In this episode, we have our guest Jim Gitney from Group50, who shares his thoughts on each inflection point for companies and what they need to know to identify them and move to the next by making necessary changes. He also shares his perspective on growth implications if you don’t act or see a doctor timely.
Jim Gitney is a former operating executive with GE, Black & Decker, and Sunbeam who founded Group50 Consulting in 2004. Jim and his team are strategy, operations, and supply chain subject matter experts working with companies from $10M – $500M in annual revenues to create people, process, and technology roadmaps that will allow them to get through an inflection point and double in size.
Now, if you sit and think about that it’s a little bit like a car that is only running on seven of its eight cylinders, or an electric car whose battery charge is almost gone, you’re not going to easily be able to accelerate to that next level of performance unless you fix those issues. The same thing is in business. We call it an inflection point.
Growing a business requires a holistic approach that extends beyond sales and marketing. This approach needs alignment among people, processes, and technologies.
So if you’re a business owner, operations, or finance leader looking to learn growth strategies from your peers and competitors, you’re tuned into the right podcast. Welcome to the WBS podcast where scalable growth using business systems is our number one priority.
Now, here is your host, Sam Gupta.
Hey everyone, welcome back to another episode of the WBS podcast. I’m Sam Gupta, your host, and principal consultant at digital transformation consulting firm, ElevatIQ.
You may have heard several growth strategies when growing a business. It is not as simple as applying a sales formula or launching an innovative product. The approach for growth changes as you evolve in your journey. Each time you double in size, you hit an inflection point, and the need for people, process, and technology changes accordingly.
In today’s episode, we have our guest, Jim Gitney from Group50, who shares his thoughts on each inflection point for companies and what they need to know to identify them and move to the next by making necessary changes. He also shares his perspective on growth implications if you don’t act or see a doctor timely.
Let me introduce Jim to you.
Jim Gitney is a former Operations Executive with GE, Black and Decker, and Sunbeam who founded Group50 Consulting in 2004. Jim and his team, are strategy, operations, and supply chain subject matter experts working with companies from $10M to $500M in annual revenues to create people process and technology roadmaps that will allow them to get through an inflection point, and double in size.
With that, let’s get to the conversation
Hey, Jim, welcome to the show.
Hey, Sam, thank you for having me. It’s a real pleasure to be on your show.
So to start off, we are going to be starting with your personal story. And a little bit about your current focus.
Great, glad to share it. So I’m an engineer, I have an MBA, I spent 25 years in corporate America with GE Black and Decker, Sunbeam. And in 2004, realized that while I had a very successful professional career, I really enjoyed helping companies and senior leadership teams get through the issues they have as they grow.
And so I started Group50, which is the name of my consulting firm, there are 22 of us, we have backgrounds very similar to mine, all of us have been CEOs, or had C-suite positions during our professional career.
So when we get into a project, we not only share best practices from really well-known fortune 100 companies, but we also have been typically been in the chair of our client as well. So we’re not only subject matter experts, but we are also peers
Okay, amazing. So the next question is going to be that we typically ask everyone. Every single guest that comes to the show. And that is going to be, what is your perspective on growth?
Well, that’s a great question. And you know, having run companies, multi $100 million dollar companies, growth is always the topic of conversation. Because if you’re not growing, you’re stagnated.
Now, there are portions of a company’s life cycle, where the harvest mode, for example, is about taking as much cash out of your business as possible and allowing the company to eventually die on itself.
But that’s a really small portion of the population of companies and leadership teams, they want growth. They want to be able to add more products, more channels of distribution, more customers to their portfolio of products so that they can better leverage their current investment in their infrastructure.
Okay, what do you recommend growth for every single company out there? Or are there any companies that should probably not focusing on growth
Well, as we talked about, as I mentioned earlier, in a company’s life cycle, when they’re in the harvest mode, you’re basically you’ve got to a big company, you don’t see much opportunity in the marketplace, your products are old, you’re not willing to reinvest into new technologies or new products and services.
