Article | August 26, 2020
The September 11th attacks. The Great Recession. The COVID-19 pandemic.
All three of these seismic and tragic events have resulted in heartbreak to humanity, including loss of life and our emotional well-being both individually and collectively. Of course, accompanying these global crises were monetary meltdowns reminiscent of the Great Depression that commenced in 1929 and lingered until the late 1930s.
After a “relatively” calm 70 years, the United States economy has suffered three devastating developments inside the last two decades, alone. There have been wars fought throughout the world and inflation escalations along the way, to be sure, but the start to the 21st century has suffered escalating and unusually concentrated economic calamities some that have profoundly altered the very fabric of our lives, both personally and professionally.
Indeed, on the business front, such periods have been among the most perhaps the unequivocal most trying of times. Amid current circumstances as the coronavirus rages on around the globe, I recently connected with internationally-renowned business restructuring executive James “Jim” Martin, founder of ACM Capital Partners with offices in Charlotte, Denver and Miami. Having spent the last three decades leading international middle-market companies through periods of distress and transition to actualize stability and growth, Martin is uniquely well-positioned to share insights on how business can rally to best assure a “COVID comeback.” Here’s what he had to say.
MK: First, before addressing the current coronavirus situation, what can you tell us about how you’ve helped companies navigate previous “rough waters”?
JM: Relative to the September 11th attacks back in 2001, I’ll share a representative example of a strategic pivot that didn’t just help a company survive, but actually drove profit. After that horrendous event, I stepped in to assist a large aviation maintenance repair-and-overhaul facility whose revenue had been cut fully in half immediately following the attacks the result of many carriers permanently parking older aircraft (including the 727 fleet). The sizable challenge presented was to maintain a 1000-person labor force while allowing the industry the necessary time to recover. To do so, we created a captive subcontracting company to which we transferred one-third of our labor force. During our troughs, we contracted this labor to our competitors and, during peak periods, we utilized this labor for ourselves. Thus, not only were we able to retain our skilled, well-oriented labor force during the recovery, but that very staff actually provided additional, supplemental profit. The end result was that we sold the business for $138 million, which provided our new investors with a 33 percent internal rate of return (IRR).
Less than a decade after 9/11, amid The Great Recession in 2008, I entered another industry that proved to be among the most brutalized by a global economic downturn: automotive supply. My client was a key supplier to the “Big 3” U.S. auto manufacturers.
At the start of 2008, the industry forecast was the production of 18 million vehicles in North America. Come summer, however, it was clear the automakers would not come near reaching that forecast due to the financial crisis. This did not come as a complete surprise to us, though, because amid our firm’s protocols we had had already fully immersed ourselves in our client’s industry and employed forecasting tools alerting us of trends ... this one in the wrong direction. So, we were privy to the situation well before management and others within the industry. By late June 2008, we instituted cost-cutting maneuvers and furloughs that enabled the company to withstand the industry’s brutal second half of ’08 that would result in two of the “Big 3” automakers filing for Chapter 11. Despite the industry producing less than half—as much as eight million—of its original vehicle-production forecast, our client not only survived, but ultimately grew and prospered.
MK: Turning attentions to COVID-19, what do you feel is integral for businesses to survive and recover?
JM: For businesses to recover from the coronavirus shutdown, it’s going to take a two-pronged approach: both financial and human capital. Starting with the financial, it will be a “loan-ly” world for those not well-versed in the intricacies of SBA, PPP and other “economic disaster” lending. Consider how expeditiously those programs were rolled out. Then consider how even more quickly they were scooped up. Did anyone really read those loan documents in full, or even halfway through, initially or even to this day?
My guess is at least half of the companies receiving COVID-related loans took a very “CliffsNotes” approach to these agreements. The result is there’s a solid chance funds were used incorrectly, which is going to make a lot of the loans, shall we say, less “forgivable.” For example, if your company’s payroll roster is shorter today than it was pre-virus, the portion of the loans forgiven is likely to be less.
And while your mind may rush to claiming ignorance and throwing yourself upon the mercy of the government to which you already pay taxes, realize that third-party capital is likely to participate in this market through securitization. This means that thousands of SBA loans could be bought, then packaged to be sold to the secondary market, at a discounted rate, no less. If this happens, understand that the purchasers will have the full intention of holding their borrowers (i.e. small business owners) to paying back 100 cents on the dollar.
So, those companies who received loans and are required, but unable, to pay them back in full may be exposed to either foreclosure or, worse, a “loan to own” scenario. In other words, much like the agreement that comes with your big-tech user agreements, like those prompting users to “click agree,” the fine print matters.
What this means to recovery is that, once again, cash is king: gather it; preserve it; cease lines of credit; liquidate what you can; negotiate costs down with suppliers. And if your company had a healthy bottom line pre-COVID, than a professional familiar with these trenches can help you look to refinance or bring in equity.
