Podcast

Episode: 243 |
Marc Feigen:
The CEO Whisperer:
Episode
243

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

Marc Feigen

The CEO Whisperer

Show Notes

Marc Feigen is considered the leading CEO advisor in the United States; Fortune magazine called him the “CEO Whisperer.”

Marc currently advises a dozen Fortune 200 CEOs, and in today’s episode he shares the questions those CEOs are facing and the steps they are taking to address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

To learn more about Marc’s firm, visit: http://feigenadvisors.com/

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman 00:01
Hello, and welcome to unleash the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’m your host Will Bachman. I’m very excited to have here with us today, Mark Feigin, who is the CEO of Feigin advisors and who advises over a dozen CEOs in the fortune 200. Mark, tell me, how many CEOs are you talking to today? And what are you telling them?

00:27
Sure, well, thanks for inviting me, it’s a pleasure to be with you and your listeners. Well, it’s at eight o’clock, I already had one, call the fortune 100 CEO. And I’ll probably speak to two today, and probably two or three over the weekend. And I’ll give you a more depth than what we’re talking about. Because you can well imagine, but you know what I’m going to tell them today, which is to have their teams take a day off. And if possible, the weekend off. You know, when we started telecommuting, all of my CEOs were worried about a reduction in productivity, that when people went home, they’d take breaks, they would appropriately have interruptions that are reasonable, with their families, understandable, but that working from home would be a lower product, a less productive day, the opposite happened. We are on calls, managers, advisors, leaders. from morning till night, we’re on zoom, I’m on you’re on zoom, you’re really focused. And between calls, we’re writing up notes from the last call or preparing for the next one. what everyone is, is reporting to me that they’re tired. And we’ve been working seven days a week, morning, noon and night. Many people on the phone with overseas operations early in the morning and late tonight. So we need a break. You can’t can’t send your troops into battle tired, they need rest.

Will Bachman 02:15
So what are some of the big questions that CEOs have right now that are leading global companies? I imagine they’re dealing with boards, with government, with their customers with their employees, and such so many things to manage in this crisis? What are some of the advice that you’re giving pion? You know, sort of taking care of their teams, you know, you know, mental health and, and you know, getting some rest? What sorts of big questions are people asking? And what advice would you give? Sure,

02:44
well, the first question on everyone’s mind is how can I best take care of my employees? are they safe? And how can we do our best to help them be healthy? And I’m really proud of my clients and corporate leaders. You know, a few months ago, jamie diamond brought together 400 CEOs to sign the Business Roundtable purpose statement, which was a reevaluation of capitalism. And it said, For the last 25 years, we’ve been shareholder driven. And maybe that’s wrong. Maybe we have to be employee driven, customer driven, community driven and shareholder driven. And, and you know what? Well, at this moment, at this time, that pledge is passing its toughest test. See, every CEO without exception I speak to the first 15 minutes is discussing employee health. Where we are moving people how we’re taking care of them, and that that includes paying them because anxiety is so important. We are upping mental health resources. We are providing hotlines, telemedicine, every kind of support that we can. So that’s number one. Number two, is a remarkable forward thinking, customer centricity, which is what can we say? We used to say, Hey, we’re customer first Well, now it’s maybe customer second after employees but it’s maybe a photo finish tie. What can we do to help our customers and it’s very impressive, Aetna took the lead in health insurance companies immediately suspending co payments for any COVID-19 related test or illness. Duke Energy is providing anyone who needs it with an extension of credit and no meters no electricity will be disconnected. The for lack of billpay you’re seeing we’re seeing every company extend terms change policies. And instead of adhering to rigid policies abiding by principles of decency. And that’s, that’s, that’s very impressive. The next on the list is business continuity and making sure that we can up and run. And that we understand that manufacturing sites will be closed distribution centers will be closed. Some of the large outsourcing operations have less ability to telecommute in developing countries like the Philippines and India. So how do we make sure they’re up the business continuity and work continuity, which are slightly different, because business continuity includes partners work continuity is make sure that people can work are is number three. Number four, and these are all important is liquidity, cash is king in a crisis, and companies typically don’t operate with a lot of cash, they return cash to shareholders, they invest cash, you wouldn’t buy a company that was sitting on a mountain of cash. You might but you’d ask questions about why. And so perhaps, companies now have to make sure that they have cash you’re seeing, you know, Boeing pulled every line that has, and many of my clients are accessing lines of credit that are there for a rainy day. So that’s, that’s fourth, fifth, spark leaders are asking, how do we come out of this? What’s the recovery going to look like? And how do we make sure that we don’t lose in the recovery, that we don’t lose steam? That we, which one of our partners may be bankrupt? And how do we plan for that or weakened? I haven’t seen aggressive moves and there’s no profiteering there’s no out this is a great time to kill the competitor. It’s not that at all. It’s how do we make sure that when we come out, and we will come out of this, that we will be able to serve our customers and provide jobs and job safety and compensation that that we need to so it’s we’re seeing the best, the best in people right now. At the top of American business.

