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Transforming Business Owners into Visionaries – Exclusive Interview With Cary Prejean

Cary Prejean is a CFO consultant and executive coach. He has an accounting and CPA background with several companies primarily in the manufacturing, wholesale and construction industries. He is also a certified ontological coach since 1992 by Newfield Network, giving him unique insight in working with executives. Cary’s mission is to turn business owners into visionaries and prime business generators vs. minutiae managers.

Image photo of Cary Prejean

Cary Prejean, CFO Consulting, LLC

Introduce yourself! Please tell us about you what you do and who do you serve?

My name is Cary Prejean, and I’m the founder of Strategic Business Advisors, LLC. I help business owners who are frustrated with their business that never seems to work right for very long, work long hours and are never being able to take time off, wondering why their employees “don’t get it” and why they have to solve most of their business problems. I help them turn their business around to where the business works for the owner rather than the other way around. I help them gain a lot of time for themselves by helping to pull them out of the day-to-day “busy-ness of business.” The owners I work with are more effective because they can focus on what they’re best at 1. Being a visionary and 2. Being the primary revenue generator for their business. These owners are generally more satisfied with the present, ambitious about the future and grateful for the business they started and built.

What inspired you to establish Strategic Business Advisors, and what is the core mission and values of your business?

My background is in accounting. I graduated with a business degree and a major in accounting, went to work in Fortune 500 companies and one of the Big 8 accounting firms. I was eventually hired away by a client of the firm I was working for. The traditional accounting model is always dealing with the past. “Here’s your financial statement, tax return, etc. for the past…” – pick a time frame. I was told that a good accountant was a good score keeper. What was missing for small business owners I worked with was “what does this mean and what do I do with it?” There was nothing about the next best moves, strategic opportunities, warning signs, etc. – I mean nothing. Okay, maybe discuss budget variances.

What I had to learn by trial and error was how to help business owners begin to understand their financial data – make it actionable and develop better strategies for moving into the future. Business owners are generally good at being a visionary for their business and generating revenue. That’s what got them to start the business in the first place. But managing a business is a very different skill set. What I offer is a coaching/guide relationship to help them navigate the waters of business ownership. The owners I work with generally experience satisfaction with the present, ambition about the future and gratitude for owning a business again.

Could you provide an overview of the services that Strategic Business Advisors offers, and what areas of expertise do you specialize in?

We offer three types of service. The first basic service is called the “Well-Oiled Machine Process.” It provides three outcomes. 

  1. Actionable financial data. Weekly financial dashboards that the owner and his/her leadership team can review in an hour per week. This gives the owner the ability to manage the business from a 10,000-foot level. The leadership team investigates and resolves any issues, not the owner, but this gives the owner a weekly snapshot of what is going on and how things are looking. Additionally, this includes a monthly review of the financial statements with a layman’s narrative about what the financial statements are saying about the business’s performance and financial strength. 

  2. Eliminate dysfunction. Dysfunction is the result of not having a standard, well documented process for all critical processes of the business. Everyone has their own interpretation and way of doing things rather that one documented “this is the way we do X.” The leadership team can generally get this done by identifying the bottlenecks in the business throughout the company. One of the first things we do is remove the business owner from the process. Generally, the business owner gets caught in “do things my way” rather than what’s most effective. Most bottlenecks are the result of owner involvement and the “my way” mentality. There’s a reason why a handful of teenagers can run a fast-food restaurant – there are processes and procedures for everything, and they’ve all been trained on them. One way to make fries, hamburgers, desserts, etc. This produces consistent results so long as the procedures are followed. 

  3. Designing the business into the future. This is done by establishing an ongoing practice of strategic planning with the owner and the leadership team. Everybody talks about planning for the future, but very few do it. Why is that? There’s always some crisis du jour that grabs your attention. And more importantly, there’s no short term consequence to not planning for the future. The consequence shows up years down the road. As we say in south Louisiana, “it’s hard to remember you came to drain the swamp when you’re up to your ass in alligators.” There’s never a good time to plan strategically. You must make a commitment to do it. Simple as that. The hard part is getting started. Why? Because it’s not something 1. You’ve been trained to do and 2. You haven’t practiced it before in all probability. It’s a process that must be practiced over time and continually monitored to make sure you’re on track.