With all of that said, the key to a COVID-19 recovery is going to be adhering to the rules of a lender’s road, as well as the ability to navigate the red tape when you veer off that road. If you have read all the fine print and properly managed your loan, congratulations! You’ve acquired some really cheap capital. For those who didn’t do their research, however, this road to recovery likely will need some paving.
MK: What about the human capital you mentioned?
JM: Yes, and then we arrive at the human capital. Lots of companies today are excessively top-heavy. Remember the part about removing emotions from this process? Companies that quickly recognize cuts need to be made will be better positioned to recover than those who dawdle. Again, compiling and preserving cash is going to best position a business for recovery.
This is an instance where it’s especially beneficial to know when to pull triggers (best if earlier than others) and to make decisions that are not based on emotions a tall order for many CEOs, which is why many turn to turnaround experts. However it’s undertaken, what’s certain is that reducing human capital is painful, but it is also often necessary and almost always beneficial.
The upside is that, when the virus no longer exits, businesses can already be well-positioned for a fairly quick recovery. Maybe not v-shaped sans a vaccine, but quick relatively speaking due to the downturn having been so specific to one singular causing factor.
MK: Tell us a bit about your role as and general value of a turnaround expert when turmoil strikes a business.
JM: During times of difficulty, owners and executives can greatly benefit from specialized knowledge that’ll help them best navigate those unchartered waters that are often entangled in a lot of red tape. So, turnaround experts bring to the table a litany of tried-and-true “been there, weathered that” experience and expertise. There’s simply no substitute for engaging with a partner whose entire mandate is ensuring your company’s survival and success during some of the most grim and challenging times it might experience those professionals who are willing to spend sleepless nights figuring out how to ensure the company meets payroll; who’ll work around the clock to keep the company’s doors open; and who can tackle challenges without being hindered by emotions that understandably weigh on a business owner or manager. It takes this kind of specialized expertise, experience and grit to lead companies through periods of distress and transition, to stability and growth.
No stranger to corporate chaos, during Martin’s own three decades as a globally-regarded turnaround expert, he has reportedly created and restored nearly $1.5 billion in value to lower middle-market companies; raised an additional $1 billion in capital; and managed mergers and acquisitions in excess of $500 million all collectively representing his company restructuring portfolio valuation in excess of $3 billion.
Today, as the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on business operations far and wide, take heed that there are various key strategic and creative tactics that can help businesses not only weather the storm, but even emerge stronger and more financially secure on the other side.
Article | September 10, 2020
As COVID-19 wreaks havoc across the globe, tourism-dependent regions are suffering exponentially. The continent of Africa is one glaring example, with South Africa propelled into the global top 10 for coronavirus infections, reportedly now surpassing the United Kingdom in cases. For its part, the tourism and industrial sectors in North Africa will likely be hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the African Development Bank’s 2020 edition North Africa Economic Outlook report.
Even as Africa contends with pandemic concerns, there are still throngs of travelers who are keen to visit the region in the near future. Many are doing diligence to discern if, when and how to go about scheduling a trip to this tourism hotspot.
To help spotlight some top-line issues, I turned to entrepreneur and philanthropist Jay Cameron, Executive Director of Maximum Impact Travel. As one of the leading global experts on Africa travel and commerce, Cameron’s insights are invaluable as travelers deal with this tumultuous situation, helping ensure they plan smartly in the post-pandemic era.
MK: What are the key do’s and don’ts when traveling to Africa amid COVID-19?
JC: Surprisingly, some African countries have escaped the devastating impacts COVID-19 has caused globally. While other countries around the world have experienced often overwhelming consequences as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, much of Africa appears to have been spared. Even so, the statistics do not suggest the citizens of the countries of Africa have not felt its impact. The fact is, many countries in Africa are seeing regular increases in the numbers of those infected by the novel coronavirus, while much of the world is experiencing a decline in infections.
Around the world, experts warn outbreaks of COVID-19 in Africa may continue, resulting in a higher rate of deaths due to the limited local health services available. With coronavirus worries come fears of potential famine due to the virus threat, in combination with existing drought conditions and ongoing conflicts.
With this in mind, should you intend to travel to the continent now, or post-COVID-19, you should be prepared. Some good preparedness ideas include researching virus statistics in the country you wish to visit that, for one, you can review at AfricaNews.com. It is also advisable to learn if said country has any travel restrictions, which is information that is accessible online via at CDC.gov. Of course, maintaining a healthy lifestyle to boost immunity before and during your visit is also key.
MK: Should travelers be ready to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result, either before departing or upon arrival?
JC: African countries are now opening for foreign travelers, but this does not indicate the belief that they have won the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Most African countries are still battling with COVID-19 outbreaks, as the number of infected cases continues to rise daily in nearly every African country. To this end, stringent efforts are in place to ensure individuals arriving on the continent and entering various countries are free of the virus.
