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Workouts and Turnarounds before Bankruptcies – 2016

Posted on: August 24th, 2016
by David Ganje

Current bankruptcies are not foreign to the oil patch when the inevitable economic cycles in oil and gas show bankruptcy numbers increasing in the Bakken. There have been two significant prior economic down-cycles in my career that have caused a spike in bankruptcy filings. When I taught bankruptcy law I used a medical analogy: I told the young scholars that bankruptcy filing is akin to surgery, and surgery should always be treated as the last option. In the medical field, a reasonable first option is an antibiotic. Here, the antibiotic is a ‘workout’ or a ‘turnaround,’ each of which are bankruptcy alternatives. These alternatives have value and should be attempted by both creditors and debtors as a viable option, not just a throwaway line. I have successfully represented debtors and creditors in turnarounds and workouts. Resolving “stressed-business” issues out of court makes sense when the option is there.

Financial restructuring and workouts involve working closely with a business’s creditors to create, or ‘workout,’ a plan (often a written contract) to restructure business debts while allowing the business to remain viable. This process allows the business entity to negotiate its debts in a way that retains profitability without involving the court system. This is not as difficult as it might sound – creditors often share the same objective of returning a financially stressed business to good financial health in order to ensure their debts are paid.

A ‘turnaround’ is a separate process from a workout. It may also use the availability of restructuring and workouts, but a turnaround has several other components. A turnaround will generally restructure operational aspects of the business. This may be the solution when the problem lies deeper in the company than lack of cash flow. Where a creditor will not restructure the debts owed to it, a turnaround will be utilized to find alternative financing or new ownership. Another possibility in a turnaround is the sale of ownership or a portion of ownership, which can provide liquidity at the expense of a change of control of the business.

If the company’s goal is to continue in business, particularly under current ownership, then a creditor or a lender workout should be considered. If new ownership, or a sale of the business in whole or in part, is an acceptable outcome so long as the business is preserved as a going concern, a turnaround can be considered as well.

The process of financial restructuring and negotiating a workout with business creditors is something that should be considered to avoid the expenses and bureaucracy related to a bankruptcy proceeding. The chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization process is expensive and time consuming. The goal of business turnarounds or financial restructuring is to provide a cost effective approach by way of a ‘non judicial/non bankruptcy’ business reorganization, to restructure business debts.
Courtship and finances have something closely in common: timing is everything. When a business is in a stressed situation, neither the business nor its creditors should go in stand-by mode. Negotiations should begin immediately. In both the workout and turnaround, all parties must agree to the terms; both are matters of serious negotiation to be done with all deliberate speed. Bankruptcy proceedings are not the only way to save a business – sometimes a well-prescribed antibiotic can halt the damage and let the healing begin.