Return to site

Navigating the Rivers of Cash

· Newsletter

One of my favorite Vistage speakers ever was Walt Sutton. Sutton wrote a book called “Leap of Strength” in which he describes the years before and after one starts a business. Walt’s book uses simple, understandable terms to demystify the scarier parts of running a business.

One poignant lesson Sutton taught us is to view our business as if we were navigating a river of cash.

The specifics are lost to me but here’s what I took away from Walt’s lesson:

  1. You are the captain of the ship that floats along your rivers of cash, regardless of their size
  2. Whatever river my business is navigating flows from or into a larger body of water
  3. The length and depth of each river is distinctly different
  4. The design and size of your ship and the skills of its crew determine what rivers you should be navigating onto or off

On the last day of this month, the business I started 31 years ago will close its doors for the last time. Those years provide an easy way to demonstrate navigating the rivers of cash in hopes my words can be helpful to your organization.

In the beginning I built a canoe for one (family) and set off into a small stream of marketing consulting. My specific stream was a micro-niche I created (down store turnarounds for restaurant chains) and the body of water I drew from was credit cards. Alice and I used 8 pre-approved credit cards to provide the necessary $120,000 of capital needed to survive the first few years of ups and down revenue.

Time passed until we noticed a larger river nearby (fulfilling single store programs for the large chains we served) and so we drew capital from a larger body of water (banks) to build a larger craft and head onto a wider and deeper river called the fulfillment center business.

In the early 2000s, we created a niche that rode us onto our biggest river, the print media business. Drawing mostly from the body of water of our earnings this time, we designed and built a very expensive and high tech (at the time) ship containing permissioned gatekeepers at (eventually) 700,000 employers with 70,000,000 associates/consumers.

We sped down the huge but antiquated print media river for a few years until our ship was noticed and purchased by someone who could build a larger and more technologically proficient boat to move onto new rivers of markets (consumer packaged goods and national campaigns). The capital needed for such a ship was from an ocean of debt.

Seven years later the dam closed from that body of water (capital and debt providers) and a very large and damaged vessel returned to our harbor. We did our best but now, after five years of trying, we were unable to downsize the very heavy boat and crew and it sank in a river too small for its size.

For those who know WorkPlace Impact well, the analogies will reverberate. For others, you can apply the concept to your own organization as follows:

  1. Does the size of your ship and your crew fit the size of the river you are trying to navigate?
  2. Are you trying to navigate more than one river with more than one boat? If so, which ones are speeding down the river and which ones are dead in their waters or listing?
  3. Is your ship properly trimmed to pass the other boats on your river? Note: these days the most important trim is technology based.
  4. Are your passengers enjoying (profiting) from the ride?

From my late teens to early 20s, I crewed on my brothers’ sailboats. The most memorable lesson I learned in those sailing years was that the direction of the boat and the trimming of the sails required constant attention to gain and maintain speed, whatever winds and waves prevailed at the time.

So too, whatever the weather, must we navigate our organization’s rivers of cash.

Tim McCarthy
All Posts

Almost done…

We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!