So you just harvest as much cash out of the company as possible. Let’s talk about growth, which is appropriate for the majority of companies out there. When we have a company, a client, who wants to move from one point to another and significantly grow, there are a whole series of things that they need to do. There are some interesting numbers that have a common relationship. And I’ll share those with you
They are $10M, $25M, $50M, $150M, $300M, $500M in annual revenues. roughly every time a company doubles in size, it hits what we call an inflection point. And that inflection point is defined as that period of time when a company’s systems, technology, backbone, business processes, and organizational structure are struggling to support the current level of business.
Now, if you sit and think about that is a little bit like a car that is only running on seven of its eight cylinders, or an electric car whose battery charge is almost gone, you’re not going to easily be able to accelerate to that next level of performance unless you fix those issues.
It’s the same thing in business, we call it an inflection point. And it’s that point in time where a leadership team inside of a company needs to sit down and do an introspective look at its people processes and technology and ask themselves, where are we straining now?
We call those operating gaps. And what do we need to do in order to be able to go to that next inflection point or double in size? We call those strategic gaps. So at an inflection point, a company needs to sit down and look at its operating and strategic gaps and create a plan on how to close those gaps and prepare itself for continued growth.
Okay, so since you mentioned the term harvest mode, and that is fairly new, personally to me, and I don’t know if it is going to be new for our audience as well. Would you like to touch a bit more on that? What do you mean by harvest mode?
So think about technologies that over the last 20 years were introduced into the marketplace that made products obsolete. So I can think of a couple right off the top of my head, small mainframe computers. typewriters are two examples where those products were very successful. But new technologies such as the cloud, new technologies, such as laptop computers, and desktop computers, came into the marketplace and displaced those products.
So at some point in time became very obvious to IBM and other companies that may typewriters that they were no longer going to have a market or that market was going to be taken over by other technologies. This happens all the time. In today’s tech-savvy world, they needed to sit down and say, okay, we know we’ll have a market for typewriters, we know that that market is going to decline.
So we might as well cost reduce this product as much as we can. We aren’t going to make any more investments, capital investments into the business of typewriters. And we’re going to take as much cash out of this business, the typewriter business, or out of this product line as possible.
That’s what we call the harvest mode.
Okay, amazing. So now, with respect to the inflection point that you mentioned, we are going to touch each of those in sequence. So let’s say if I am a business that is touching $10 million. And I want your help in walking me through or visualizing the processes of a $10 million company.
So imagine if I’m walking with you. In a company where they are at a $10 million inflection point, they are trying to raise to $25 million. So first, let’s talk about how the company is going to look when they are attending and how the processes are going to change when they are going to reach $25M.
Can you help me with that?
Sure. So think about a $10 million business. $10 million is typically up to $10 million, which is typically what’s referred to in the industry as a lifestyle business. It’s run in by one probably one person with some help from a few other folks. It’s run in their head. Perhaps they have a desktop version of QuickBooks, perhaps they have their production schedule on an Excel spreadsheet or their inventory schedule on an Excel spreadsheet.
There are no real business processes in place because let’s face it when you only have two or three people running the business, everybody has to do everything. And now, when you get to that $10 million, if you want to go beyond $10M, and saying I use $10 million as an example, it could be eight, it could be 12, it depends on what the business is. But it’s roughly in that area.
But if I want to move to $25 million, It is going to double in size, which means that I probably need to bring on a couple more people. And what I’m going to need to have some specificity around what those people are going to do in perhaps informal job descriptions.
And I’m going to have a lot more inventory and capital tied up in inventory, whether I’m a retailer or a manufacturer because let’s face it, I’ve got to get to $25 million bucks, not going to have to do a better job of managing the amount of capital, I’m going to have tied up in inventory.
So perhaps I now start thinking about an MRP system, a simple MRP system that perhaps bolts onto my QuickBooks, or my QuickBooks Online. So that what I’m doing now, in order to go from $10 million to $25 million.