The second service type involves optimizing your company’s talent. You can have the best business plan in the world, but with poor or mediocre talent in your business, you can’t expect optimal results. You can expect poor to mediocre results if that’s the case. By optimizing your talent, you rachet up the results your business can produce. I’m a certified ontological coach, which I use in this area. What’s an ontological coach? I can hear the question. It’s a discipline that helps people eliminate suffering and self-defeating actions and empowering in ways that weren’t possible before. It would take another interview to go into that in depth. In essence, good coaching helps people to live more in moods of ambition, gratitude, peace and joy rather than resentment and resignation. I also use the science of Predictive Index. Predictive Index (PI) provides decades of science to analyze what motivates people and how they’ll show up in the workplace. PI gives the manager the best ways to talk with an employee, what will motivate them as well as what will make them uncomfortable. PI also can also help in better hiring by matching candidates’ profile against what type of person is needed in a given position. Putting this all together reduces turnover, improves hiring the right person for the job, builds teamwork, fosters employee engagement, and generally improves company morale. Having a team of engaged, committed and loyal employees will make all the difference between a mediocre performing business and an exceptional one.

Finally, the third type of service is a year-long one-on-one coaching relationship. It involves assigned reading, completing exercises in writing and practicing new skills in conversations and in observations of yourself in action. This is for the rare business owner that is really committed to leading his/her business to the next level and beyond. It takes work, time and a willingness to learn and grow. Why would a normally busy business owner take this on? Let me ask you a question. Do the world’s best athletes have coaches, since they’re so talented? Of course, they do. The question is why? Think about it for a second. Why would Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player in history, have needed a coach after the Chicago Bulls had won the NBA championship twice? Because the athlete can’t see him/herself in their performance in the game. The coach can. Not only that, the coach has distinctions about how to adjust their playing, sometimes in very small but very powerful ways. The coach can take the talent of Michael Jordan and help turn him into the world’s greatest. In addition, the coach has generally been around the game longer and has a wealth of strategies and tactics that the player doesn’t. The coach has the wisdom of the game, which he can guide, coach and teach his players. There was speculation that the Chicago Bulls were going to fire head coach, Phil Jackson after they had won two NBA championships. Michael Jordan was so committed to this coach, he threatened to quit the Chicago Bulls if the team fired Jackson. Jordan knew the value of a great coach.

So, for the owner committed to upping his/her game significantly, this may be for you. There is a selection process and not everyone makes it. It’s a minimum of one year and is open to one-year renewals for years that have been completed successfully. I promise you a lot of work, self-discovery and a much more satisfying and rewarding life on the other side. It’s not for everyone. The owners that take this on and complete it are vastly more effective and engaged with their life.

Can you share a notable success story or case study of a client you have worked with, highlighting the positive impact your services had on their business?

The biggest success I participated in came from a client who had facilities in Louisiana and Texas. The story incorporates actionable financial data, eliminating dysfunction and a big amount of strategic planning and execution. The client’s Texas location was a 23-acre tract near the Houston ship channel and I-45 just outside the southeast corner of the 610 loop in Houston. The site had an antiquated block plant on it. It produced about $100,000 per month in revenue and broke even. The real estate was worth millions back then. My client had picked up the property years before because he wanted the block plant. I pointed out that the asset was very underutilized, and something better could be done with the property as valuable as this site was. I suggested leasing out parts of the location, upgrading the block plant, doing something else with it or just selling it for the price he could get. My client insisted the block plant could be made profitable. He hounded the COO to make the block plant profitable. The problem was the plant was operating at capacity and had zero pricing power in a very competitive market. As much as the COO tried, the block plant was a break-even proposition. 

I asked the V.P. of Engineering if he had any ideas of what the site could be used for. He came up with the idea of setting up an extruder line to manufacture a product that was purchased out of the U.K. The product took months to get in from the date of order but was one of the most profitable items the company sold with margins of about 40%. The Engineering V.P. had done some preliminary estimations on cost savings and said that the gross margin could be increased to 75% to 80% by manufacturing the product on the Houston site. I asked the engineer to get some numbers together on what the extruder line and a building to house it would cost. All told the project was about $6 million, a large capital investment at the time for my client. I put some financial projections together based on the current volume of sales but with the new higher gross profit numbers. I used this with the cost of the extruder line and building budget to put together a loan proposal to get the project financed. The numbers were so good, the loan was approved when I presented it to the client’s bankers. With financing, the project was completed in about a year. That was back in 2015. Our relationship ended about that time when a full time CFO was hired. 

I’m still good friends with the VP of Engineering who is now the COO of the company. We have lunch a few times per year and stay in touch. The last time we met I asked how the Houston location was doing. The COO reported that the Houston location now had four warehouses with seven extruder lines and manufacturing lines. The company now manufactures almost everything it sells. The company now has distribution channels and dealers in North America. It exports products to South America, Asia and the Middle East. Europe is next but the bureaucracy there is the worst. I was also told that the company is now debt free and that revenues have increased by multiples. This is a textbook case of the power of strategic planning and designing your business into the future. The possibilities that now exist as reality weren’t envisioned by anyone eight years ago in 2015. But the positives that came on top of one another became obvious as milestone after milestone was achieved. We had no idea how successful it would become. And it started by a little out of the box thinking and questioning what else could be done with an underutilized asset.

