Tom Barry’s new blog series, “OWNING the New Normal: Innovators creating the way forward,” will focus on business leaders exploring the current and evolving business environment. The discussion will revolve around recognizing that leaders must innovate and pivot to “own” the future and move forward.
Every industry has been changed by COVID-19. Deal making is no exception.
I was recently fortunate enough to have a conversation with Nishen Radia, co-founder and managing partner at FocalPoint, about his experience leading the company through the COVID-19 crisis. With 23 years of experience advising middle-market companies on mergers and acquisitions across the globe, Nishen is a world-renowned expert in transactions who brings a higher level of sophistication and global perspective to his work. He is the recipient of a “40 under 40” award for deal making and has been profiled in the Los Angeles Business Journal’s “LA 500.”
He offered some powerful insights on his experience leading an organization through change and how to come out of a crisis on top.
Making the Pivot
TOM BARRY: What was your experience transitioning to our new normal, and at what point did you realize this would be a major change in how you operate?
NISHEN RADIA: Thinking back to March, we felt several small impacts related to the virus, but a major shift in operations became irrefutable as we started to realize California was becoming the epicenter. We also started to identify some anxiety among our employees as the situation was escalating and the threat to them and their families became clearer.
When you are in a people business like we are, reading the temperature of your own people is critical. Once you see tension, you have to lead from the front, and as soon as we saw it, we knew we had to move fast.
NEW NORMAL OBSERVATION: Pay attention to your people to flex leadership direction.
Leading Through Change
TOM BARRY: What was that like for you as a leader, navigating something so unprecedented at such a fast pace?
NISHEN RADIA: The speed almost made it easier, because there was no time to question our decisions. We were all working at warp speed to move our operations remote while at the same time supporting clients who were experiencing the same thing.
When leaders go through turmoil, it is really easy to get stuck asking ourselves why we are here. COVID-19 happened so quickly that we skipped that question and immediately focused on getting through the crisis.
NEW NORMAL OBSERVATION: Urgency can facilitate decisive action.
TOM BARRY: From a leadership perspective, do you think you have changed your style and how you lead internally at the firm?
NISHEN RADIA: It has made us more intentional about how we communicate with our people and more compassionate towards them — really trying to know what makes them tick. We have built a culture around transparency, and our people come to expect that from us. The result is that since the very beginning we have put a priority on over communicating with our whole team.
We had one-on-one calls with every employee at FocalPoint, so they could ask any questions they had about the situation. Not only did I have some thoughtful conversations, but our true goal was to show every single employee how much we value what they bring to the table. Things like that are going to have positive impacts both in the short term and in the years to come.
NEW NORMAL OBSERVATION: A culture of transparency fosters trust in organizations.
Facing New Challenges, Head On
TOM BARRY: What was the biggest challenge for your organization?
NISHEN RADIA: Our growth took a big hit. We were projecting 20-percent growth for the year, after having grown 60 percent the year before and double the year before that. Now we will be happy to do 70 percent of what we did last year. That was the big challenge — facing the financial realities.
As a leader, you have to keep your eye on the future, even if you are navigating a crisis. We knew we were going to feel financial ramifications, and we did, but we wanted to be sure that we did not make any short-term decisions that would limit our ability to grow in the long term. The M&A market has rebounded fast as we expected, and thankfully not overreacting to the initial impact has allowed us to be well placed to take advantage of that.
NEW NORMAL OBSERVATION: Manage short term actions to meet longer term goals.
TOM BARRY: Now that we are in this new normal, what is FocalPoint doing to cope?
NISHEN RADIA: We are completely in the next stage — we have come out of the crisis-management phase and moved into strategic planning for the next 18 months, and our workflow is becoming much more normal. We continue to have frequent town halls to make sure everyone is looped in with the latest updates, but our capacity utilization has ramped back up to 100 percent from 50 percent two months ago. We are beginning to grow our workforce again, and we are firing on all cylinders. Personally, I think we will come out of it with a stronger market share than when it began.
NEW NORMAL OBSERVATION: A good strategy can enable increased successes post-crisis.
Making the Best of a Pandemic
TOM BARRY: What do you think are some of the silver linings of the past several months?
NISHEN RADIA: One that jumps out to me is the availability of talent. It had previously been difficult as an employer in terms of finding talent because the market has been super competitive. That has changed over the past few months, and now more people are looking for new opportunities. The result is that we are finding some people we are really excited about.
The other obvious one is the remote shift has allowed us to synchronize with colleagues around the country. FocalPoint has offices in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York and a satellite office in Shanghai. We have been able to break many of the natural barriers that used to come with not working face-to-face, and our work as a firm has been streamlined as a result.
NEW NORMAL OBSERVATION: Geographic barriers have been eliminated to expand our talent pool.
TOM BARRY: How do you keep yourself sane as you both isolate and continue to manage FocalPoint?
NISHEN RADIA: That is a good question. I think having external touch points in the community is key. I think that is paramount to how you grow as a company because it allows you to both stay abreast of your market and keep speaking to referral sources and clients.
The number of calls I had with clients where I would just check in and say hello was critical. We know our business, and we think we have a good view on what is really happening out there, but we really do not until we speak to the entrepreneurs who are on the ground every day.
NEW NORMAL OBSERVATION: Keep a fresh perspective by seeking outside-in viewpoints.
Navigating a New Market
TOM BARRY: One last question: where do you see the deal market for the rest of 2020 and then into next year?
NISHEN RADIA: I think a lot of people are ready to transact and want to get it done before the year end and the election. There is a lot of founder fatigue out there because of the stresses of the past few months, and the result will be people wanting to sell or take on a partner.
The second thing is that there is a lot of uncertainty in the business environment, and people are weary of that. Entrepreneurs historically always underpriced the risk in their businesses, and now there is more of a realization of reality.
Finally we do expect a wave of distressed opportunities and given our expertise in special situations, we think 2021 will be our best year in a while.
NEW NORMAL OBSERVATION: Despite uncertainty, 2021 will bring great opportunities.
As COVID-19 continuously shapes the new business landscape, there are new skill sets being acquired and mindsets being shifted. Businesses in every industry have to be agile and nimble enough to successfully navigate through today’s ongoing opportunities and challenges. If you have any questions, GHJ’s COVID-19 Response Team has an experienced team of consultants specializing in COVID-related laws and programs and can provide the tools your business needs to help it recover from this business disruption. We are here to assist organizations to succeed in these very challenging times.