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NEWSLETTER

How to Impact Cash

July 13, 2011

Cash is fuel. Without it, the engine of a business can’t run, the various moving parts can’t function, and eventually the business slows down and dies. But for businesses flush with cash, the engine keeps revving faster and faster.  In a 1979 interview, Fred Smith the founder of Federal Express said, "People thought we were bananas. We were too ignorant to know that we weren't supposed to be able to do certain things" (New York Times, January 7, 1979).  Federal Express's first two years were grim. In fact, on its first night of business, the fledgling company shipped only 186 packages onto its 14 Falcon jets routed to 22 cities.  It was not uncommon for Federal Express drivers to dig into their own pockets to pay for gas.  Despite Fred's $84 million in start-up capital (another term for cash), Business Week reported that within a few months of delivering his first packages in March 1973, he was desperate for cash. The challenges and risks of starting a major global business were significant. Federal regulations were severely hampering his efforts to compete with the U.S. Postal Service. Suddenly, he didn’t have enough cash to cover a $24,000 jet fuel bill. So what did he do? He went to Las Vegas and played the blackjack tables. He won $27,000 and wired it back to headquarters. Fred's company was the first American business to hit $10 billion in profits…and you know the rest of the story.

I wouldn’t recommend using this strategy (blackjack) to get cash for your business—or your life! But it’s tempting for people and businesses to take risks when they need cash now to ensure future survival.

Depending upon your role in your company, you will have different opportunities to impact cash. Just remember that fundamentally you can impact cash by increasing revenues (cash in) or reducing expenses (cash out). For example, if you’re in sales or marketing, you can help generate more cash faster by increasing sales revenue. If you work directly with customers, you can provide excellent service so that customers are more likely to continue buying from the company. If you’re in accounting, you might negotiate longer payment terms with suppliers (but be careful that you don’t negatively impact the relationship or give up discounts for early payment) to hold on to cash as long as possible. Or you might work to make sure more customers pay their bills on time or early. If you’re part of the financial management staff, you might be responsible for looking for better financing terms on loans for new equipment.

HR professionals need to be able to clearly articulate the relationship between their people strategy and the company's financial strength. A study conducted by Cornell University suggests that employees that are managed with progressive HR best practices are more committed to the company, and that this commitment leads them to exhibit proper role behaviors (thus lower workers’ compensation costs, higher quality, and higher productivity) and not to engage in dysfunctional behaviors (that would result in shrinkage). HR professionals who see the big picture and know how to talk about their people initiatives within the context of strengthening the company's cash position are seen as leaders in the HR field and earn a seat at the table of the big meetings.

No matter your role or your experience, you can work to contain expenses and reduce the outflow of cash by cutting down on all waste. You can get the most out of resources like computers. You can find ways to get jobs done more efficiently so that less money is spent. You can provide amazing service to those that drive revenues (you're either selling or supporting those who do). If you can contribute to your company’s cash and cash flow, you’ll be valued as employee who practices business acumen - and you'll help keep the motor running.