A Fixer Leader is the ultimate business turnaround specialist. The best Fixer Leaders have a propensity for and excellence in crisis management.
They revel in fixing broken situations, distress, and disaster—time after time. The more overwhelming and seemingly impossible the challenge the better. They relish the turnaround process—good or bad—and want to do it all over again. And again. And again.
Fixer Leaders also are drawn to linearity and sequence, typically working on one broken, bleeding, or troubled entity at a time. They focus 24/7 on all-consuming work. Fix it—whether it takes six months or six years—and then move on to the next. The pattern is triage, plan, repair, fix, move on, and repeat.
Many successful leaders—about 50 percent of the people we’ve interviewed over the years and for our book, Right Leader Right Time—intuitively identify themselves as Fixers.
It makes sense. One of the most prominent determinants of a successful leader is how they perform under stress and how they solve problems in times of trouble. The challenge could be anything from management team to balance sheet troubles to shrinking market share. No matter what the case, there is a problem to be solved, and the accountable leader must run into the fire, no matter the cost.
But a true Fixer Leader is the person who looks for the fire. And the next fire, and the next. It’s the repeated challenge of impossible or seemingly unsolvable problems that energizes the Fixer.
What is a Fixer Leader?
The people challenge, the financial intensity, and the negotiations with management or owners, shareholders, lenders, stakeholders—the sheer chaos and messiness of the situation becomes glorious, especially in the rearview mirror, after they’ve achieved the breakthrough outcome and saved the day.
Common characteristics of the Fixer Leader are:
- Laser Focused
- Adrenaline Junkie
- Open Minded
- Straight Shooter
Lee Iacocca evolved as a leader to become a classic Fixer. Well known as the father of the Ford Mustang, he really kicked in gear on entry as CEO of Chrysler, which reported a massive $155 million loss on his first day on the job. He fired thirty-three of his thirty-five VPs, replaced ad agencies, persuaded union leaders to accept layoffs and pay cuts, and recruited new executives.
Without blinking he pushed the US Treasury to a controversial decision to bail out Chrysler. His example perfectly highlights the Fixer’s ability to act at speed, be decisive, and do whatever is necessary to save the day. In 1984, a year after paying back the government, the company hit $2.4 billion in record high profits.
Does My Company Need a Business Turnaround Specialist?
When a business owner or board of directors calls in a Fixer, it means that “business as usual” won’t work any longer. Things are dire.
Cash flow may be drying up. Private equity investors are getting antsy. Or maybe the CEO was pushed out unexpectedly. Or the CFO says a financial restructuring is needed — now!
Troubled companies know that something is badly broken and chances are good that if it isn’t fixed, and fixed fast, insolvency threatens.
A business turnaround specialist rides in to save the organization from impending disaster. Fixer leaders are linear and laser-focused on the turnaround situation.
They have an urge to make things right despite the magnitude of the crisis. Right now. Maybe the new product line flopped or there’s a liquidity crisis or corporate malfeasance has been discovered. Not much fazes the Fixer. They will dive in, identify the root causes, develop a turnaround strategy and begin the stabilization process — within days of starting the job.
While speed is key, the best business turnaround specialists also understand the importance of remaining calm. Despite the storm, they have the confidence to know: We’ve got this.
In all of our interviews, we never heard a Fixer use the word hurry, despite how obvious the needs must be.
What are the Benefits of Hiring a Fixer?
The turnaround management of a Fixer is geared toward working themselves out of job.
If they put in place the right business plan, it will entail business basics like tending to cash flow management, fixing budgets and repositioning the company for success. But the most important thing they will do to ensure the company has a bright future is identify the managers and team members who have bought into the turnaround plan and business strategy.
As Michelle Barnes, a Fixer who has done several successful business turnarounds, says, “In the beginning, it’s kind of like Al Haig. It’s a crisis. I’m in charge.”
But, she says, “once you have the buy-in, the management style changes to a lot more coaching and giving people an opportunity to take part of the turnaround and feel like they own it.
“I can go in as a Fixer, but the day I leave, if I haven’t made everybody else part of the solution, the progress is going to stop,” Barnes says. It’s important that she forms partnership with “people who are willing to speak truth and offer better ideas. This means the organization will grow more organically.”
And leaving is another key part of the Fixer Leader’s personality. If they stick around after the crisis is solved, it’s a mistake.
“Fixers get bored,” organizational psychologist John Behr says.
And, says Jim Dolan of Dolan Ventures, “If I put a Fixer into one of my companies and it’s not broken, he’ll break it. Just so he can fix it.”
It doesn’t mean everything always goes perfectly. Some situations are beyond repair, and the Fixer ends up disposing of assets, closing the doors, and turning out the lights.
Where Can I Find a Fixer Leader?
When revenue is declining, team morale is down, or a technology transformation is going sideways, executive leaders expert in turning around the situation are on call. InterimExecs RED Team includes CEOs, CFOs, CIO, COOs and CMOs who specialize in putting out fires and getting an organization on track. Learn more at www.InterimExecs.com.
Think you might be the Fixer Leader your organization needs? For more self-discovery, take the FABS Leadership Assessment here.