In the fall of 2013 I started thinking about doing an in-depth look at a big-company finance department from the inside. Much of CFO’s audience is employed by mid-size and smaller companies, but I figured they might be interested in and educated by a bird’s-eye view of how their counterparts at a Fortune 500 company worked. I thought we could call a resulting package of stories something like “Portrait of a Fortune 500 Finance Operation.”
Trying to find a company that would give me that kind of access was a daunting prospect, though. Not knowing what else to do, I floated the idea to a handful of independent public-relations contacts.
I got one bite. YRC Worldwide, a longtime Fortune 500 outfit that was (and is) the No. 2 player in the less-than-truckload segment of the trucking industry after United Parcel Service, was willing to do it. I spoke on the phone with Jamie Pierson, the company’s CFO, and he was quite gung-ho.
Frankly I was a bit surprised that I’d gotten even the one bite. CFOs, of course, are typically almost pathological about playing their cards close to the vest. I grew exponentially more surprised that I got this particular bite when I started reading about YRC.
The company was locked in a tense, high-stakes negotiation with the labor union that most of its employees belonged to. Analysts were sounding the alarm that the company’s ability to make debt principal repayments scheduled for 2014 was looking iffy at best. YRC had registered negative free cash flow since 2008. It hadn’t had a profitable year since 2006.
As it turned out, YRC did indeed back away from the project. The company and the finance team had too much going on.
I was surprised again when I heard from my public relations contact last September that Pierson wanted to resurrect the idea. He visited me while he was in New York shortly after that, and I was impressed by his candor about YRC’s travails and his enthusiasm for the project. In mid-November, I traveled to the company’s headquarters in Overland Park, Kan., to meet his team.
At the time I was still thinking that I would write a “Portrait of a Finance Operation” piece (never mind that in 2014 YRC for the first time did not make the Fortune 500 listing). But it became clear, in my talks with six YRC executives during my visit and subsequently, that the most compelling story to tell, by far, was about the company’s still-in-progress turnaround. The labor deal had been completed; the debt had been refinanced and maturity dates pushed back five years; financial results were climbing back toward respectability; and analysts were singing a different tune.
The articles in the package (see links below) include an overview of the turnaround that prominently features commentary by Pierson, and five looks at various aspects of the company’s challenges and improving fortunes through the eyes of controller Stephanie Fisher, treasurer Mark Boehmer, vice president of taxation Terry Gerrond, vice president of cash management Joe Whitsel, and chief information officer Jason Ringgenberg.
Anatomy of a Turnaround: YRC Worldwide
After seven years of financial turmoil, the big trucking company finally exits survival mode. (Text and video.)
The Refinancing from Hell
YRC’s controller is glad that the 2014 refinancing didn’t fall under ‘troubled debt restructuring,’ like a 2011 recapitalization did. (Text and video.)
A Change in the Requisition Mindset
After years of not bothering to ask for funds for anything but basics, YRC managers had to start thinking differently.
NOL Carryforward Nightmare
A tax rule designed to apply to M&A events snares YRC, limiting its use of financial losses to offset future gains.
Company ‘Lives Another Day’ Thanks to Revenue Collection
In YRC’s darkest days, a concerted accounts receivable effort kept the company’s doors open some days.
Counting on IT to Deliver Top Investment Returns
Despite YRC’s $1.1 billion debt, small IT investments bring more pop than paying it down.