I’ve got to put some additional processes in place business processes, I have to add a couple of people. I have to add some more technology. And one of the most important things is I need to figure out what products and services I’m going to add to my current portfolio of products and services, they’re going to take me from my $10 or $12 million to 25 million. So what I’ve just described is an operation or business that is run by one or two people with loosely defined processes and procedures, and technologies in their business, the things they need to do in order to be able to go to 25 million.
Okay, so before we get to the next inflection point, I would like to understand the implications. Let’s say, if I’m at the eight to $10 million, to $12 million range that you mentioned, with respect to that inflection point, let’s say I don’t change, I’m not gonna change. Okay, what is the implications if I don’t?
Well, when you get to an inflection point, you typically begin to realize the following things or see the following things, you typically begin to see weakening financial performance, because you’re not as crisp about the things that you’re doing.
There are skillset gaps inside your organization, somebody is not doing what they’re supposed to be doing. There are operational issues, perhaps you don’t have inventory to satisfy the orders that you need, or someone forgot to order inventory. And you all of a sudden find out that you’re out of goods, your technology gaps exist in the organization, because you have a spreadsheet here, spreadsheet there, what that means, and communication issues are an issue or a problem.
And these things exist at every inflection point. But let’s just talk about that $10-$12 million company, if they don’t fix those things, if they don’t close those operating and strategic gaps, and what’s gonna end up happening is they’re going to continue to struggle to muddle along, they’re going to continue to struggle. And because of those struggles, they won’t be able to grow significantly.
Okay. So again, I think before we discuss the next inflection point, I want to touch a bit more on the weakening financial performance that you mentioned.
So when I’m talking to let’s say, my small customers, the majority of them seem to be happy. Obviously, they want to improve, but they don’t necessarily understand if their performance is really weak.
So can you put this thing into perspective? Or maybe Can you share the story so that my audience can relate to what weakening of the financial performance means?
Sure, absolutely. I will. So I’m going to share a story of a $16 million company, a client of ours that hit an inflection point, what were the kinds of things that they were saying, well, as they were at got up to $16 million. So they started struggling with their inventory accuracy, they’d inventory everywhere.
Some of it wasn’t properly marked, some of it was obsolete. And so as a result, they’re from a balance sheet perspective, their performance was deteriorating because they had too much cash tied up into inventory that they couldn’t use. And because they weren’t managing their inventory, well, they ended up their service levels started to deteriorate. They weren’t any longer shipping their orders on time, in full like they had been when they were at $10 and $11 million.
So what happened was they kept growing. But because they didn’t do anything about their core systems, people, processes, and technologies, they started struggling, and they started losing orders as a result of it.
People were canceling orders. And so here, they’ve got more inventory, they’ve got more people, they’ve got more assembly lines, and they’re now starting to lose orders. So in this particular case, they lost both their financial performance weakened, and both their balance sheet and their income statement, and their gross margin performance
Okay, so with respect to the weakening of financial performance, let’s say, I sort of know that I have a problem. But I don’t know if I’m ready to see the doctor yet.
So canceling the order could be one problem. But are there any KPIs that could help me understand when my financial performance is going to rethink and perhaps I should probably see a doctor and make changes to people process and technology here?
So, there are a bunch of important KPIs here. You know, of course, you have your financial covenants. So if you have bank loans, a revolving operational revolver, or you have bank loans, it’s likely that there are KPIs, the bank is going to monitor to make sure that their loan doesn’t get in trouble.
And so you’ll see those numbers begin to deteriorate, and begin to drift downward or upward, depending on what the covenant is, toward that inflection point, a point where the bank is now going to take notice and say, hey, we need to find out, we need to ask a few questions around this number could be a quick ratio, it could be a leverage ratio could be any number of KPIs that banks hold their customers to.
Now while those are important, very important, because that has an impact on your cost of capital. One of the things that I look for is gross margin deterioration. So whether you’re a professional service provider, or you’re a manufacturer of products, gross margin is incredibly important.
