Wynyard Group: What went wrong?
Former sharemarket darling, Wynyard Group, was put into voluntary administration this week. The announcement was made via a notification to the share market and notice on the company website.
The company was highly-valued, well-funded and governed by seemingly capable directors. Its products, software systems to assist in crime fighting, were seemingly in demand—evidenced by strong revenue growth since an IPO in 2013. Milford Asset Management, a shareholder, valued the company at nearly $120M at the time of the IPO. But Wynyard failed to make money, then or since. The result was inevitable: the company became caught in an ever-deepening hole that, in the end, was too deep to climb out from. When last traded, the notional value of the company had fallen to less than $40M. Now that the liquidator is involved, the residual share value is (close to) zero.
What went wrong?
Whereas some failures reported this year appear to have been grounded on hubris or fraudulent behaviour, such motivations do not appear to have been significant at Wynyard Group. The failure appears to have been more straightforward. Indicators have been visible for some time as well. Ultimately, the actions (or inaction?) of the board of directors need to be placed under scrutiny.
The company's business model was characterised by infrequent high-value sales (read: a lumpy revenue profile). The company also employed lots of highly-capable software engineers and other technical specialists. Effective cash management is crucial in such companies. Superficially, the company appears to have been carrying too much cost, suggesting that it took on expense too far ahead of the revenue curve. The company does not appear to have had a backup plan to be activated if revenue expectations were not realised (in either the expected timeframe or manner).
The market seemed to know there was a problem (track the share price over the last 18–24 months), yet the situation was allowed to continue seemingly without any major corrective action being taken. The company burned through over $140 million of shareholder funds. It's little wonder that the investors became bitter.
Why were the problems not addressed by the board much earlier? Was the board (which included several high-profile directors, three of whom resigned in May and June 2016) not in control as it should have been? Though present, were directors asleep at the wheel rather, in effect adopting a passive style of oversight—in contrast to that conceptualised by Eells, Cadbury, Garratt and others? Was the board captured by an optimistic outlook and charismatic management? More pointedly, who was actually in control? The early indications suggest that the company was being controlled by management—ineffectively so, as is now patently clear—usurping the board's statutory role.
What can we learn?
That Wynyard Group has now joined (unwittingly) a rather long list of companies of interest to governance researchers and MBA classes (adding case example of what not to do) is clear. This case will also, no doubt, be played out in the business media and by 'experts' in the days to come. In the meantime and regardless of whether Wynyard is wound up or continues to trade in some form, the case provides salutary lessons for boards elsewhere:
Boards should discuss these and related matters periodically, to ensure they are appropriately focussed on (and adequately equipped to pursue) the value creation mandate. A formal, externally-facilitated board and governance assessment (providing an outside perspective) should offer useful insights as well, so long as any recommendations arising are acting on.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and boardcraft; our place in the world; and other topics that catch my attention.