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Never run out of money.

Money in the bank is like oil in the car.

This is such an obvious observation that you should think that it does not rise to the level of an “insight”.  Yet, there is sage advice behind this statement that I could not ignore placing it right in the middle of these insights.   As an executive, you have many ways you are pulled every day, both tactical and strategic. But when money is the issue, your time, energy and focus are drained from other important areas of the business.

Running out of money is not always synonymous with “going broke”.  Many great businesses in their growth periods find themselves stretched for cash.  If fixed expenses, especially payroll, are paid out before cash is received from services or shipments, the company is financing its growth with ever-increasing working capital needs. Without remaining availability from a bank line, many businesses are stretched to the limit just when they seem to be doing better than ever.  This is one interpretation of “It takes money to make money”, although that statement was probably created to describe new investment opportunities.

Speaking of which, those companies with cash in the bank and cash available are the ones to scoop up the bargains, from suppliers and in acquisitions especially during tough times.

[email readers continue here…] But the most important lesson to learn is that cash is the great lubricant for businesses.  Without at least a month’s working capital needs on hand in the form of cash, receivables that will be cash, or an untapped credit line as a fallback, the CEO should worry over cash flow issues on a daily basis.  Any disruption to the tedium of daily activity from weather, disaster, revenues slowdown or product problems will stress the company infrastructure if there is not a cushion to use during such times.  Stress of this type always forces senior management to lose focus upon strategic issues and drop into day-to-day tactical mode.

I find it a great thrill to consult to companies and their senior management when they have plenty of “firepower” (extra cash beyond needs) for acquisitions and strategic initiatives.  It seems that the first subject that comes up in such assignments is the health of the competition.  Such bargains; so little time.

Running out of cash denigrates the very value of a business, reducing greatly any bargaining power with suppliers or acquirers.  A company that otherwise might be valued at twice book value, 1x revenues, or 10 times earnings will be valued at a lower amount by potential acquirers knowing that the company shareholders are in a tough position and management hungry for leverage and a little more sleep at night.

Never run out of money, even at the expense of slowing growth for a time.  A fast-growing but undercapitalized company is not highly valued in an acquisition.  For early stage businesses worrying over dilution when faced with an offer of more money than they need, the professional advice is most often to take the money and suffer the dilution because the money may not be available if needed later.

Cash is such a powerful inhibitor or driver of growth that management of the corporate cash is as important as strategic vision, and perhaps over time a good indication of the success of that vision to drive profits.

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