Kate Asia Dillon is the first non-binary actor on a major TV series (Billions).  Kate identifies neither as male or female. Having been born female (many still regard Kate as female), Kate does not self-define as one of two genders, nor do the characters Kate plays.

The fact that the restructuring world largely defines itself by gender is beyond peradventure. But that is not the subject of this article.  Rather, this article is about the restructuring community’s generational self-definition.

Adult generations are commonly described as follow:

  • Gen Z, iGen, or Centennials: Born after 1996
  • Millennials, or Gen Y: Born 1980 to 1995
  • Generation X: Born 1965 to 1980
  • Baby Boomers: Born 1946 to 1964
  • Traditionalists or Silent Generation: Born before 1945

The fact that each generation has been influenced by the economic, technological, and parenting environments in which each grew up, is well documented and chronicled. Some writers have observed a fifty-year cycle, with Gen Z (born after 1996) bearing much in common psychologically and politically with the Silent Generation (born before 1946). The similarities stem largely from the social-psychological effects of the 2008 financial meltdown mirroring the effects of the Great Depression.

The generational divides have an interesting confluence with the evolution of bankruptcy law. Early Baby Boomers practiced law under the pre-Code bankruptcy law. Late Baby Boomers began practicing law when the Bankruptcy Code was relatively new. Generation X experienced the early development and refinement of the Bankruptcy Code. Millennials were born shortly after the Bankruptcy Code was enacted, and by the time they entered legal practice, the Bankruptcy Code was mature. Gen Z is just recently entering the bankruptcy field in the legal assistant and law clerk ranks.

At the upcoming Distressed Investing 2017 Conference on November 27th in New York, I’m hosting the Awards Reception for Turnarounds & Workouts’ Outstanding Young Restructuring Lawyers. By definition, all of the honorees were born after 1977 and thus are “Millennials.”  At the same time, over half of the speakers and sponsors in the Distressed Investing Conference are “Baby Boomers”,  and the rest are largely “Generation X,” as is much of the audience. This age-diverse line-up, however, implies more blurring of generational lines than actually exists in the restructuring community.

A few minutes into any conversation, a restructuring professional will probably allude to being a Baby Boomer, a Generation X’er, or a Millennial (and might even tell you what is wrong with the other generations).

Whenever something negative is said about the way a person communicates (text, email, or phone), or uses, or fails to use, available technology, it’s often attributed to their generation. But bad and good communicators come in all sizes, shapes, and ages.  Are the stereotypes warranted? For that matter, is any stereotype warranted?

Thought leadership and innovation arise throughout the restructuring community and across all generations. Many great ideas are killed by generational stereotyping.

Generation and age are useless, irrelevant constructs in the restructuring world.  In fact, they are value-destructive.

Generation or age stereotyping is as flawed, narrow-minded, and flat-out wrong, as stereotyping based on race, gender or orientation.

Just as Kate is an “NB” (non-binary: not defined by gender), I have officially declared myself an “NC” (non-chronological: not defined by age or generation). I am calling for the rest of the community to join me in rejecting “chronology.”

Stephanie Wickouski is a New York bankruptcy lawyer. A partner with the NY office of Bryan Cave LLP, she has practiced bankruptcy law for more than 30 years.

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Stephanie Wickouski is a New York bankruptcy lawyer. A partner with the NY office of Bryan Cave LLP, she has practiced bankruptcy law for more than 30 years.

This is the new reality, which many industries are slow to embrace:

Events that have no specific agenda other than food and drink, and which occur after 7 pm, are largely worthless, if not harmful, to actual business development.

I’m going to present my case for going to the gym, going out to dinner, going home, or staying in the office working – in other words, going anywhere other than a networking event at night.

Wikipedia defines “networking” as

Networking is a socioeconomic business activity by which businesspeople and entrepreneurs meet to form business relationships and to recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities, share information and seek potential partners for ventures.

Ask yourself: In the last year, have you made even one new contact or developed even one new piece of business from wandering around a room with dozens of people where everyone wore a name tag and had a drink in their hand? A colleague calls this “Lord of the Flies Networking.”

The most valuable business connections are not going to be found at an evening networking event which has no substantive presentation or agenda, and where people are doing nothing except making small talk and drinking. The people you need to meet are simply not there.