With this in mind, you should be prepared to present proof of negative COVID-19 status before entering the country to which you are traveling. This measure is being implemented around the globe and the countries of Africa are no exception.
In the same vein, departing any African country will require the same proof of negative COVID-19 status. Both mandates are in place to protect your fellow travelers on the flight as well as the residents of the country to which you are traveling. As things ebb and flow, you can check the status of this mandate online at AfricaTravelInc.com.
MK: What would you suggest about localized regulations?
JC: Travelers must research the localized regulations and requirements with respect to hotel and resorts, airports, ground transportation, public spaces and such for both their own country and their destination.. It is necessary that you understand departure rules from your country of origin, and even more important that you understand your destination country’s prevailing laws for foreign travelers regarding COVID-19. Some African countries like Tanzania and Zambia, for example, have mandated the use of face masks in public places with punishment for the contravention of such laws. Some hotels and resorts also have taken stringent measures and issued their own strict requirements for travelers arriving from foreign countries. For example, at this time, hotel bars in Rwanda are closed but the hotels themselves remain open.
Researching and understanding these laws before traveling enables you to stay safe during your visit and steer clear of legal issues with the local authorities. A helpful resource for staying up-to-date on laws that might affect travel to Africa can be found at Travel.State.gov.
MK: What about the airlines, specifically?
JC: Investigate the requirements for your airline as each carrier has varied responses to COVID-19. As a result of the pandemic, most airlines have adopted measures to keep their passengers and their staff safe. While some airlines like Delta require proof of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding your flight, others provide testing before your flight and attach the result to your ticket. Therefore, to ensure you are able to fly when scheduled, it is your responsibility to know the requirements of your airline before the flight to avoid any issues. A good resource for this is Go2Africa.com.
MK: Should tourists be prepared for temperature screenings and COVID-19 tests upon arrival and departure?
JC: As pointed out earlier, many African countries are still battling the pandemic, so to keep the residents of their countries safe post-COVID-19, airports have been mandated to request test results or test passengers on-site. Therefore, when traveling, you should be prepared for a coronavirus test upon arrival or departure from any African country. If you refuse to allow this, you will not be able to fly.
MK: What about a potential 14-day quarantine upon arrival—is that only for travelers who show signs of COVID-19?
JC: Apart from testing, be prepared for a 14-day quarantine if you show signs of the virus or test positive during a test given at the airport. African countries are determined to ensure the pandemic is eliminated completely from their countries. If you show symptoms of the virus upon your arrival in any country in Africa, you will likely be quarantined for 14 days. This can even entail having to stay in the country instead of returning to the U.S.
MK: Would you say that travel insurance is an imperative?
JC: Make sure your travel insurance company offers COVID-19 coverage and arrange for COVID-19 travel insurance requirements from airlines. You will want to be insured by your travel insurance company for COVID-19 coverage before traveling to any African country. Check with your travel insurance company to ensure COVID-19 is covered under their insurance policy, in the event you need to change your travel plans due to the pandemic. Such coverage policy can protect you by covering expenses related to unexpected changes and/or medical care in the event of illness.
MK: With any trip, but especially now, there can be unforeseen circumstances. Any insights on that front?
JC: DO NOT travel without extra funds and the ability to extend your trip in the event of a quarantine. With the points mentioned above, there is a great likelihood you will be required to spend more time and money in the country to which you are traveling if your COVID-19 test is positive. As a result, it is advisable to travel only if you are prepared with time and financial contingency plans. However, African countries are not barring U.S. travelers at the same rate as other countries, meaning you can potentially realize your dream safari vacation or other adventure across the continent’s beaches, jungles and deserts.
As the world contends with COVID-19 issues, African countries will endeavor to stay open for tourism, business and much more. Preparing for, and abiding by, the region’s travel requirements will make your journey and overall stay in the country more enjoyable and safer for all.
Article | March 6, 2020
The over-reliance of a large number of organizations on Travel Risk apps, SOS alert technology and 24/7 Global Security Operation Centers (GSOCs) foster a false sense of security among travelers. Even though they are a crucial part of a comprehensive risk management plan, the vast majority of SOS alert apps, traveler monitoring tools and travel risk management technologies are reactive in nature and therefore, when deployed as standalone solutions, detract from more pro-active means of avoiding dangers and mitigating risk.
Article | April 7, 2020
To paint a picture of what corporate airfares will look like once planes return to the skies is becoming more difficult by the day — if not impossible. Airlines, for one, have more pressing matters to deal with as they fight for survival during the ongoing crisis. Most in the U.S. will be working through the fine print of the $2 trillion U.S. stimulus package that throws them a lifeline of $50 billion in grants and loans. Other carriers, particularly in Europe and Asia, have already downsized and furloughed most of their workforce and are now turning to refinancing. Cases in point include Air France-KLM, which is now looking for $6.5 billion in state-backed loans, while last week Singapore Airlines revealed it had secured $13 billion in new funding.