Profits Aren’t Everything, They Are The Only Thing – A Review

Sometimes business leaders need a rally cry to get themselves in gear.  For his call to arms, George Coultier choose to twist the old football axiom (“winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”) for his book, Profits Aren’t Everything,They Are The Only Thing.

Coultier, founder of American Management Services, used his 30-year career of turning around financially troubled businesses to assemble “rules” for hot to prevent your business from falling into financial and operational collapse. He wrote the book as an “attitude adjustment” for business owners.  He espouses “the need to run over anyone or anything that gets in the way of your company’s paramount need for profits.”  I bought a copy to understand this  adjustment better.

Great Discipline Leads to Results

Profits Aren't EverythingProfits sets a clear tone that unrelenting discipline and execution is a key to profits.  Coultier’s perspective shines when applied to addressing tough questions and to operations judged by measurement.  For example, Coultier is a pay-for-performance advocate, emphasizing it on sales teams specifically, but also for all employees to achieve profitability.  He denounces sweat equity, insists on a plan on which the business lives or die, and contends owners must get closer to the sales process. He also suggests no great leader abdicates on financials:

“No one should know your financials better than you.  Your balance sheet is something that is in your control.”

Owners must apply “fingertip controls” to know the status of the business at all times and to subsequently delegate without haphazard follow up.  Profits emphasizes  answer-ability — from owners getting involved with sales teams to understanding inventory — and asserts all the while a connection between micromanaging decisions and financial security.

In the process, Coultier makes an ironclad argument that businesses must organize its processes to share linchpin decision-influencing information.  He suggests owners receive daily vital business information called  “flash points,” operational red-flags for profit and loss.  Establishing dashboards and creating a culture around monitoring the pulse of operations has been advocated among business intelligence professionals, but Profits makes it less technical and more down to earth.

Non-Stop Profit Motive Sometimes Needs a Pause

The book’s tone, however, is concerning.  There’s a myopic emphasis on making an attitude change.  The material is not enhanced with commentary from outside research, as is the case in some business books advocating change such as Dan and Chip Heath’s Switch.

For example, he makes the controversial suggestion that business owners are “not in business to pay vendors.”  He  considers slow payment as a valid strategy to increase cash flow:

“Instead of stressing over writing checks to your vendors, you should view them as your best source of financing.”

Profit Rule 10 – each maxim is a numbered chapter – goes on to suggest ranking the order of how you pay vendors according to the vendor’s impact on your company’s product or service (Rank A being the most disruptive to the business if payments are missed, Rank C being the least).   However,  slow payment is not an ongoing strategy.  It is a cash flow “black swan” that can obscure cash management problems best addressed through revised arrangements.  Many small businesses are not in a position to continually pay slow.  Some suppliers eliminate troublesome B2B customers — your company may be the one they eliminate.

Personal Issues Not Aside

The maxims on personal matters can lead some business owners to think “I don’t agree.”  For example, Coultier recommends that owners place their businesses first, even on weekends:

“The commitment it takes to reach that level of profitability in your business does not stop at 5 o’clock on Friday …. Weekends are for work.”

While Coultier is not saying remove church from one’s personal schedule , he is saying to evaluate one’s personal time outside of the clock to ensure attention to business growth (Chapter 13 is on eliminating golf, trade shows, and retreats).  But most business owners already know that their firms consume all their time (see Anita Campbell’s comments on The 4 Hour Work Week for comments on shortened worktime).  And there are instances of well-run businesses that maintain policies to keep a day sabbath, like Chick-Fil-A, the Southern chicken fastfood chain which closes its offices and restaurants on Sundays and B & H Photo, a renowned New York City photography and video retailer, that closes on Saturdays.

Some of the most controversial statements are about family. The book espouses that the best business “has one family member in it” and that one should “love your business more than your family”.   An aside:  In recent video presentations since the book’s publication, Coultier has modified his statement to “love your business as much as your family”.   The vision is for business owners to evaluate family dynamics carefully and make uncompromising personal decisions for the business. Coultier states:

“If you are not focused – if family, friends, community and church fill up your busy weekly schedule – you are probably failing to deliver real profits for your company.”

With Coultier called the “ultimate contrarian” on the cover, Profits understandably was written with an unorthodox state, bankruptcy, in mind.  In paying vendors late, for example, Coultier states that it “isn’t what Harvard Business School teaches you. You won’t find a how-to guide that advises you to use and abuse your vendors as much as you can, albeit legally and politely.”

But the material displays a need for supporting research to address business states outside of financial or behavioral extremes. A number of the “maxims” in the book do not have enough support to translate into solutions that business owners should use.

Furthermore, zero-sum commitment avoids the concept of managing risk, and it’s mismanagement of risk that can be the culprit for dire financial straights.  While the rules may aid business owners who don’t understand risk, the Profits maxims oversimplify to the point where one can overlook other causes of problems.

How to Benefit from Reading “Profits”

As a business owner, you will benefit most from Profits as “food-for-thought” for your own management and operational style.  But you should not believe the rules as a comprehensive solution for business problems.  The suggestions address extreme financial duress.  However, you should enhance your reading with other books on the lifestyle and culture of running an organization.

There are plenty of other books, like Ram Charan’s What The CEO Wants You To Know, that can offer guidance with less alarm and more researched processes.  Profits is a tough road, rightfully so for bankruptcy conditions.  But the beauty of maps is the ability to see other roads that may permit you to see more on your journey.

Pierre DeBois Pierre Debois is Associate Book Editor for Small Business Trends. He is the Founder of Zimana, a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and medium sized businesses that rely on web analytics data. A Gary, Indiana native, Pierre is currently based in Brooklyn. He blogs about marketing, finance, social media, and analytics at Zimana blog.