Candid observation: many deals are driven not by those at the top but those in the middle. The “middle” – especially in the restructuring field – is comprised heavily of people in their late 20’s to late 40’s (early Gen Y and late Gen X).  To their credit, most want to spend their evenings with their family or friends, at home, or at the gym. Many people only go to these events because they feel they should.  They would rather be somewhere else. It shows. After a couple of drinks, conversations devolve and connections dissolve. This is the very opposite of what Wikipedia defines as “networking.”

“Lord of the Flies” networking is part of an “old think” way of doing business. Its demise is part of much larger social trends and changes in the way people do business.

These larger trends and changes include:

  • Social media, over the last ten years, has come to completely dominate business communications. The primary mode in which many new business contacts are made is often social media.
  • Online commerce has supplanted the primacy of brick-and-mortar presence.  Physical presence is not as essential as it once was.
  • Social trends, including the convergence of gender roles, the perception of parenting as primary to identity for both men and women, and the prioritization of work-life balance.  For many if not most people, being somewhere else at night is simply more important.
  • Workforce rationalization leading to increased work responsibilities (more work, less time). Every hour counts, and busy people find evening networking a waste of time.

Direct communication remains the only means of effective networking.  Direct communication means:

  1. Substantive presentations (in-person programs, webinars, podcasts)
  2. Roundtables
  3. In-person meetings in prime time.
  4. Breakfast, lunch or dinner
  5. Phone calls and texts.

Developing new contacts and new opportunities only comes from direct communication and relationship building.

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Stephanie Wickouski is a New York bankruptcy lawyer. A partner with the NY office of Bryan Cave LLP, she has practiced bankruptcy law for more than 30 years.

A 30 year old Japanese woman named Marie Kondo has skyrocketed to the top of the New York Times best seller list with a short, sweet book entitled  “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”  Kondo, a declutter consultant in Tokyo, has a simple prescription for getting your house in order. She says her “Konmari Method” is guaranteed to lead not just to tidiness, but to improved health, fitness, prosperity, and happiness.

Her method is deceptively simple. First, take out everything you own by category (clothing, papers, books, technology, mementos – in that order) and examine it. Ask: does this give me joy? If the answer is yes, keep it. If the answer is no, then discard, sell or give it away.  After you have identified everything you want to keep, put each item where it belongs, like-kind items all in the same place, with each category in its logical place. She says tidying only needs to be done once and the effects are permanent. Continue reading

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The use of social media in restructuring practice is getting a lot of air time lately.  Recently I participated in an American Bankruptcy Institute panel with two other prominent bankruptcy bloggers, Debra Dandeneau, who spearheads Weil’s Bankruptcy Blog, and Nathalie Martin of Creditslips.   The panel opined that social media (blogs and use of social networks including Facebook, LinkIn, and Twitter) is now old – bordering on traditional. The hot topic now is – how can social media be used most inventively for business purposes.

The key is to identify specific objectives, and target a social media strategy toward them. While most of us think of social media as being about networking, branding and advertising, it can be much more than that.

Here’s a short video clip of highlights of the panel (as well as some cool aerial shots of Kansas City):

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Stephanie Wickouski is a New York bankruptcy lawyer. A partner with the NY office of Bryan Cave LLP, she has practiced bankruptcy law for more than 30 years.

Albert Einstein was known for his pithy quotes and thought provoking questions. If Einstein were alive today, he may have posed the question: How do you lose money when there is no money involved? The answer is simple: when bitcoin meets bankruptcy.

How is bitcoin going to work its way into the U.S. bankruptcy courts?  It’s not because it is a pseudo-currency: bitcoins are just like prepaid gift cards.  But unlike a Bergdorf gift card, bitcoin presents a trifecta that inevitably leads to meltdowns: lack of uniform regulation, volatility, and technological vulnerability. Exchanges can be thinly capitalized, underinsured, and overexposed.

Bitcoin exchanges in the United States are considered money services businesses, and are required to register with the U.S Treasury and to comply with Anti-Money Laundering (AML) laws and Know Your Customer (KYC) policies.  Some states require bitcoin exchanges to be licensed as money transmitters.  At present, however, there is no uniform minimum net worth or capitalization requirement for exchanges the way there is with banks; no restrictions on permitted investments; no uniform insurance or bonding requirements. The regulatory focus has been on anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism, not on consumer protection. Continue reading

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It was not until an episode of  the TV show “The Good Wife” last year that the legal community realized that bitcoins were here to stay.

