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The Cash, the Customer and the Colleague

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

These three words refer to three key components of any businesses. The three C’s of any corporation.

These three components relate to each other and actually depend on one another. Should one fall short, the other two are affected. On the other end of the spectrum, should one blossom then it is very likely that the other two will be positively impacted.

The following words are not taken from a best-seller, quoted from a world-wide renowned business author, nor inspired by the CEO of a multinational. They are simple reflections of a real life, on-going experience of a very hands-on entrepreneur, who is spearheading a 4-year old start-up and maneuvering through 2020.

First, I’ll tackle the Cash. My personal inclination would have been to launch into the Colleague, the team, the human side of the business. This is by far the area through which I obtain my utmost satisfaction as an entrepreneur; gathering committed, dedicated and knowledgeable people together and steer them on a common project. What a thrill! The fact that we manage to achieve this at Aetos Mati in a progressive, open-minded and no-attitude manner is even more pleasant.

So let’s get back to the Cash. Why address this parameter first? Well, without it I would not be writing this article and wouldn’t be in a position to post it on Aetos Mati’s website. There simply wouldn’t be a website…

By cash, I mean the actual funds the company has at its disposal. The number that shows up when you login to the bank portal. It is not the billables, not the receivables and not the unpaid invoices you are running after for countless months. I’m referring to the liquidity the company can withdraw from an ATM, use to write a cheque or wire as a transfer.

It may seem obvious, but without availability of or access to sufficient cash, there are chances that the game will not play into your favor.

When projects, programs and contracts stall, vanish or get delayed, cash-flow becomes the nerve of the war. If the company was already treading on thin ice, the horizon can turn dark very quickly. For most businesses around the World, 2020 has brought this into the spot light pretty clearly.

For Aetos Mati, our cash has been managed cautiously since the company’s inception. I stood and stand by the following: “We are a start-up with a limited foot-print, relying on a limited number of customers. Growth perspective is good (well, 2019 forecast was…), but until our business reaches critical size, every cent will be kept in the bank. We will not run with the big dogs but rather will invest wisely in methods to promote our services. We will not spend the money we’ve just barely invoiced or not yet collected”.

In a similar line of thought, I consider myself as prudent in managing the payments (ultimately the cash available at the bank) received from our Customers and owe the team to be irreproachable and transparent in handling the funds. Quite obviously you would think this is not ground-breaking. Any entrepreneur reading this who is personally invested in building up his/her company would relate to this point. But perhaps less obvious for some…

And this takes us to the second key point of this paper, the Customer. Similarly to the Cash, there isn’t much action happening in any organization without customers. Actually, the first key point, the cash, won’t be seen by most companies without customers. Whether you run a B2B or B2C set-up, reaching, engaging and finally contracting with more customers is the ultimate goal.

A lot has been written on reaching, engaging and contracting customers. That is not the purpose of these few lines which are, again, a personal reflection.

2020 has revealed some true colors in terms of how corporations decided to communicate (for those who did…) internally and externally, being faced by this unprecedented situation. Aetos Mati customers are no exception and were, are impacted by COVID.

Very early in entering the Global Pandemic, some of our customers maintained communication “business as usual”, and even intensified frequency in some touch points. I would not say we were communicating on a daily basis, but three to four times per week, which was more than the weekly or bi-weekly interaction we shared prior.

It felt right, spot-on in fact! Even though the level of uncertainty our customers were facing was high, the fact that we were exchanging extremely frequently to support their change of strategy, modification to plans, and accelerated digital transformation, was a relief for all parties. On our side, we could feel and see that our customers were addressing the situation in an agile manner, which was quite surprising to witness, in a positive way, given the sheer size of some of them.

On their side, they understood that we were available to support, even in the chaos of early 2020. It provided the reassurance that, despite being rather green as an organization, we could withstand unforeseen speed bumps and overcome hurdles while continuing to provide an equivalent level of services.

That is one of the crucial links between the Cash and the Customer in a 2020 context.

On the other end of the spectrum, some corporations completely vanished off the radar…overnight there was no more pulse. Gone, disappeared, MIA!

