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Posted: 08 Feb, 2021

2020 was a gruesome year and many of us impatiently waited for its end. However, what will Covid-19 bring this year? Will 2021 be a year of renewal and opportunity or should we brace for impact? TMA UK and the London Business School Turnaround & Restructuring Club were honoured to join together to host a discussion on what businesses will look like very soon and in the long-term.

On 2nd February we heard from a panel of experts who took a look at distress from a number of perspectives and discussed which entrepreneurial and career opportunities are open for students interested in working in the distressed sphere.

We thank Sergey Tsoy and the London Business School Turnaround & Restructuring Club for organising the panel and thank you to the 200 people who joined. If you missed it, or would like to watch it again, you can find the recording here.

Panel Moderator

Tony Groom, Chief Executive, K2 Business Partners

Speakers

Karthik Dasari, Founder, Tern Capital

Ivelina Delcheva, Chief Operating Officer, AUTO1 FinTech

Rada Dimitrova, Director, Restructuring and Special Situations Group, KPMG

Opening the discussion, Tony asked Rada, as a corporate finance specialist, about the corporate lending industry and specifically, what position she expects lenders to take with distressed businesses after the furlough period ends.

Rada started with an overview of 2020 saying that while most industries have been affected by the pandemic, some sectors have been affected more than others. In the spring of last year liquidity became the main concern for companies and many drew down on all their available facilities as well as borrowing Business Interruption Loans underwritten by the Government. Banks reacted by channelling lots of Government backed liquidity to the market and everyone seems to be sitting tight, helped by all the state support and guarantees they have received. The effect has meant that we’ve seen far fewer insolvencies than we might have expected with only 17,000 formal insolvency appointments last year which is even less than we would see in an average year.

Karthik, an operational investor in niche technology companies, said that for his industry lenders attitudes haven’t significantly changed. He said that for distressed tech businesses lending has always been difficult because they don’t tend to have physical assets to borrow against. As has always been the case, lenders are willing to lend where a tech business has healthy recurring revenues. Throughout the pandemic, he also said that many tech businesses have done well because they’re providing essential services. For example, a car dealership that isn’t selling many cars right now still considers its software essential, therefore keeps paying its subscription to the tech firm that supplies it.

Ivelina largely agreed with Karthik, saying that FinTech companies with great ideas haven’t struggled to raise finance since the pandemic began. But along with a great idea, right now investors are only interested in companies that have a proven leadership team and unique value proposition. This coupled with the challenges brought on by Covid-19 has forced tech companies to develop leaner business models focussed on what is most important to their customers.

Moving the discussion on, Tony asked the panel for their perspective on the huge shift in business models that many industries have undergone as a result of Covid-19. With the retail sector a prime such example, Rada said that this is a sector which has been in trouble for several years, with Covid-19 just exacerbating the issues it faces. As a result, the sector’s transformation has been accelerated. Now, investor sentiment towards retailers varies greatly depending on the degree of digitalisation and online sales that retailers can demonstrate. They are also being penalised where they have large and unoptimised store space.

Next, a topic which should be of interest to the students of LBS, Tony asked the panellists for their advice on how students can go about starting a career in turnaround. While many students may aspire to become entrepreneurs, Karthick’s advice was to gain the necessary skills and experience to be successful before going out on your own. He, himself, took a role in consultancy after graduating from INSEAD and spent some time in several hands-on roles before going it alone. Ivelina agreed, advising students to acquire skills like project management and to stay focused on what you want to achieve and where you’re heading. 

For those who aspire to a role in a professional services company, Rada said that KPMG’s restructuring team would be a good place to start because it covers the full breadth of services and provides graduates with a great opportunity to learn a variety of skills and work with a range of specialists. When asked by Sergei about advice for students who are concerned about the technical requirements of a job in financial restructuring, Rada said that whilst the job requires hard work, and you’ll need to be strong in your financial knowledge, the rest can be learnt on the job.

Finally, taking a question from the audience, Sergei asked the panellists what they expect to happen in the next 12 months in relation to restructurings. Karthik said he doesn’t expect to see a huge number of restructurings happening this year as many of the trigger points like winding up petitions are on hold. Tony agreed, saying that he doesn’t see much of an appetite for recycling assets and debt right now. Many creditors are willing to negotiate rather than force insolvency. However, he said he is also speaking to many company leaders who are ready to throw in the towel. After battling through problems caused by Covid-19, many don’t think they can continue with the battle much longer. Like Karthik, Ivelina doesn’t expect to see many restructurings until the end of the year when support schemes come to an end and the full impact of Covid-19 will be felt.

Thank you to everyone who joined this lively discussion and to the panellists for giving up their time.

Thank you also to all the LBS students for joining the event. TMA works hard to cater to everyone in the turnaround industry from those just starting out, to those with decades of experience. Students can benefit from TMA’s Student Membership option which gives them access to all our online events and provides them with a range of benefits to support their studies and future career. For information about becoming a member, click here or contact our general manager Nyree Magill on 0844 804 0116 or email secretariat@tma-uk.org


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