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.

My reputation as a minimalist is well known – most people would say that I need no help in the tidying department. Nevertheless, I decided to give Kondo’s method a go. After all, can’t we all stand improvement?

In the course of my Konmari tidying exercise, it hit me: Kondo’s formula for getting a house in order is applicable to insolvent companies.

I’m not suggesting that to restructure a company, you need to take out each item of inventory and equipment and ask if it gives you joy. In this context, perhaps the question should be: does it give the shareholders and creditors joy?

Here are my 5 tips for putting a troubled company’s house in order:

  1. Do it all at once and do it now. The longer the decision-making is postponed — to divest bad divisions, close unprofitable stores, or downsize unproductive employees — the worse it is for everybody.
  2. Discard first — sort and tidy later. In the reorganization world, this translates to: downsize first, reorganize later. Consolidation is most effective when done after downsizing is complete. Balance sheet restructuring (including Chapter 11 plan negotiations) will occur more easily and rapidly after both downsizing and consolidation are complete.
  3. Ditch unnecessary paper. Most companies can reduce costs tremendously by paperwork reduction and by moderate investment in the right technology. Paper and paper storage are tremendously expensive. Most companies can archive almost all their necessary files electronically or in the Cloud. On average, approximately 80% of paper files can be eliminated, with all of the savings going directly to the bottom line.
  4. If you wouldn’t buy it, then sell or get rid of it. Look at every area of the business and ask: if we didn’t already have this business line, would we launch or acquire it now? If the answer is no, you need to divest it.
  5. Let go with love. Kondo says that clear decision making is impeded by an attachment to the past or a fear of the future — both of which interfere with doing what is needed in the present. A frequent cause of failed or repeated Chapter 11’s is the blind adherence to tradition and history — and very practices that brought the company down to start with. Companies hold on to obsolete or unnecessary equipment or real estate because of their initial cost, or the fear of incurring replacement costs if such property becomes needed in the future. This is the business equivalent of “I may wear this outfit again someday if I ever lose 10 pounds and it comes back in style.”   Decisions should be firmly rooted in the reality of the present.

The most successful business plans are simple to articulate but hard to execute. The same is true of restructuring plans.  The Konmari method is simple to explain, but in actual practice it takes considerable energy and focus. It only has to be done once.

In the restructuring context, a Konmari style restructuring means: do your tidying once and do it right.

No more Chapter 22’s.

Here’s Marie Kondo’s YouTube video:

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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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I haven’t eaten a Hostess cupcake since I was six. Now, I guess I never will.

The shutdown of Hostess  dominated today’s business news. Reporters are speculating on why Hostess failed.

According to various commentators, Hostess’s demise was caused by:

1. People just don’t eat cupcakes wrapped in plastic the way they used to.

2. The cost of labor and unions’ unwillingness to cave.

3. The company was really, really mismanaged.

4. The price of sugar due to the power of the sugar lobby. Continue reading

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent “Impossible Conversations” exhibit is described by author Paula Marantz Cohen as a demonstration of post-modernism.  Post-modernism, writes Ms. Cohen, involves “contravening established conventions and expectations.”   I do not know what “skepticism toward meta-narratives”  means exactly, but Ms. Cohen explains this as “a puncturing of whatever may pretend to be universal or absolute.”   This explanation certainly brings her metaphor home for us bankruptcy types. Continue reading

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