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Crosby MBA Elective Course Highlight: Turnaround Management


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Turnaround Management with Scott McNair

Over the course of my last semester as an MBA student, I have been taking a Management elective course called Turnaround Management. Not only is it a wonderful course, but it also provides interesting insight into how a company undergoes a strategic turnaround. This course is taught by Professor Scott McNair, a professional turnaround expert with a specialty in the food industry. Every week, students are assigned a business case that we read and write a report on, which is then discussed with the help of discussion leaders in the class. The past two weeks, we have had a couple of guest speakers who helped us to gain a deeper understanding of this concept by discussing the various sides of turnaround management consulting.

One especially impactful speaker was Mike Juniper from CR3. CR3 is a turnaround management consulting firm that helps businesses and companies during crisis situations. To give a bit of a background on Mike Juniper, he has a BBA in finance from University of Arkansas and got his MBA from Washington University. He got into the turnaround business by accident, after witnessing his first restructuring in Pretium Packaging in St. Louis and his first bankruptcy in Southern Products Company, also in St. Louis.

For this blog, I am going to focus on the role of the turnaround consultant and the challenges they often face.

Mr. Juniper started off by describing what exactly the role of a consultant entails. He says in order to succeed, consultants must look at the problems from the companies’ viewpoint. When a business is in trouble, everyone associated with that business is typically aware of it, whether it is the clients, the customers, the employees, and even the families of the employees. Generally a company fails 50% of the time because something happened in the industry and 50% of the time from self-inflicted wounds. Hence, the recommendations always have to be data driven and backed up by the analysis, with emotional intelligence in mind.

The job of a consultant involves a lot of travel – often 40 to 50 weeks a year  – to places that are not always glamorous. The engagement length of these trips varies depending on the size of the job. It is typical for a consultant to be stationed at certain business for three to six months, or even up to one year depending on the task at hand. Mr. Juniper stated that an especially challenging part of the job is when the consultant has to terminate employees, or tell people that they won’t get paid when the company is in especially dire circumstnaces. Though some might say that building the financial model, PowerPoint decks, and pouring through data is boring, it is awesome to see the effect of the changes, saving companies, and preserving organizational values.

This is the part that makes the challenges of being a turnaround consultant worthwhile.

One thing that a consultant always has to remember is that they will never be the popular person. The clients are rarely happy when consultants have to be brought in, the lenders are never happy, sometimes private equity holders may toss the keys and ask the consultants to deal with it.

So what makes a person well-equipped to be a turnaround consultant?

Mike Juniper described a list of qualities that are needed in order to succeed in this business:

  • Having business smarts
  • Being analytical
  • Handling large amounts of data
  • Maintaining curiosity
  • Staying humble – A consultant will never be as smart as the guy who has been there for 30 years
  • Being good listener – Sometimes it is necessary to be the person top management can have a heart to heart talk with
  • Having the ability to work alone as well as on a team
  • Being willing to get yelled or, in other words, staying calm under pressure
  • Building the knowledge of when and how to work efficiently
  • Taking small steps to have a big impact
  • Knowing when to give up the fight

As a turnaround consultant, one is not responsible for the long-term strategy. The change in top management, that is often newly restructured, takes care of that. When cash flows or financial data shows that the company is “coming out of the ditch,” the consultant knows that the work is done.

Shalini Banerjee is a second year Crosby MBA student pursuing a General Management concentration with Project and Supply Chain Management certifications. She works as Graduate Research Assistant in the MBA Admissions Office.