John Mautner is the owner of Cycle of Success Institute, or COSi, a one-year program for entrepreneurs. Some of his clients simply want to get better at what they do, but the vast majority are struggling and are barely holding on. He shares some of the lessons he teaches to these businesses, and how he brings them back from the dead.
INTERVIEWER: Let’s go right in. So John, tell me about your business. What do you do?
JOHN MAUTNER: Well, I guess it’s as simple as I save broken businesses from going out of business. I turn them around and keep them going. I kind of feel like I’m a bit of a handy man. I come in when the accountants have given up, when the bankers have given up, and the lawyers have said, “There’s not much we can do here.” I somehow appear and take companies through a really rigorous process that turns things around, gets sales going again, gets profit margins back up so they can keep the business, and keep the employees and help the communities where they are located.
INTERVIEWER: Nice. That sounds like a defibrillator to me.
JOHN MAUTNER: Well, you know, some of these companies, if they were a person, they’d literally be on life support, really. So, I’ve been able to work with them to resuscitate their companies. Not all of them are on life support. Some of them are just limping along and bad things happen to good people, but they clearly have come across something that’s a transitional thing in their business, some major challenges and it sort of hit them, sometimes it blindsided them. Now they’re in a position of, “Wow, I don’t know what I’m going to do and I’m wondering, are we going to make it? Are we going to survive this?” Things are tough. Cash flow—from a business perspective, if you look at the numbers, cash flow is really tight. Bills are piling up. There’s not enough money to pay them. The creditors are calling. The bank’s sniffing around going, “What’s going on here? You owe us a million dollars and are we going to get paid back?” Those are the sort of companies that I work with, that are—I say they’re in desperate situations. They work with me out of desperation. There are other companies that I work with out of what I call inspiration. These are companies that are really on a growth path. They want to move things along faster. They got a great dream, vision, they’re on their way there, and they want to just accelerate their success. The majority of these companies are more in a desperation mode. I think desperation is the motivator for people. Fear is a very strong motivator, especially when you’re wondering how you’re going to make a go of it. If you don’t survive, the banks might take your house and your car and everything you own, and your employees and your reputation. It all kind of goes in a landslide and it goes right with you. It takes you all down with it.
INTERVIEWER: Absolutely. How do you help businesses that are in that situation?
JOHN MAUTNER: The first thing I do is what I call voice of the people. I’m not a consultant. I’m not going to go into the company and say, “Hey, I’m the expert in your business. Let’s change this, fix this, do this.” That’s not where I start. Where I start is getting the voice of the people who actually work there. I tell every business owner I work with, “I know nothing about your company.” Granted, I might have worked with other similar businesses but I believe every company is totally unique and different. Nobody knows the company truly better, like the deep, technical understanding of the company, nobody knows it better than the people who have worked there for years and years, sometimes decades. So what I first do is, I tap into the voice of the people, just ask them, “What is the challenge? What is the problem? Do you have a creative idea to solve this problem? What’s something we could fix right now that will help impact the performance of the company?” Normally when I do that, I gather—most of the companies I work with have ten to a hundred employees, but let’s just give an example of a company that has thirty employees. So, I gather a cross-functional team of eight to ten of these people, and I put them in a room and these are all the technical experts that wear different hats and have different disciplines and backgrounds. I lock them in a room—
INTERVIEWER: Are these managers you work with, or do you actually talk to the employees as well?
JOHN MAUTNER: It’s top to bottom. I want the person who’s sweeping the floor all the way to the owner of the company in the room. I need to get perspective from the people who have been there. It’s funny, often the janitor who sweeps up the floor every night sees things that you would never otherwise see, and often the owner never asks the people in the organization, “What’s the problem we’re having? What can we do to be better?” Partially because if the owner starts signaling the alarm bell that we’ve got a problem, people might kind of freak out and they might jump ship. So, it’s kind of like how do we do this in a very positive way? How do we say to everybody in the company, not that we’re about to go under because the owner doesn’t want everybody to know that, but that we’ve got great opportunities to grow. We want to go from good to great. Can you think of something right now that is holding you back from being great at what you’re doing? What’s holding the company back, and what are the speed bumps and bottlenecks that prevent us from getting more sales and more profitability as a company? I get the voice of the people, you know what I mean? And I not only do a deep dive of people in that ten-person team, but I survey everybody else and say, “What do you offer to the team?” So, we gather in the first few hours of this program. Normally, a hundred things that can improve a company are quickly gathered. Imagine in two hours, I can find a hundred areas that will make the company more profitable and increase revenue, just based on the ideas of the people who work there every day. This engages them to start and gets them more involved because, again, as I say, I know nothing about these companies. I don’t have that super technical knowledge that they do, so I’ve got to tap in to that knowledge to find out what are they thinking. What are their challenges, what can we do to move it forward?