Don’t get me wrong, those companies were and still are operating, but staying connected with their so-called ‘’partners’’, was not a priority. We wouldn’t know whether projects were on-going, if scheduled business was still on or if purchase orders were still valid. We wouldn’t know unless we inquired, and most of the time discovered that they were either cancelled or delayed.

This approach was disappointing, frustrating and even alarming to some extent. All the beautiful words exchanged over the past years, stating how we were considered as a ‘’partner’’ and not as a ‘’vendor’’ or ‘’supplier’’, vanished in a vacuum of non-communication. I can only guess that this very same lack of communication was most likely happening internally as well, leaving team members lost in their own thoughts without a clear direction from their organization and its leadership.

I understand the school of thought claiming that personal feelings should be disconnected from business. I belong to an entirely different school of thought. For me, business is pure feeling. I need to be connected somehow with the industry, the brand, its product or its history to feel the motivation to reach, engage and contract. To be honest, I need the whole package (industry, brand, product and history) to be present in the pot. I would never position Aetos Mati in front of a prospective client with whom we have no emotional tie or connection. We need to breathe the same air, understand the same jargon, and be able to relate to on-the-ground situations. As an L&D consultancy boutique, it is beyond imperative that we speak the same language.

You may call this picky or perhaps dangerously selective?

I call it respectful. Respectful to my prospect and to my team.

The same respect goes to the Colleague. The third pillar of this document. As written earlier, I would have placed this element in the frontline if I’d presented in order of preference. Or maybe I’ve saved the best for last…

The human capital, the grey-matter asset, is, to me, the most rewarding element of Aetos Mati.

Looking strictly at corporate accounting, 88% of Aetos Mati’s expenses is for payroll.

A company might have cash - i.e. cash in the bank, investors, loan(s), receivables. A company might have customers - previous, existing, in the funnel. But a company must have engaged colleagues.

The word colleague is not exactly the one you would have used in this context.

Staff? I hate it, it has such a generic low-rank connotation to me. Employee? Similar sentiment. Associate? A marketing fluff term.

Team member, yes, we are getting there. Partner, almost brothers-in-arms. But none of these words start with a letter C…

By now you should have guessed that I am referring to the team. To the people working with you, for you, alongside you…wherever you want to place them on your organizational chart.

True colors were revealed here as well in 2020. I have witnessed massacres and total disconnect transpire between organizations and its people. A separation that bred frustration, fear, tension and wounds that will remain wide open forever. Some corporations have lost their credibility and (albeit in some cases unintentionally) severed the sense of belonging to which the teams connected, often due to a simple lack of communication.

Communication, a subject used and over-used, taught from Kinden garden to PhDs, and still, so under-utilized in early 2020 by many when needed most.

At Aetos Mati we were and are no exception when it comes to facing challenges this year. From March onwards, I started communicating very regularly and specifically with the team on the subject of the circumstances and disruptions. I opened the books and shared the company’s cash-flow position and state of projects.

Did I have all the answers and was I in a position to predict with certainty where the business was going? Absolutely not! It just felt right to share with the team more, and more often, in an effort to offer some sense of stability and unified vision during such an unpredictable time.

So yes, we had to adjust some salary or benefits packages, but the Colleague reaction to the overall situation has been, and still is, phenomenal! I was receiving WhatsApp’s from the team telling me that I could go further in salary reduction should the health and viability of the company require this to sustain. Seriously?! I was amazed and baffled by commitment, maturity, and emotional intelligence I was witnessing in such context.

As of today, those salary reductions are still in place until business activity resumes to a more predictable or sufficient level. Have I received any complaints from customers about deliverables not meeting deadlines, or about our quality of service declining? … Not a single one! Have I received any complaints from the team or any pleas to return to normal wages? Not even one. Why?

Communication and transparency. Everyone knows the numbers within the company. They know the P&L status. Key Account Managers have full visibility of the monthly invoicing volume and their respective project turn-over. As intrapreneurs (Internal Entrepreneurs), they have a full view of the business, hence understand and accept the temporary measures, and are making a sacrifice of Cash for the greater good of all Colleagues.

2020 is a big shout out to the Colleague. I strongly believe that our team is our most valuable asset.

2020 revealed many secrets to me, one of them being that an informed and included colleague is extremely precious; actually, priceless.

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