Will Bachman 07:35
Mark with all these aspects that you talk about, what do you see as the best practice for a company to put together a response plan for this? Or is it informal discussions of top leaders? Are they doing something more formal? And, you know, what’s the process look like? That that these top teams are going through to look through all these different issues?

07:59
Sure, well, Gary burns in the C e o of Korn ferry just sent a sends this these fluffy emails out some of them are good, some less so and he said crisis is not a time for command and control that dead wrong crisis is the time when you must employ command and control. And command and control doesn’t mean everyone has ordered what to do and given instructions in the morning to fill out in the afternoon. Command and Control includes empowering people down the line to use their imagination and take initiative, but within a defined solution space and to achieve set objectives, which are which are probably handed down from the top. So number one, is to bring your top people together. And all of our clients have this with a command and control task force, which is identifying the key issues and making decisions. That’s a two, it’s important for CEOs not to over delegate, obviously, you your supply chain lead supply and your CFO leads finance. But the top leaders need to be making decisions, or at least the critical decisions and the CEO needs to know what those are for Are we going to take all of our lines of credit and pay the interest rate or not. Are we going to stretch out our cap, which how are we going to adjust our capital expenditures? What is our what is our how are we going to leverage government support for people who are on furlough? What’s the right thing to do? Those decisions have to have to be on the CEOs desk. So that that’s three and I think fours is similar it makes people flow from what I said earlier, which is that what are our employee plans? What are our customer centric plans? What are our liquidity plans? And, and making sure those are clear, but everyone is already well along on those. Next is making sure that the board is informed weekly. So that could even weekly or every two weeks, the lead director or the chair every week, if not every other day, and that the board has information in order to do its job now, which is to support management and be as helpful as possible. But in order to be helpful, they have to know what is going on. And there’s board calls can be short, but they have to be much more, much more frequent. That’s that’s top of the list. Well,

Will Bachman 10:46
I’ve heard one company that took its distribution center, and just pushed out all of the inventory to all our 150 retail stores, because they didn’t want to risk having someone at the distribution center, have the Coronavirus and then have to shut down that distribution center even though the allocation might not be perfect. What sorts of examples like that? Are you seeing companies taking to their operations of you’re kind of going away from normal practice to try to protect business continuity?

11:18
Well, it’s that that’s a great example. I think I haven’t heard very many like that. I think it’s case by case, I think what most companies are doing is is is not managing to the exception and emptying distribution centers. But saying, Let’s keep the distribution center open. If we have somebody who is sick, let’s isolate, contact, trace, isolate, cleanse, and return to work so that we can use the market to efficiently allocate. allocate our product where where it’s needed. So I think, in many ways, well, that’s laudable and and perhaps appropriate in their situation. I think most companies are trying to keep business supply chains running as normal, the manufacturing shutting, which means that we will be drawing down inventory. And I am also seeing companies shift their production, the CEO of United Technologies recently said, Tell me how to, you know, give me the plans to make ventilators will make ventilators. Estee Lauder is making a sanitizer hand sanitizer. Companies that are in textiles are making masks and gowns. So we will see a phenomenal response bottom up from the private sector to meet the needs of the crisis.

Will Bachman 12:56
One thing I’ve noticed is it seems that in some cases, private businesses were quicker to respond than the government, we saw how quickly the the the NBA shut down their league, and how other sports team followed before even a lot of cities had shut down. But those are just some of the visible cases that are real obvious what what have you seen, you know, beyond the obvious of telling people will work from home? You know, some facilities like manufacturing, it’s not really practical. What What have you been seeing that maybe doesn’t make the news of what companies are doing and maybe reacting more quickly, even the government of telling, you know, should or shutting down their operations or, or making alternative arrangements? Yeah, well, you.