In the episode,

Stephanie Wickouski is a New York bankruptcy lawyer. A partner with the NY office of Bryan Cave LLP, she has practiced bankruptcy law for more than 30 years.

Alicia Florrick tries to find the developer of Bitcoin. In a surprise twist in the show, Satoshi Nakamoto turns out to be a young woman.

Called “crypto-currency,” Bitcoin is essentially a pseudo-currency that utilizes a form of encryption.  Bitcoin is a network for transferring payments in transactions where the buyers and sellers are anonymous. While there is nothing per se illegal about anonymous transactions, illegal transactions tend to require anonymity. Examples include buying and selling large quantities of illegal drugs or weapons, trading in stolen rare art, illegal gambling, and hiring hit men.

The charm of anonymity is also its fatal flaw: chargebacks are nearly impossible, and loss recovery is out of the question.

Last week, Mt. Gox, a Tokyo Bitcoin exchange, filed for bankruptcy in Japan.  The reasons for the filing were massive losses due to hacking or technological flaws, or both. Continue reading

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Stephanie Wickouski is a New York bankruptcy lawyer. A partner with the NY office of Bryan Cave LLP, she has practiced bankruptcy law for more than 30 years.

The ten essentials are survival items for the wilderness.  They traditionally included things like a map, compass, sun protection, clothes, matches, a knife, water and food.

In the 21st century, the ten essentials were updated to match modern equipment and technology. The “new” essentials now include things like a GPS system and a flashlight.  They also take a so-called “systems approach.” They are not identified as specific items, but as categories/objectives: e.g., navigation, sun protection, insulation, nutrition.

Not every walk in the woods requires you to carry all of them, but chances are, if you do, you are likely to fare better in an emergency.

The “ten essentials” concept took hold, and was copied widely in areas that had nothing to do with hiking in the wilderness.  For instance, fashion magazines frequently tout the “ten wardrobe essentials”  (pieces like a white shirt, a black dress, and a trench coat). Continue reading
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Shoe making was the major industry in Northampton England throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries. The decline began in the last quarter of the 20th Century when foreign competition and currency pressures forced many factories to close unless they retooled for niche markets, such as fetish footwear.

Unless you’ve been outside the country throughout 2013, you’ve probably heard of Kinky Boots – the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical written by Harvey Fierstein and composed by Cyndi Lauper.

Based on a true story, Kinky Boots is the turnaround story of a distressed shoe manufacturer, Price and Sons, being driven out of business by the exchange rate and cheap foreign imports. Price and Sons’ owner, Charlie Price, having inherited the business (and its problems) from his father, attempts to turn the place around by targeting a “niche market” – high heeled boots for men.

Like any classic turnaround, Price encounters bumps along the way – including a cash flow crisis right before the product launch – and finds a creative solution to each one.

It’s a textbook restructuring – not to mention, a great score and choreography.

For those of us who think we’ve seen it all in restructuring, there were several lessons to be learned from Kinky Boots. Continue reading

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While the Detroit bankruptcy hearings will not be televised, Detroit’s bankruptcy has replaced the George Zimmerman and Jodie Arias trials in the news cycle.  Detroit is suddenly the focal point for nationwide discourse — the crisis de jour, so to speak.

While the country has seen a lot of major bankruptcy filings, none have involved a major city.   While bankruptcy lawyers will point out that Detroit’s bankruptcy is very different from a large business bankruptcy like American Airlines, the comparison is inescapable.  As two new publications demonstrate, the differences between a city’s decline into financial turmoil and a major company’s may not be that dramatic. Continue reading

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Stephanie Wickouski is a New York bankruptcy lawyer. A partner with the NY office of Bryan Cave LLP, she has practiced bankruptcy law for more than 30 years.

September 15, 2008.  No doubt, you remember exactly what you were doing that morning. Our lives changed forever the day Lehman filed bankruptcy.

After Lehman, chapter 11 cases have become a trifecta of difficult problems, people, and circumstances.  Maybe bankruptcy practice had gotten too easy, or we had all been coasting on a wave for too long.  Lehman and the financial meltdown that followed it has been the “Tough Mudder “ of the bankruptcy world. Continue reading

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