Rehabilitation consultants. They don't talk much about their work. Yet the demand for specialists who cure and restructure companies is growing. A job for crisis-proof people.

Could Dayli have been saved? Two experts, two answers. "Maybe a year ago," says Thomas Jungreithmeir, managing director of the management consultancy TJP, who specialises in restructuring: "With a leaner organisation and somewhat less ambitious expansion plans." Markus Exler, head of the only course of studies in turnaround and restructuring in Austria at the FH Kufstein, has a completely different opinion: "Last year I asked housewives if they would shop there. They said even then that the concept was no longer in keeping with the times.

When an ailing company brings a restructuring consultant on board, he always follows the same procedure. The first step is to analyse the current situation. He ensures that bills and salaries can continue to be paid (securing liquidity) and stabilises the business as quickly as possible (primary forecast for about one year).

Then he presents the stakeholders - owners, creditors, banks, credit insurers, suppliers, tax office, social security - with a viable restructuring concept and a prognosis for the company's continued existence (secondary prognosis for three to five years). He also pays a lot of attention to the employees, whose trust he has to win: "Keep and motivate the good ones, identify and weed out the 'red lanterns'," is how Exler puts it.

In the following, the restructuring consultant takes on one chunk after the other: He puts the liabilities side of the balance sheet in order, renegotiates contracts, revaluates assets, collects receivables or redesigns production processes.

Discrete industry

If the turnaround is successful, those affected are usually not interested in disclosing too much information to the public. Only the big cases become known. Jungreithmeir's prime example of a successful turnaround is the refractories manufacturer RHI: "Because the measures were initiated in time and the board was re-staffed".

Both factors are known stumbling blocks. On the one hand, it is crucial that proceedings are opened early and in an orderly manner. The model is Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code, thanks to which larger over-indebted organisations can prepare a reorganisation plan oriented to legal requirements within three months. For Exler, Chapter 11 is to thank for the rescue of the American car industry after 2007 - a feat Germany failed to achieve with the closure of the Opel plants. For Austria, the expert registers that restructuring measures are being rung in earlier and earlier: "A few years ago, people waited until it was too late."

Problem case management

Secondly, the problem often emanates from the top level. Exler lists "exaggerated visions, lack of commercial prudence and ignorance of warnings from middle management. That is closer to the market and has long known that something is going wrong." Often the restructurer can even initiate the replacement of the board of directors - it only becomes difficult if the problem lies with the owner personally.

Restructuring advisors are required to have a high degree of analytical ability, understanding of interrelationships, decisiveness, implementation power and social competence. There is no shortage of young talent. Exler can choose from 50 applicants for his course, which starts in autumn. He has just 18 places available.

Andrea Lehky (Die Presse)

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