And the gross margin for people who might not know exactly what it is is basically the money you have left after you pay your bills to manufacture your product or provide your service. So I look at the gross margin and attempt to understand what that performance looks like. And if gross margin is deteriorating, let’s say I used to be at 42% gross margin. And now all of a sudden, as time is going on, I see it going down into the 20s, I probably need to start thinking about calling the doctor.
The other KPI that’s important to me on this one is the percent of SG&A as a percent of sales. Because SG&A loosely defined as that bucket of overhead costs, you have to put into your business in order to support sales, marketing, General administration, just what an SG&A stands for costs.
And depending on what kind of business you’re in, you know, your SG&A for a healthy company could be 10% to 12% for a manufacturer, and it could be 18% to 20% for a technology company. Just depends on what industry you’re in. But from my perspective, I don’t care. I want to see what’s your SGA percent of sales historically? And what is your projection for the future? If you have gross margin going down, and you have SG&A going up, then it’s probably time to call a doctor.
Okay, that’s an amazing insight there with respect to calling the doctor and I think the audience needs to know about that. One more thing related to the $25 million inflection point that I wanted to touch on. You mentioned that perhaps at the $25 million levels, they would probably require an MRP system that is going to be an add-on over QuickBooks.
Do you have any thoughts with respect to the implications of using an add-on off QuickBooks versus using a smaller ERP system?
It depends on what your business needs are, Sam. ERP systems, in general, are a lot of work to implement. And when you’re at $25 million, when you’re at $10 million. You probably don’t have the resources or the ability to do it unless you go to one of the small ERP systems which QuickBooks will tell you they are.
But most small companies start out on QuickBooks and then graduate to some type of ERP system. When they get to that $25 million inflection point. So at $10M, they’re going to bolt on a couple of things because it’s easy to do. They don’t have the resources available to support it properly. And so it’s $25 million now.
When you’re at $25 million things are stretching even further, being strained even further. You now have a couple of decisions you need to make if you want to go from $25 to $50 million. The number one is you need to look around who on your team and see if there’s anyone who has any experience of running a $50 million company, or anyone who has actually grown a company from $25 to $50 million.
And you have to take a closer look at the how your product roadmap product and services roadmap to try and figure out how you’re going to get to that $50 million marks? And what channels of distribution you need to be in? How are you going to sell it? What type of sales organization you need, how much marketing is required to do this? And then you take a look at your technology backbone.
So you mentioned that having the experience of running a $50 million company is absolutely essential at the inflection point of $50 million.
Yeah. So what we found, so let’s go back to this $16 million example I was using earlier, this client that we have, they had a really great group of people, very, very talented people, but they’d never run a business size before.
And so they were making a lot of obvious mistakes, making decisions that were hampering their ability to be able to move to $25 million, and then on the $50 million, because they didn’t have that experience.
And so you as you want it to move to your next inflection point, you need to stand back as a leadership team and say. Okay, if I’ve never run a company this size. Or I’ve no one in my business, who’s run this size, where do I get that experience?
Do I go out and find somebody who has run a $50 million company, or perhaps do I put together a small group of advisors, and that’s typically what I recommend Sam put together a small group of advisors of people who have run $50 million companies, people who have grown to that $50 million range, and allow them to provide you as the leader insight to the things they should be thinking about in order to move to that next inflection point.
And when you go from $50 million to $100 million, and the next inflection point, it’s, it’s equally, it’s more complex than the previous one. And so now you have to be much more aware of the types of things your business needs to do, your technologies need to do in order to support that growth. So it’s a combination of hire somebody, or surround yourself with a group of advisors who can help you get there.
Okay, so give me a bit of tech at the, at the $50 million levels. So at the $25 million, you mentioned that probably QuickBooks with the MRP add-on, could be one way to go at the $50 million, how is the tech architecture or the landscape is going to look for that company.
So when you get to $50 million, or as you’re moving up to $50 million, if you didn’t think about it, you’ve got a lot more customers. You’ve got a lot more customer service work you need to do. You’ve got a lot more marketing and advertising than you’re doing.
