August 4, 2017

Why Bankruptcy is a Leadership Opportunity in Disguise

Topline Summary

Filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection is not exactly a CMO’s dream situation. In fact, if handled poorly it could be a career-ending nightmare not to mention the potential reputational damage to the company. Hence, it’s recommended to hire a bankruptcy attorney when you’ve decided to file for bankruptcy.

Fortunately for Avaya, which filed for Chapter 11 in January of 2017, CMO Morag Lucey provided the kind of courageous leadership that leaves one both awed and inspired. Lest you think we are exaggerating, have a listen to this episode and you’ll want to join the Morag Lucey fan club with us.

Click here to listen to Lucey explain how she helped Avaya weather the storm and come out all the stronger. Here are the highlights from this week’s episode:

There was nothing fundamentally wrong with Avaya when it filed for bankruptcy; earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) were high, and the brand maintained a healthy reputation. The culprit for Avaya’s Chapter 11 filing was its $6 billion debt. When the deficit grew too large to handle, the company needed to restructure itself financially.

Lucey, who was in charge of managing internal communications in regards to the bankruptcy filing, aspired to preserve Avaya’s image and address any worries about the brand’s stability. She managed the process by explaining the situation to Avaya’s customers, affiliates, and employees on a regular basis. “We met [with our constituents] daily and talked about the narrative of what was happening to us and why it was happening,” says Lucey. “And on the other side, we also balanced that with all of the positive that was happening.” Lucey made it perfectly clear that Avaya had no intention of going belly up.

On the day Avaya filed Chapter 11, the company was already working on a campaign to show that nothing was wrong with the service it offered. “The key is the stories that we tell,” says Lucey, “and the customers that continue to rely on us to provide that experience that is outstanding…this was just a debt issue. We [could] still execute in terms of serving the market.”

Openness was the key to Lucey’s communication strategy. From holding regular meetings to promoting CEO video communications to distributing employee newsletters, Avaya used a variety of mediums to keep its workers in the loop in regards to the impending changes.

The brand used storytelling to send the message they sought to get across. Avaya wanted to let its employees and customers know that bankruptcy wasn’t the end; it was a new beginning. Lucey explains, “It was very much a story about the future. We had to bring the past to the future, and so we really did write the narrative of where we’ve been and where [we are] going.”

For Lucey, storytelling is more than a means of keeping customers and employees at peace; it’s a mechanism to reach clients emotionally. “[What we do is] not just communications for companies to make big profits,” she says. “It’s really about the connection between people and it’s creating a world in which we can have more time to spend doing the things we want to do, while we seamlessly interact and communicate with all the things that we have to do because it’s mandatory in our life.” Business can be a welcomed, integrated part of life.

Even though Lucey was able to safeguard Avaya’s image in the face of bankruptcy and keep it going strong, she understands that her brand has to keep evolving to remain vigorous. She believes change is always imminent in marketing, and every CMO needs to be a “catalyst for change” to stay ahead of the curve. Lucey says, “Today, if you don’t look at transforming your marketing organization and really focusing on how the technology delivers to the customers in a way so they want to consume it, you’re going to be left behind.” Success today doesn’t necessarily equate to success tomorrow. Be ready when the call for innovation beckons. (These show notes were prepared by Jay Tellini.)

Meet the Guest

Morag Lucey is the CMO of Avaya, a technology company that helps businesses communicate with their employees and customers. Lucey has also held top marketing positions at BAE Systems, Convergys, and SAP. Her opportunity-seeking nature is to thank for her energetic marketing prowess. Lucey is also the winner of the CMO Club’s Officers Award. When she’s not working on Avaya’s next big campaign, she’s going on adventures with her family.

What You’ll Learn

  • How to present a strong business narrative.
  • How to keep your message simple—even in turbulent times.
  • How to draw up a real vision of the future.
  • How to communicate with your employees.

Quotes from Morag Lucey

  • We had to bring the past to the future, and so we really did write the narrative of where we’ve been and where we are going.
  • It’s not just communications for companies to make big profits. It’s really about the connection between people.
  • Move quickly, move swiftly; make sure that you understand where you are going in terms of building out the technology platform.
  • The hardest thing is change, but we [CMOs] have to be the catalyst[s] for change.