13:39
morning, I woke up and thought maybe I’ll write an op ed and submit it to the New York Times, they’ll take it on exactly this subject, which is government is way behind the private sector, in in, in the response, which in some ways is a shame because we need we need government. And if we had government working and the private sector working, I think we’d be in much better shape. And I think everyone, everyone realizes that. I think I’ve talked about some of the things that that I’m seeing which is companies extending credit to their customers, customer companies reaching back into their supply chain and saying hey, do you do you need help ordering where they may not need it in order to make sure their suppliers are kept alive? Because we can’t have broken supply chains. We’re seeing a government’s company. Goldman Sachs somehow access 39,000,095 masks reported in the times this morning and is donating them. We are we are seeing 1000s of of actions on the part of companies large and small. To to help and collectively those those will make a difference.

Will Bachman 14:58
A lot of listeners of this show

14:59
Mark,

Will Bachman 15:00
our consultants, a lot of them independent consultants, what? What do you see with with companies seeking to conserve cash? What? What do you see as the impact on the consulting industry this year?

15:14
Well, good question. So what I would say to any independent consultants and some, in a way, I am an independent consultant, like, like you and your listeners is the following one pivot fast from peacetime to wartime. So make yourself indispensable. My model, for example, is to speak to clients monthly, I’m speaking to them weekly. So how can you make sure that you are really there for them, 24, seven, second, to the extent you can afford it, if a client comes to you and says, I’m really stretched, say, pay me pay me now. Don’t pay me now or pay me later or pay me Never. But I’m going to continue to work. Now, you can’t do that for every client. But for but for good clients work through this. And don’t worry about the compensation, because that’ll pay the project is much less valuable than a relationship. And if you can use this time to turn a project into a relationship that they will remember, that will really help you in the recovery and the recovery, the recovery will come. I think third is to be careful in in providing proffering advice, which seems commercial. So, speech companies are sending out how to talk to your people during COVID. And I mentioned Korn ferry saying this is not a time for command and control the time for empowered leadership. There’s a lot of hokum, and baloney that’s flowing. And make sure that you’re being very careful with advice, which is targeted and tailored. And I think personal advice is better than broadcast. The exception of something podcasts like this, which makes sense because we’re talking to a community of people. So if you can talk if you broadcast or narrow cast narrow cast to a community of like the listeners who like you, and trust you and sign up and know that you are going to bring something to them of value. So I think those are the three things I’d say. Good question. What about

Will Bachman 17:30
broader investment? So you mentioned, you know, again, on the topic of conserving cash, do you see companies canceling planned investments

17:39
or Oh, sure, yeah. topic. Yeah, my god capex is being slashed? Absolutely, look, there are two kinds of companies, those whose revenue is going to zero. And those who may be three kinds of companies and those that are just bumping along. And if you make paper towels, it’s growing. But if your property and casualty insurance business, you’re collecting premiums, and people have to insure their homes, and even if restaurants are closing, they still pay their insurance to the extent they can’t now there’ll be bankruptcies. So there will be a depression or recession in the economy will reduce revenues for everyone. But But again, cash is king and the first place people are looking is capex.

Will Bachman 18:27
How are you advising CEOs to speak to government to speak to the press, you know, and kind of the public communications as well as private communications with the government, you know, through this whole crisis.

18:46
I don’t see very many CEOs speaking to the press right now, except those that are in the front line. So Laurie mirlo, the CEO of CBS is regularly on CNN, I think that’s very helpful, because he’s letting people know the testing is available, that CBS is hiring, that we are suspending copay for COVID patients, that that we’re ready, that we’re here for you that our pharmaceutical suppliers intact, is enormously helpful to have a business leader of CVS fortune seven company out there, calming people. So I think if you can reduce anxiety, you can calm people, if you can give them some sense of safety, some sense of the future. Great, but to speak about your business right now. No one is and that’s appropriate. In terms of government. Government is overwhelmed. I think the only places that companies are appropriately speaking to right now is to offer manufacturing help or other services that might be in desperate need. So you know if you can if you can make an N 95 As the government wants to hear from you, lobbyists don’t seem to be unemployed at the moment. So they were all over the recent $2 trillion emergency fund package. It’s not a stimulus package, as Paul Krugman said, it’s an emergency package. And that’s shame because there’s larded with pork barrel. But it’s America.

