Are You the Canary in a (Coal Mine) Distressed Company?

Denial Ain’t Just a River in Egypt

Do you seem to be the only corporate officer that sees the train wreck unfolding in front of you in slow motion? It does not mean you are wrong by a long shot. You should be aware that denial among your colleagues is a very common reaction to financial distress. And the messenger (i.e., you) is sometimes shot, or at least treated like Chicken Little.

Perhaps the other officers and directors are expecting (or at least hoping for) a turnaround in operations or fortunes. For example, if business improved, then the stock price may soar, and the stock market could bail the company out of its overleveraged woes. But what if that doesn’t happen? How do you get others to join you in finding a solution to the problem?

Acknowledge That You Are in Financial Trouble

First, you should get others to agree that there is (or at least may be) a problem. Our preferred way to illustrate this type of problem is to develop a detailed weekly or monthly forecast that highlights when problems with liquidity or with covenant compliance may occur. And if you are not the CFO, you probably need to enlist the support of someone in finance to be able to generate this data. Getting the finance department’s buy-in to the recognition of the problem is probably an essential first step, even if they only consider it to be “contingency” planning.

Look for A Willing Senior Level Executive or Committee Member to Hear the Problem

Clearing the finance department is only one of many steps in what could be a long journey. You can try to elevate the conversation to include the CEO or other leaders. But over the years, we have seen many cases where the CEO is entrenched in his or her belief that things will work out, and refuses to listen to contrary views. Whether this is due to intransigence, fear of admitting failure or other factors may not matter. What does matter is the political problems such an environment can create for the “canary”. You could always try to go over the CEO’s head to the Board or the Audit Committee, but that can obviously create real career problems for the concerned employee.

You May Be Better Off Talking to An Outside Advisor

We believe that this is where an outside advisor can help both the company and the “canary” greatly. Perhaps such professionals can be initially engaged to examine capital raising possibilities or to help management deal with increasing bank concerns or trade vendor pressures. Once so engaged, the relationship could expand to a role to counsel senior management and the Board about the pitfalls that may lie ahead. It is far better that a company and its Board are prepared for the potential downsides, rather than ignore them and hope they go away.

At Gordian Group, we are delighted to field these kinds of confidential inquiries.
To set up a call, please contact Leslie Glassman at

Please subscribe to our newsletter on this page to be notified as new blog posts in this series are released.

About the Series
Questions that Keep CFOs Up at Night

Dealing with the prospect of financial distress is obviously unsettling. People can potentially lose everything they have worked for their entire lives. Risks abound, with cash crises, creditor pressures, employee defections, and so forth. In addition, professionals and others have their hands out for fees (going broke ain’t cheap) and companies should be rightly concerned about “agendas” that may differ dramatically from those of the company, its owners and its management.

See the entire series here. Please subscribe above to receive an alert when we publish new posts. If you have a question that we haven’t addressed, please email us at