Turnarounds: Not Just for Businesses

27 Apr 2016

“Everyone has a plan 'til they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson

Mike Tyson has said some dumb things over the years, but that quote perfectly sums-up

the times for a lot of people—and companies—living through challenging economic


So many of us thought we had it all worked out. But here we are: successful individuals

with career records (and lifestyles) that our fathers would envy; established companies

with marquee names, some in their third generation; staggering punch-drunk from a

solidly-landed economic uppercut we never saw coming.

Personally, I’ve felt this concussion (more than once, I might add), and am happy to

report that I’ve clambered back to my feet once again.

When I found myself at fifty, facing yet another start, one advisor said to me: “Ken, you’ve reinvented yourself

perhaps five or ten times during your career. It’s just time to do it once more.”

Muhammad Ali said, “A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty

has wasted thirty years of his life.” In my career, I find myself sharing my own setbacks

and experiences—as we entrepreneurial types seem to draw more from listening to

stories about others than we do from having someone preach to us.

I’ve pretty much seen it all. Humble background as seventh of eight children. Working

my way through college. Joining Corporate America right out of school. I ditched it all at

24 to start my own business, lived through new partners, acquisitions, mergers, several

business divorces, litigation, business and real estate successes and failures, a second

stint in corporate america, and now, full circle, on my own again. And happier than ever.

And during my own personal dramas, I was working for clients as a CPA—serving them

through their own trials and tribulations. As a turnaround professional, I helped several

near bankruptcy rise out of the ashes to some measure of success.

During my own personal turnaround, close friends and advisors who spoke to me early

on, then again three months later (after I’d crafted and executed a winning reinvention),

exclaimed, “Wow, you’ve come a long way in three months – exactly what did you do?”

Here’s what worked for me:

1. Huddled with my support team: My wife Pam and daughter Morgan served as

the core support group, and a few other close friends listened patiently and

offered reaction to my ideas. Everything was possible with their encouragement

and belief in me.

2. Embraced social media: Especially LinkedIn. Setting up my own social media

profile and expanding my connections helped me refine the process of

presenting my public image to the world.

3. Got coached: A coach in my employment search insisted that I hire one as well

for writing a resume. This process of self-examination helped me see what I’d

accomplished, not as I saw it, but as the job market would see it. For additional

background, I bought the book, The Executive Job Search by Orrin Wood.

4. Read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. This study of successful people and the

often hidden circumstances that lead to their success helped me better

understand my past successes, and gave me clues for succeeding again in the


5. Took time for reflection: On my long-planned bicycle tour of Colorado in June, I

never stopped my reinvention efforts, but the change of scenery and the

symbolic (and real) scaling of mountains on a bicycle helped me realize that new

things were possible.

6. Focused on my “10,000 hour skills”: One chapter in Gladwell’s Outliers

focuses on skill sets and how long it takes to become good at something. I

realized that whatever new career I chose, I needed to capitalize on the tens of

thousands of hours I’d spent working with entrepreneurial business owners and

leaders of organizations.

7. Became the king of lists: I had a “To-Do” list for dozens of tasks -- people to

contact, organizations to call on -- for every conceivable task to guide me daily.

8. Became a champion goal setter: On the wall, I posted yearly “Personal Goals”

and “Professional Goals;” simple-to-understand reminders of what was important

and easy to measure if I’d achieved them.

9. Network, network, network: I became relentless in attending networking

events, meeting people, looking for how I could help them in their search or their

businesses, doing favors for others, and accepting them in return.

10. Early to bed, early to rise: For me personally, my highest energy period is very

early in the morning, so I began my days early with my reinvention tasks. Some

days, I get more done by 7 a.m. than most people do by noon!

No one asks for a punch in the mouth—and they usually come when we least expect

them. Printed at the bottom of my goals list is a quote from Benjamin Mays that helps me

daily: “The tragedy in life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having

no goal to reach”. I’ve found that a good place to start every time I’m reinventing myself.

For further reading:

“Fired to Hired – Finding an Executive Job is Tougher than Ever” – by Romy Ribitzky, Jan 5, 2010 from Portfolio.com

http://www.portfolio.com/resources/2010/01/15/tips-on- finding-jobs- for-executives/?ana=e_pft

“Working Identity - Nine Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career” by Herminia Ibarra, 2/10/2003 Harvard Business School “Working Knowledge” Archive


Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, http://www.gladwell.com/outliers/index.html

“100 Tips, Tools and Resources to Reinvent Your Career” Courtesy of JobProfiles.org, published July 2009 http://www.jobprofiles.org/library/students/100-tips- and-tools- to-reinvent- your-career.htm

“Reinventing Yourself: The Ultimate Balancing Act” - By Helen Jonsen, Balancing Act 2008, Forbes.com http://www.forbes.com/2008/12/30/reinvent-job- career-leadership- careers- cx_hj_1230ultimate.html

“Reinvent Your Career in Five Simple Steps” By Cheryl Lynch Simpson E-Zine Articles - http://ezinearticles.com/?Reinvent-Your- Career-In- Five-Simple- Steps&id=1875

The Executive Job Search: a Comprehensive Handbook for Seasoned Professionals by Orrin Wood, http://www.amazon.ca/Executive-Job- Search-Comprehensive- Professionals/dp/0071409424

“Corporate Renewal Industry Overview”, online article by the Turnaround Management Association, http://www.turnaround.org/Assistance/IndustryRenewal.aspx


Kenneth C. DeWitt is founder of DeWitt LLC, an Alabama-based business strategy execution and coaching firm. DeWitt is a life-long entrepreneur, having been a founding member of two accounting firms, as well as having partnership in other businesses in the retail, agriculture, consumer finance, overseas travel, and commercial real estate industries. DeWitt specializes in helping entrepreneurs and CEOs create highly profitable businesses that serve and enrich their lives rather than control them. During his 30 year career, DeWitt has served over 150 companies with revenues from $1 million to $50+ million as a trusted advisor. His extensive experience has taught him what works — and what does not work — in building valuable businesses that are worth owning, and he brings this to bear in helping organizations implement strategic initiatives that reduce frustrations and improve profits, cash flows, banker relationships, and quality of life for the owners. DeWitt is a published author of two books and over 300 articles on financial and business matters. He has a combined 14 years’ experience as a regular columnist for The Tuscaloosa News and the Commercial Carrier Journal, and frequently publishes op-ed pieces in the Birmingham Business Journal and other periodicals. His monthly newsletter, Alabama Entrepreneur, currently has over 1,500 subscribers and is aimed at helping business leaders get more of what they want out of their companies. DeWitt holds a B.S. in Commerce and Business Administration from the University of Alabama.


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Ken DeWitt

Ken DeWitt has entrepreneurship in his blood. With a father who died too young, largely from working overtime in three different businesses to support a family of 8 children, Ken learned early in life that working harder doesn’t always accomplish what it’s supposed to. That lesson still fuels Ken’s passion for helping entrepreneurs build businesses that allow them to live a lifestyle of freedom.

Because Ken himself is a serial entrepreneur, having owned six businesses with as many as 1,200 employees, his understanding of the trials and tribulations of running a business is more than just something he knows in theory from serving his clients – he has lived the experience. Likewise, when he offers solutions, he knows they work.

Ken lives in Tuscaloosa and helps entrepreneurs across the Southeast build great leadership teams that help them get more of what they want out of their businesses.

Website: www.linkedin.com/in/kennethdewitt

Birmingham Post-Herald (BPH) is Birmingham, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.

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