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London Business School 7th February event summary

18 March, 2024
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On 07 February 2024 members of TMA UK and students from London Business School were kindly hosted by London Business School for an evening of lively discourse with seasoned professionals in the world of Turnaround and Restructuring, who shared their experiences and told of the challenges and opportunities of a career in this field and importantly – that it’s not all blood, sweat and bullets!

We first heard from Maria Pombo who gave us an introduction to EACTP, TMA Europe’s accreditation of turnaround management professionals in Europe and which reflects the diverse nature of workouts for businesses in distress across the region. Maria encouraged those interested in attaining European accreditation to attend the EACTP dedicated training session on 11 June 2024 as part of the TMA International Symposium in London.

Tony Groom CEO & Turnaround Investor of K2 Business Partners wanted all who are interested specialising in restructuring, turnaround or distressed investing to understand the ‘blood, sweat and bullets’ challenges as well as highlights and opportunities in this career choice and moderated a panel comprised of:

  • Richard Fleming- Managing Director and Head of European Restructuring practice, Alvarez & Marsal (London)
  • Andrea Jakes – Managing Director, Alvarez & Marsal (London)
  • Omar Mirza – Managing Director, Alvarez & Marsal (Brimingham)
  • Aiden Robson – Manging Partner, Endless Funds, Endless LLP
  • Giulio Piscitelli – Associate Director, Interpath Advisory

Perhaps wanting to ensure we had a lively start to the evening, but more importantly to give a real flavour of what situations a turnaround and restructuring specialist can encounter Tony Groom asked each of the panellists to recount some of the turnaround stories that stand out in their careers.

Giulio Piscitelli’s story resonated with those in the audience who were either studying or considering a change of career as he informed us that 6 years ago, he was sitting where they are now and had a mid-career change joining KPMG (which then become Interpath Advisory) in the restructuring and turnaround arena. What he really likes about the industry is that it’s not just about finance and numbers but it’s about understanding and being able to read people. He reminded us of the importance of not misjudging people or rather not misjudging their expected reaction to your recommendations.

Tony highlighted the common thread in the above is that the turnaround professional is often on the spot having to make a decision with not very much information and to do that you have to draw on a lot of personal qualities and possessed of an immense sense of identity, character and integrity so that you can feel confident that you can make what you believe is the right decision in highly pressurised circumstances.

The point about integrity was echoed by Richard who stressed that in order to work in this field you need to have real empathy for people. We work in sometimes challenging and stressful environments and the way that you conduct yourself and how you deal with other people is of great importance. At the same time, you have to show what makes you stand out and he particularly addressed the students in the audience at this point – encouraging them not to be shy but to take the initiative and be proactive.

In terms of standing out from the crowd Giulio thought a person’s emotional quotient (EQ) level was a key element in forging a career in this area because in an industry where numbers are important and everyone is good with numbers then to stand out you have to have a strong EQ and he encouraged the students not to overlook this element and to seek out courses that could help them improve their EQ levels.

Giulio shared his belief that opportunities in turnaround and restructuring are not merely cyclical but instead generational, due to the increasing confluence of change catalysts. Which at the moment include demographics, healthcare challenges, de-globalisation, internet-of-things, blockchain, machine learning/AI and geopolitical instability - with more to come, no doubt, in the coming years.

Omar advised those looking to become involved in the turnaround profession of financial services to be flexible when exploring opportunities at the early stages of your career. From a practical perspective he recommended taking steps to become a chartered accountant because it keeps you marketable in the early part of your career whilst you are considering whether to go into industry or into restructuring on the advisory side of things.

Andrea Jakes has been involved in the profession for over 20 years and endorsed the underlying point to both Richard and Omar’s recollections that as a professional in this field you are often having to bring yourself up to speed as to what a business does and how it operates sometimes in an extremely short timeframe. It is typical that as a professional you may find yourself working in an unfamiliar situation which is in a different sector on short notice. Andrea recalled heading to the first meeting on one situation and having to understand what the company did in very short order because on arrival they were straight into meeting with the management who were under extreme pressure and management needed advice on their decisions immediately. There was a shipment sailing into Rotterdam and the management team had to decide that day as to whether to accept that shipment given the Company financial position. So, as a professional you have to be adept at finding the correct person within an organisation who is going to be able to provide you with the information you need in order to provide advice on those key, immediate decisions.

Andrea was keen to stress that engagements are not all London or UK centric and at the time of the European financial crisis in 2015 she got a call to assist the Bank of Cyprus and duly headed off for what she thought was a 6-month assignment and came back 5 years later! She thoroughly enjoyed the time dealing with a different type of organisation with a different type of stakeholder in circumstances quite different to those in the UK.

Andrea drew the audience’s attention to the composition of the panel and that it was representative of the of the industry in that females account for approximately 20% of professionals in this industry. She urged not to try to be something you are not and to have the confidence to be yourself, recounting that when she is in a conflict situation on a project, she may sometimes take a different path to the expected aggressive stance and have a more consensual, pragmatic approach.

All panellists agreed the next 2 to 3 years were going to be very busy for restructuring and turnaround professionals. We should not underestimate the impact of artificial intelligence on a whole swathe of businesses or that management teams in general will continue to get it wrong. As Richard put it – the opportunities are enormous because there has been enormous change in recent times and where there’s change there is disruption and where there is disruption there lies the opportunities for turnaround professionals. It’s a great time to get involved!

Thank you to all our panellists for providing the audience with guidance and a real insight into what it really means to practise in the field as a restructuring and turnaround professional.