Thomas Bargetzi has gained global recognition by bringing companies back from the brink of collapse. Now the winner of two Business Worldwide CEO Awards — “Best Corporate Turnaround CEO of the Year – Europe” and “Visionary CEO of the Year, Switzerland” — shares the secrets of his success.
It’s no secret that the statistics for the first three years of business are gloomy. 20% don’t make it past their first year, and a staggering 60% go bust within their first three years. But what’s talked about less is the number of well-established businesses that come into difficulty and end up folding, even with decades of experience under their belts. The sad truth is that 80% of companies established before 1980 are no longer operational today, and a further 17% are unlikely to survive the next five years..
So, what do companies do when faced with becoming another statistic? Some choose to hire business consultants, who are full of good ideas and strategies but lack the “on-the-ground” tools to implement them. Others fire the manager and recruit a replacement, only to find themselves with the same issues further along the line. Thomas Bargetzi has forged a successful global career by bridging the gap between the two.
Thomas describes himself as neither a consultant or a manager. Instead, he’s a crisis manager whose job is to work with his clients for a short period of time, fix their problems and then move on to the next challenge. It’s something that a lot of people in business never thought was possible, but with 52 out of 53 successful mandates (the “1” was already dead before he arrived) in an illustrious career, it’s clear that with the right people on board and a willingness to make challenging decisions, anything is possible.
Thomas generally works with businesses for no more than 3 days a week for a pre-arranged period of time. This allows enough distance to maintain the kind of professional, objective relationship necessary for difficult conversations. On occasion he has been asked to extend his time to 5 days a week, but it can become too personal, and as Thomas says, he’s “not there to make friends”.
This matter-of-fact approach may make him sound hard and standoffish, but he’s anything but. In person Thomas is warm and friendly, with a good sense of humour, but he understands that when difficult truths need to be spoken, it’s easier to do so from a detached viewpoint.
The art of never giving up
The Bargetzi way is all about conviction, resilience and a refusal to give up, no matter how hard things seem. He’s always been this way; even at school he had a steely determination and strong self belief which created firm foundations for his career later on. He’s always taken a creative approach to problems too, using a combination of imagination and unwavering confidence to get the companies he works with out of trouble. As a child, he would look at drops of ink on blotting paper and see pictures. Watching the images distort and change as the ink dried showed him from a young age that the more we learn, the more our perspectives change, and there’s always another way to look at problems.
He’s keen to say that he follows no set process or magic system — instead, he brings to every new project a metaphorical toolkit packed with different tools and approaches according to the job in hand. He likens it to playing chess — there’s a set amount of pieces that move in their own ways, but the ways the game can be played are endless.
A keen sportsman, Thomas says some of his best ideas come to him while at the gym, running or hiking. He works 7 days a week, so that time alone for exercise and reflection in the fresh air is essential, not only for maintaining a healthy work/life balance, but also for his creativity and problem solving skills. This dedication to sport and fitness also translates to the business world and the difficult decisions that have to be made in the journey to recovery: “It’s like building muscle. When it starts hurting, 89% of people stop. The key is to push through the pain and keep going, because only when things get uncomfortable can the results start happening.”
In, fix, out
The average time Thomas spends with a company is 8-12 months. This includes an analysis period, followed by two months to understand the company and its pain points, another two months to dig deeper, then four to six months of fixing. Sometimes this evolves into longer term work — he once found himself deployed to Auckland as the result of a referral — but he prefers not to stick around for too long and is always looking for the next challenge. Thomas’ ethos is that when he leaves a company it will always be better than when he arrived. That means leaving personalities and egos and the door and making bold decisions.
Sometimes there’s resistance. He was once told by the head of a large corporation, “If I’m asking you for help then I should resign.” Thomas’ response was “if you want to
move a large, heavy table from one room to another, you’ll do it quicker with help. I’ll help you get the table to where you want it to be, then I’ll go.” Asking for help isn’t easy, particularly in Thomas’ native Switzerland, where it tends to be seen as a weakness. That’s probably why 48 out of 53 of the mandates Thomas has worked on have been in other countries — he’s worked in over 30, across 19 different industries — but his aim is to show the world that there is courage in asking for support.
Bridging the gap between operational managers and classic consultants
It’s common for struggling businesses to spend huge amounts of money on consultants who are full of ideas and strategies, but when they leave everything falls to pieces, because there’s nobody with the skills to implement the changes they suggest. This is what makes Thomas’ role so unique and successful, because he has the ideas as well as the operational expertise needed to bring them to life.
In his words, he thinks about why the car isn’t running, rebuilds it, then drives it. And when the wheels have been in motion for long enough and he’s confident that the company can steer it again, his work is done. For the businesses he works with, he’s like a fourth emergency service. He goes in, puts out fires, and gets them to a point where they can safely carry on.
Thomas is also keen to talk to the blue collar workers on the ground, because it’s often the people who are actually getting their hands dirty and doing the real work who have the greatest understanding of a company — and the best ideas. He’s spent days on the road with truck drivers to get a real sense of the daily struggles faced by people on the front line, and he uses the expression “we clean the ladder from the top down”, because he often finds that the source of the problem is higher up in the company.
In Thomas Bargetzi’s world, there’s always a solution, but that solution needs passion, hard work and determination to execute. What he does isn’t for the faint hearted, but his results speak for themselves. Despite his global success, there is very little in the way of ego here, and Thomas ends the call by saying “this isn’t about me, it’s about a concept. I’m here to show people that anything is possible.”
To find out more about Thomas Bargetzi, visit https://www.bargetzi.com/