And of course, it’s dependent on what kind of business you’re in each industry is going to be different in each industry group. But here are the types of things that you’ve got to be aware of, as you move to this at $50 million. Your core costs are probably somewhere in the $30 million range. What do I mean, I’m talking cost of goods sold, and you’re probably spending $10-$15 million or so on SG&A related activities.
That’s a big spend. And that’s a lot of spending to a lot of different vendors. So you need to have a strong MRP system that allows you to manage your accounts payables and receivables very well and very tightly that allows you to get the kind of financial reporting you need to tell you how well you’re really doing.
Then you need to start talking about sales, inventory, and operational planning, you need to talk about what kind of technology systems do I need for my market-facing activities, CRM, for example, I need to manage drip campaigns to my end users on the internet. Or I need to communicate with them on a routine basis.
I now need to start asking myself questions. Do I need 24X7 customer service and as I move up to the $100 million dollar range, those questions and those issues become much broader and need to be managed much more closely.
Because now you have way too many parts to manage it in your head or on spreadsheets, way too many moving parts and so used to be back when I started my career Sam technology if I looked at the three bubbles of people, process, and technology. The business process bubble was big. The people bubble was big. And the technology bubble was really small.
Today, technology is the largest bubble of those three. And all of our businesses are all businesses are now need to be fully integrated, not only internally, with the appropriate reporting systems, data layers, and those kinds of things, but also they need to be integrated with a lot of external systems, CRM, Shopify if you’re selling on the internet, or maybe it’s Amazon Web Services, or maybe it’s your bank.
So technology, as you move up through this continuum, and you start moving up, you know, $250 million and $100 million and beyond, technology plays an increasingly more important role in the success of your business.
Okay, so let’s say if we are going from $50 to $100 million dollars, what is going to change with respect to people, process, and technology.
So in the $50 to $100 million, you’re now starting to talk about things that more companies that are beginning to mature are thinking about, so your human resource activities are now going to be much more formalized, you’re going to have a human capital focus because let’s say $75 million, you probably have, oh, I don’t know, 100 people, 150 people, potentially 200, depending on what industry you’re in.
And so that’s a large group to manage. So now you have to talk about having an HR is system human resource information system, you’re going to need to talk, you’re probably starting to think about the $100 million dollar range, you’re now starting to think about formalizing your board of advisors, you’re developing more sophisticated supply chain programs, you’re doing more integration of your systems.
So now I don’t have spreadsheets all over the place, I’m actually doing all of my purchasing and managing my inventory on an MRP system. And perhaps it’s now an ERP system that has an MRP module, and a financial module, and a cash management module, and perhaps modules around AR and AP, and probably integrated shipping.
And it’s talking to a CRM because I’m managing the relationship in my market-facing activities through some type of CRM. So those are the kinds of things we’re now starting to become more sophisticated in our business processes more sophisticated and how we manage human capital and much more integrated systems throughout the entire business.
Okay, so what is the next inflection point is it going to be $250M?
So typically, we talk about $250 million. Okay. Now, depending on when you started, and how long you’ve been in business, you’re now going to have a fully integrated ERP system. You’re now implementing more formal strategic planning and strategic execution processes.
You’re maturing your market effectiveness programs. And what do I mean by market effectiveness? It’s all your market-facing activities. You now have formal systems around product roadmaps, service roadmaps, you have much more formal systems around sales and marketing activities, a fully implemented CRM, and fully implemented programs for the various channels of distribution, you’re probably now gotten to the point where the half a dozen or so critical people inside the organization are now on some type of long term incentive program because you need to keep them, you’ve probably begun to more formally begun the process of succession planning
More formally, cybersecurity has now become a much bigger issue, because now you’re probably up in the 250 to 300 people or 200 to 300 people depending on your business.
And so now you’ve got laptops all over the place, you’ve got integration, both internally and externally, you’ve got web interfaces into your system. So cybersecurity now becomes a much more important issue. And you have to think about how you’re going to train all of these people to not click on a phishing email, for example.
