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The Phoenix Effect

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Most of you are familiar with the myth about the phoenix, and that the image is used almost as often as that of Mercury, the messenger. The authors of The Phoenix Effect use the image to help the reader understand the system they use to help ailing businesses recover.

In mythology, the authors explain, the phoenix is a glorious bird whose life expectancy is 500 years, at which time it crashes and burns only to rise from the ashes with new life for another 500 years, at which time the process is repeated. The image caught the authors' fancy because it symbolizes an endless ability to recover from disaster, to rise from the ashes of business failure.

The system described in the book is purported to work with good businesses, bad businesses and businesses on the brink of going out of business. Billed as "nine revitalizing strategies no business can do without," the system described in the book is backed up by several case studies taken from the authors' personal experiences.

R. Carter Pate is a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dallas and is in charge of its Financial Advisory Services practice. He has been featured in articles appearing in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today and Newsweek, among others. He has assisted Ericsson Corp., HomePlace, Kmart, Ben Franklin Stores and other national corporations, and uses his experiences with them to illustrate the "phoenix effect."

Harlan Platt is a professor of finance at Northeastern University in Boston, where he began teaching after five years as a consultant. He tells the reader that he has been searching for years to find a way to determine whether you can uncover a good manager at a bad company and a bad manager at a good company. Although he admits he has not found the answer, he believes the inquiry has led to some of the steps that are part of the phoenix effect. Prof. Platt is the author of four books and a director of the Debt Strategy Fund, and he created and administers the certification exam for the Turnaround Management Association.

Here's a surprising revelation: The book is very readable. The style is crisp and to the point so that the authors cover their subject in 228 pages of fairly large print. They describe the way they approach each business client's issues from before their first meeting with management to the end of the process.

The phoenix effect revitalization process consists of nine steps: (1) Get to the point of pain, (2) determine the scope, (3) orient the business, (4) manage scale, (5) handle debt, (6) get the most from assets, (7) get the most from employees, (8) get the most from products and (9) produce the product and change the process. The initial goal is to determine whether the company needs a tuneup, a turnaround or is on the edge of crisis.

Before meeting with management, for instance, the authors review all the information that can be obtained publicly, such as reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company's web site, and any Internet bulletin boards where the company's internal workings are discussed by employees and former employees. The next step is to get with management and find out its perspective on the company's financial health.

At each step along the way, the reader is provided examples of approaches taken in real cases involving clients of the authors so that nothing is left to pure theory. The book is based on working knowledge and carries the weight of experience. Included at the end of the book is a fairly extensive list of additional sources of information and suggested reading related to each chapter. The list provides web sites where various articles on corporations discussed in the book can be found. The sum of the authors' effort is an insightful and helpful source for analyzing a business to determine its financial health and then a process to improve the financial health even if it is good.

In the days of such financial horror stories as WorldCom and Enron, The Phoenix Effect is just what the doctor ordered to bring businesses back from the dead.

Journal Date: 
Tuesday, October 1, 2002

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