In the rapidly evolving business landscape, what industry trends do you see emerging, and how does Strategic Business Advisors help clients navigate these trends?

The other wave of change I see as sweeping through the business world is the relationship between employees and their employers. The fundamental relationship was kicked off its foundation with the Covid phenomenon. Many people refused to go back to a 40-hour work week at their employer’s place of business. In addition, the youngest generation in the work force, the millennials, are fairly different than the older generations ahead of them. The traditional transactional relationship of the past – I show up for work and produce some results and you pay me regularly – is going away. It’s already gone in a lot of places. Employers are going to have to adapt to a new basis in employee relationships, where the employer shows a sincere level of caring about its employees from more than just a work perspective. People want to know that they matter and that their contribution is appreciated in more than just a paycheck. 

With many business advisory services available, what sets Strategic Business Advisors apart? What unique approach or methodologies do you employ to achieve success for your clients?

Well, I want to start by saying there are many, many great business advisory firms in the marketplace. I think what makes Strategic Business Advisors somewhat unique is we bring several disciplines to the table that are applicable on a more practical level. My CPA background brings a lot of analysis and practical financial tools to the table so business owners can truly start “managing by the numbers.” My affiliation as a Certified Partner with Predictive Index provides technology and an insight into what motivates people in the workplace. How best to motivate them. How best to approach and work with them in a way that is most productive. It provides a lot of practical solutions to getting employees engaged in their work and their place in the business from the vantage point of the business strategy. And finally, my background as certified ontological coach allows me to empower people in ways they didn’t know was possible. The discipline of the ontology of language is based on the elimination of suffering and the empowerment of people to become their best selves and live their best lives. The combination of those three disciplines puts a lot of practical solutions to the problems most small to medium size business owners suffer from. This combination offers 1. “manage by the numbers” rather than the “seat of my pants,” 2. have a team of committed, loyal and engaged employees, rather than a disgruntled bunch of people there for a paycheck and 3. being able to live in a world of ambition, gratitude, peace and joy rather than the constant frustration of “same shit, different day.” I hope that makes sense. To the frustrated business owners I speak with regularly, it certainly does.

Tell us what word of advice would you give to anyone reading this interview.

My mentor asked me this question about 35 years ago. “Do you want to know the secret to life?” to which I replied an enthusiastic yes. “It’s getting exactly what you want, being ultimately satisfied.” I thought that’s great and how do you accomplish that. He added “The secret to life is knowing exactly what you want. It’s easy to get when you take the time and the energy to get crystal clear on exactly what you want in as much detail as possible.”

It's been my observation that most people spend more time planning a vacation than they do thinking about what it is they really want out of life. You must spend time reflecting on this topic, looking at alternatives, researching, experimenting, etc. before you get to the ultimate, specific details about what will satisfy you in all domains – career, money, relationships, hobbies, friends, health, spirituality, education and so on. All the domains of your life that matter to you should be researched, reflected on, and given thought to about what specifically would satisfy you in life. Ultimate satisfaction is not hard once you know exactly what that is. The work is getting clear about what will ultimately satisfy you. And over time, what you thought you wanted will change. In my younger days, I thought I wanted a fancy car, expensive clothes and a high-end expensive lifestyle. Over time I found out most of that is just superficial and empty, with very little lasting satisfaction. But I had to go through that to discover what is really important and satisfying to me – family, health, the joy of working productively, being spiritually connected to life, being respected for who you are things money can’t buy. This same perspective works for business owners. What would it take to make you ultimately satisfied with your business in as much detail as possible? Details including revenue, profitability, hours needed to work in the business, ability to take time off, what roles would you spend over 90% of your time in, what kind of culture would your business have, what kind of employees work there, what products and/or services does your business offer, what geographic market does it serve, and on and on – as much detail as possible. Spending some time consistently over each year, getting clear on what would ultimately satisfy you about where your business is now and where it’s headed will produce huge rewards. You will generate goals and possibilities that aren’t apparent to you now. You’ll also begin to live in more positive and productive moods.

Too many people chase “being happy,” which is a fleeting emotion that comes and goes throughout the day. Being ultimately satisfied is so much more rewarding. You will live in positive moods of ambition, gratitude, peace and joy. You’ll actually experience more happiness being satisfied versus chasing “being happy.” If you want to chase something, chase being ultimately satisfied. It’s a much more rewarding trip.

Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and visit my website for more info!



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