Now, you should be doing that across your entire business no matter where you are in your growth cycle. But the reality is, as you get to this kind of size, you can now more easily afford to be more formal about these types of things.
You’re probably talking about a very mature supply chain, and strategies and programs. But what’s really more important here on the supply chain side, is it a $250 million, you probably have vendors all over the world. And so now you need to start thinking about what kind of risk you have inside your supply chain, and of course CFOs and supply chain managers and operators
Leaders are acutely aware of what’s happened over the last nine months in terms of supply chain disruptions. And so now you’re starting to think a lot more about supply chain risk and supply chain resiliency, you probably have a very formal, functional corporate dashboard.
Now we have a client who is at $280 million. Right now, we did their strategic plan for the last year, well, we facilitated them doing their strategic plan, and we’re working with them on executing that strategic plan. And their goal for this year is by 2025, to be at $440 million. Now, that’s going and they’re at an inflection point.
Now, their ERP system, the ERP system that they have, is no longer doing the kinds of things it needs to do is 15 years old. And we’re going to have to work with them to look at what are the new ERP systems that they need to put inside their business that is going to automate more of the back office functions that are going to do a better job of reporting through the various data layers that are going to help them be more user friendly in terms of integrating with CRM, and defining what the where the records of truth reside, such as account management with customers.
So when you, when you go from the $250 million to the $500 million range, you have a whole new set of questions around how do I structure product management? How do I structure my product development organization?
Where do I get the capacity inside my supply chain in order to be able to double in size again? So those are the kinds of things that we look at when we’re talking about moving from that 250 million to $500 million inflection point. And those are the actual conversations we’re having with this client right now.
Okay, did we miss any inflection points that you had?
Well, once you get above $500 million, and you’re moving on, it’s a whole new world out there. So but I think we’ve got the basic ones covered, Sam.
Yeah, that’s amazing. I think the kind of insight you have, I can probably spend an hour touching on each of the topics that you mentioned. So obviously, that’s going to be a very long conversation.
But we had a very limited time for this show. So I really want to close at this because of the time, do you have any final closing thoughts?
Most of the work that we do is with companies who had inflection points, and leadership teams who realize that they don’t have the experience and insight, and knowledge. They need to not only fixed the struggles, existing struggles in their business, but to prepare them to be able to move to that next inflection point, and especially in smaller companies, this decision is even more difficult because now if I’m a founder, I grew my business to $10 million.
I know how to get it to $25 million. Right. It’s difficult for founders and people who are really successful entrepreneurs who don’t have a corporate background to be willing to admit to themselves or their team that I don’t have the experience to move to the next level and are willing to and realize that by admitting that it’s not a failure on their part. It’s actually brilliant on their part. So I’ll just leave you with that thought.
Yeah, I could not agree more with that. I think recognizing talent is going to be one of the assets for any founders out there. So thank you so much for your insight, Jim, I really appreciate your time, as well as insight. This has been super fun.
Sam, you’re welcome. And thank you for inviting me this has been a blast. It’s obvious that I love talking about this subject. So I would more than welcome any of your listeners who want to talk further to let me know.
Thank you so much, Jim. I cannot thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their knowledge and journey. I always pick up stuff from our guests, and hopefully, you learn something new today.
If you want to learn more about Jim or Group50, please visit Group50.com or reach at info@Group50.com. Links and more information will also be available in the show notes.
If anything in this podcast resonated with you and your business. You might want to check other related episodes, including the interview with Wayne Sadin, who brings a unique perspective on why business processes are more important for growth than individual business systems. Also, the interview with Erin Koss, CPA from Syte Consulting, who touches on why culture is an essential ingredient for growth transformation project such as ERP implementations.
Also, don’t forget to subscribe and spread the word among folks with similar backgrounds. If you have any questions or comments about the show, please review and rate us on your favorite podcasting platform, or DM me on any social channels? I’ll try my best to respond personally and make sure you get help.
Thank you, and I hope to get you on the next episode.
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