The cost of ownership

Fred Koury, President and CEO, Smart Business Network Inc.

There are plenty of warnings about wanting too much in this world, whether it is in your personal life or as the CEO of a company.

Remember the dot-com bust? Prior to the technology market bubble bursting, tech companies could do no wrong. Investors were ignoring basic fundamentals because “this was a new era” and the old rules didn’t apply. Well, it turns out the rules did apply. As did one very old rule about “what goes up, must come down.”

Tech company valuations were slashed by billions, thousands were laid off and the ripple effect was felt throughout the economy.

More recently, we experienced the real estate bust. It was pretty much the same story — people ignored basic investing and common-sense rules and the prices for real estate went sky-high, and then the bubble burst. The results were also the same: billions in value lost, thousands of jobs affected and the ripple effect was felt throughout the economy.

There is plenty of blame to go around for these events, both by investors who got caught up on the hype and CEOs who were trying to get rich, or at least richer than they already were. It was a quest to have the biggest paycheck, the biggest yacht, the biggest plane and the biggest house. The reckless CEOs were trying to use get-rich-quick methods that are dangerous to everyone.

There are four common ways to grow a company:

  • Going public through an IPO
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • Debt financing
  • Self-funded organic growth

IPOs cost a lot of money to launch and even more money to maintain. The second and third methods are all about leverage. Overvalued stocks and overleveraged companies were major contributors to the tech and real estate busts. Too many CEOs were borrowing more and more money to fund the next great merger or open more locations. When tough times hit and the money dried up, they had lived well beyond their means and a harsh reality set in.

Despite these recent economic failures, many companies are still playing with borrowed money, overleveraging themselves and putting their entire company at risk. You have to understand the leverage game and the risks that come with it. The best way to grow a company is to create an environment that fosters growth and to focus on building long-term relationships.

This isn’t to say that you won’t make a strategic acquisition here and there or occasionally borrow money to fund needed expansions. The key is to do it in moderation and understand how too much debt can hurt your ability to grow. Making a mistake with debt can spell doom for your company and everyone in it.

Your responsibility as CEO goes far beyond yourself. Investors obviously are counting on you, but so is everyone that works in your organization. For some of your vendors, you might be their largest account. If you suddenly went out of business, how would it affect them? Would you create your own mini “bust” that rippled through the local economy, even on a micro scale?

In today’s world, you need to take a hard look at how you are leading your company. One wrong move could cut you off from the credit you need to fund your leveraged growth. With no money, the organization often collapses under the weight of its own debt.

It’s OK to be satisfied with what you have and not play the high-risk game of leveraged growth. Growth is good but not when it requires an “all-in” risk that can ruin your organization and the lives of the people who work there. Remember, more often than not, slow and steady wins the race.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or [email protected].

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