Moving the Ball Forward in Leading a Private Equity Portfolio Company: Five Action Steps for CEOs — Merritt McKenzie

Portfolio companies backed by private equity (PE) operate in a world of fast-moving, ever-shifting action. It’s a lot like a robust game of basketball. The challenges are ample, yet the rewards, abundant.

Recently, I read an article published by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, titled A playbook for newly minted private equity portfolio-company CEOs. This piece is one of my favorite articles of 2021, as it succinctly and effectively captures the unique demands leaders face in grabbing every opportunity to move the ball forward. What attracts me most to the PE portfolio-company business model is this: the infectious and unending desire for growth and firm value creation at a swift, but yet strategic, pace. To gain additional insight, I was honored to talk with Claudy Jules, PhD. “Jules,” as he’s affectionately called, is one of the authors of the article and a partner with the firm.

The journey through PE leadership includes many dimensions: rapid speed and growth, continuous innovation, strong partnerships, a relentless focus on team building, and an ownership mentality among executives and employees alike. Unlike many companies, PE firms have considerable resources within immediate reach. To effectively manage these assets, CEOs must have exceptional financial discipline. They will also need uncommon courage, unfailing tenacity, and the unflappable ability to quickly adapt to fast organizational transformation and constant evolution in market conditions.

In whatever way the action unfolds, growth and value creation are always the overarching goal: for the organization, for employees, and for all stakeholders. Timing, teamwork, and strategic plan execution are everything — with the ability to readjust the game plan when plays aren’t working.

Five steps to success

In reflecting on my conversation with Jules, I took away five action steps that I will gratefully carry forward:

1. Follow the playbook. New CEOs need to create a playbook that clearly maps where they’re starting, where they’re going, how they plan to get there, and by when. Every portfolio company investment thesis brings with it a specific timeframe, value creation expectations, and a carefully planned strategy to ensure the greatest likelihood of success in timely execution.

2. Approach your role as though you’re coaching a sports team. Build your team with maniacal focus. Select those who are aligned in their values and can bond in shared goals. The team that plays together in flawless synchronicity — and knows when to take the perfectly timed shot — will win many championships.

3. Get to know the teams under your senior team. Understand their roles and the incremental value those in the front line bring to your organization. I have experienced the importance of this guideline first-hand, having recently spent over four months traveling around the country to meet all the teams in a hundred clinic locations within my organization. This helped me see the great care we’re providing at the front line, while also better learning the challenges our teams face so that we can resolve them, pivot as needed, and position ourselves for greater growth. Our conversations with team members underscore the importance of their role on the team and help them feel personally connected to our collective mission.

4. Network with other portfolio companies. Build relationships. Open opportunities for new partnerships that can expand your reach. Share your stories, find commonalities, and learn from each other. Many CEOs have been “in your court” and can advise you on how to anticipate and overcome challenges, while thriving through uncertain times.

5. Innovate in your board interactions. Be transparent. Make your playbook clear and be sure you understand board expectations. Welcome feedback from board members. Leverage the board as your “thought partner” and look for engaging ways to get the most out of their leadership.

Kudos to the authors for writing the article, and many thanks to Jules for the further conversation and insights. In my ongoing journey through the executive suite and boardroom, I look forward to continuing to contribute to the health of the organizations, employees, and patients we serve.

Merritt McKenzie is a growth strategist in the healthcare field. With over 25 years of experience, he strives to build high-performing diverse teams in organizations. Merritt has proven to be successful in sustaining high levels of employee morale and bringing teams together through common goals. As the Chief Operating Officer at Phoenix Physical Therapy, he works to create more effective and efficient operational strategies that both benefit the employees, patients, and the company’s growth. A holistic leader, Merritt ensures high standards of patient care, business strategy and execution, team collaboration, and organizational growth.

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