Will Bachman 20:27
For what guidance Do you have at all for companies to? Maybe their business is down a bit, but they don’t want to lay off their employees? What are companies doing to try to use this time effectively? Is it you know, getting employees to take some training and teach themselves some new skills or work on side projects? Like, what what are you seeing companies doing to try to make sure that they make them? No,

20:52
no. Yeah. Terrific. One of my clients has people who are who are idle. So if you are in a manufacturing site, you’re a supervisor in a manufacturing site. You can’t work from home. So you’re home. And you’re being paid, but but you don’t have anything to do. So they challenged the frontline supervisors to identify and brainstorm together. improvement opportunities for when we come back. So what do we learn from this crisis? What can we do faster? Can and you decide, you know, is it set up times? Is it employee productivity? Is it different ships come up to us with ideas, and we think there’ll be a lot of really neat stuff that’s going to emerge from from that. And it’s exciting people, and it makes them feel valued at this moment. So finding ways to make people are appropriately focused on finding ways to pay them, but finding ways to make people feel valued. So that they can do their part, and participate in helping the community and their community as a work community is terrific. So I am seeing some really nice, novel responses to that problem.

Will Bachman 22:12
That’s fantastic. Mark, I know you need to speak to some other fortune 200 CEOs today. And we’re kind of getting close to the end of the time we have available. Any, any additional thoughts that you have, or, you know, questions I should have asked about what you know, what you sort of see is the conversations that you’re having your insights into what the senior most leaders in America are thinking is really valuable.

22:39
Sure, I think everyone is acutely focused on on how long this is going to last. So when is the peak, and then I’d be interested in your view will. But what I’m seeing is at the peak in the US will be on around April 20. I have no crystal ball, but that it can’t come soon enough. I do think that going up the peak is horrible. It’s agonizing. It’s slow. It’s a death by 1000. cuts. Every day, you read about more deaths. Every day, I read about more crowding in hospitals, every day, you read about an increase in infection. And every day, you read more sad cases, going down the peak will feel like a different planet. Every day, you’ll be reading fewer cases, fewer deaths, hospitals, coming back to norm. Wow. And so when we start to go down the peak, although we may not be out of it, it’ll feel better. So in a sense, if we can get halfway through plus a day, I think it will be a major victory. The question is how long is halfway through? And everyone is asking that question. Sorry for the background noise. This is the only time I’ve been outside and 48 hours sitting in my garden. So thank you for letting me be outside. So I think that is very, very much on on their minds. And I think the second question that’s on everyone’s mind is what will change and I read too much punditry. The world have ever be the same people will change. They’re gonna all work from home. Maybe my view is that there’ll be an enormous pressure to go back to normal. People will travel again, they’ll have face to face meetings again, we will have missed them. People will go to stores, oh my god, restaurants will be fill full. So I’m a skeptic of large scale society, societal change. I do however, see three, three. I predict three exceptions. The first is online will will soar Amazon wins in all cases. So I think online will continue to grow. Second, I think we will all have learned how to use zoom and how good it is. It’s a very beautiful technology. And I think there will be a decrease some decrease in business travel and some increase in telecommuting meetings, which will be good for independent consultants because you know, the guys I’m listening to this, guys or women, all of us we make house calls. And to the extent that we can leverage technology to meet our clients will make us all more productive, which is very good thing for us. It’s very good thing for us. The third thing that I forecast and I think for the real impact will be will be in politics. Because what’s, what we’re witnessing is the wholesale failure of federal government. And I think we will see an impact in the political sphere more than in the economic sphere. But that’s Mark speaking me not not my clients. Yeah.

Will Bachman 26:07
So, Mark, where? Where can people go to online to find out more about your firm and about your work?

26:16
Oh, well, thank you. Google mark. Feigen. Fei Jie een, we have a website and then some articles written about us and have some pieces in the Harvard Business Review, or call Will Bachman.

Will Bachman 26:32
But we’ll include a link to Feigin advisors in the show notes.

26:36
And thank you appreciate that. I wish your listeners and you will help for your family, for their families and for you and for them. And that we may all be better and grow from this this experience.

Will Bachman 26:54
Mark, thank you stay safe and stay strong. Thank you Well

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