Sitting down back in the little office, I turn the conversation to their level of commitment. Commitment to making everything that’s necessary happen in order for the business to stand a chance of returning to glory and profits, let alone even surviving.

Mom and pop are quick to assure me of their full commitment. Junior also, but is a bit reserved. He’s probably wondering if this even salvageable. You can’t blame him for thinking this at all. 

I ask them several times over, and keep receiving, their assurance. I illustrate to them it’s going to be a challenge and that all of it won’t be easy. There’s going to be some major changes in how things are done. “Oh, we are fully onboard”, they are eager to respond.

But this is where things get serious to another degree, as I turn their attention to money. Money will show their commitment. My fee is substantial. It’s going to be a sizeable investment. A lot of money. No, it isn’t expensive, upon a successful outcome. But that’s is the isn’t it. I’d better make this another success story.

It’s a lot of money. Especially when you don’t have any cash, and especially when I will indeed collect at the end of every week in full, regardless of what else is going on in the business. No discussion!


They swallow an extra time. It’s evident, that Mr. Hines feels immediately sick and I’m sure he feels like throwing up. He is hot and cold at the same time. But there’s no hiding the facts on this one. These are the terms, and I don’t dilly dally around it. This is serious. I’m serious, and they need to be serious too. We can’t go half way down the path and then pull the plug and expect that things will have turned around. It just doesn’t work that way.

After a few more moments of quiet reflections and deep breaths, they all agree that their commitment is solid. “But how are we going to find the money to pay you?, both mom and pop chime in, as if they share the same mind and tongue.

“You let me worry about that”, I state, and add: “As long as you are fully committed, I will find an avenue for making that work out too”.

They look at each other. They aren’t sure what to think. They feel as if they are drowning, and they pretty much are. But at this point, they realize that they won’t be able to fix their problems with the business and finances themselves. They are happy to have someone, who can lead them through it and show them the way. But most of all they are happy to have someone who has gone through this process many times over and have reached successful outcomes every time.

They are happy to accept any help, as long as they have a slight belief that it truly can help.

That last part is now up to me. I better be worth my salt. Inside, I’m nervous, I admit. I admit it to myself, not to the clients. I have to show and demonstrate a face of pure confidence, or they will have no faith. I need them to have faith. Faith that this can be done, and that I’m the one who will guide them to a better tomorrow.

“Alright, it’s time we go to work”, I say. 

It is time. We have a huge challenge on our hands, and with a charge of $500 per hour, we have already spent just about $1,500 which again is a lot of money when you haven’t got any, and we haven’t made any changes to the business yet. Or have we?

The past 3 hours have provided me with a wealth of information that is crucial for me, and every bit of information is a piece of the puzzle. Well, that’s not actually true. In between the bits and pieces of information there’s a bunch that constitutes distractions and just expressions of the clients’ worries and that won’t help us find our way out of the heap of problems this business is in.

Also of possibly even more importance is the fact that the past 3 hours have been a true investment that has already begun to pay off. It’s an investment in the mindset of the clients. For things to work, there are so many things of how they think and go about their lives, not just in business, but in personal lives as well, that will have to be changed if they want the taste of higher levels of success. The past 3 hours, have given me the first opportunity to implant seeds of success thinking and mindset that are needed for their future success.

It is time we go to work. But it’s only part of the reason why I state this. The other part is that I’m nervous as to how I will solve this Gordian Knot. As I ask them to provide me with Profit & Loss Statements and associated Balance Sheets for 3 more prior years, a full list of debtors and payables, I remind myself internally, that I have solved every other case before this one, and turned all these failing businesses around and into successes. 

I remind myself, that my nervousness is a good sign: It means, I actually care. I care about these people and I care that I end up doing good for them and help save “their lives and livelihoods”.

Yes, it’s great to be paid myself too. But I would never feel too great if I took good money, but didn’t leave the client with positive results.

As I get my reports, I also reassure myself of the fact that I invariably find a lot of my answers in the numbers. It’s incredible how the numbers tell many stories. Once you begin to see the big picture of how everything works together, you can quickly find out a lot of the troubles and where and how they originate in the numbers. 

Well, OK, the troubles typically don’t originate in the numbers. The numbers reflect things that are going on in the business, so the numbers reveal things that may not often be apparent to the eyes or ears.

I give the reports a quick once over. I will be diving into these in much greater detail, but for now, we need to find the cash for my engagement with the business.

That’s right. I can’t stay there unless I find a way to get paid in full and I’m not about to be playing bank for clients extending them credit. So they cash will have to be found elsewhere. 

It’s time we have the discussion on how we go about that.


(This story is a continuance and part of a series describing real life like existence of a top business turn-around agent. To be continued soon…)

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