As headhunters we often unsurprisingly nowadays get to work alongside turnaround companies parachuting in either interim or permanent executives to help effect a turnaround.

As headhunters we often unsurprisingly nowadays get to work alongside turnaround companies parachuting in either interim or permanent executives to help effect a turnaround.

We also get to meet a lot of executives who have exited turnarounds – some successful, some not. While not exhaustive, these are some of the key learnings that they have shared.

Firstly, they all wish they had cut deeper, faster. Whether successful or not, that is their key regret. You can always rebuild later once you have stabilised a company but, if you do not cut deep and fast, you will not have a company to rebuild. Forget the traditional 100-day plan. Nowadays it is more like 100 hours – Darcy Willson-Rymer at Clinton Cards did not even have time to articulate his review and plans to save the chain.

It’s all about action-centred leadership, not management; surround yourself with marines. Hire for attitudes, attributes and behaviours. You can never have too much capability around you.

However bad you think the situation is going into it, the reality is that it will be at least eight times worse. Appoint a central programme director to run the change programmes to cut through functional parochialism and empires. Do what’s right for the business, not what’s right for the existing functional heads.

Don’t trust what banks verbally tell you. In numerous cases – which I cannot name on legal advice – chief execs have had verbal agreements from their banks on funding, support and so on, only for the banks to renege on them at the 11th hour and refuse to sign documents.

Look at alternative funding; JJB and HMV led the way in their innovative approach.

Don’t let your ego get in the way. Shareholder dilution is better than shareholder annihilation. A classic example of this is Blacks walking away from an offer from Mike Ashley – ultimately the shareholders ended up with nothing.

Finally, have a thick skin, because at some stage a less-than-flattering cartoon starring you will appear in Retail Week – maintain your sense of perspective and humour.

  • Jamie Zuppinger, Co-founder and joint managing director, Barracuda Search