Who pays business rates after a liquidator has disclaimed a lease?

What was thought to be the situation has recently been confirmed in the High Court, when a landlord was told to pay up £0.6m to Birmingham Council for business rates accruing after a tenant went into liquidation and disclaimed the lease – click here to read the judgement.

Thus any uncertainty there was that payment of business rates post disclaimer was the landlord’s problem has now evaporated.

This is a mixture of good and bad news…

Good for local authorities …

Bad for landlords who now know that unless they have the benefit of a strong covenant or strong Authorised Guarantee Agreement could end up with a big rates bill at a time when a property is earning no income …

Good for prospective tenants of empty properties as they could be in a better negotiating position when it comes to rent free periods or other ‘perks’…

Good for tenants of tertiary properties who could go to the wall unless they can renegotiate leases and rent payment dates with the landlord.

In fact it’s good news for everyone but landlords and people who’ve signed an authorised guarantee agreement!

If you’re a tenant who has massive problems because of their rent bill, and you’d like some help renegotiating it, call me on 01902 672323.

Led down the garden path…

This is the third article in my rant over the bad – in fact downright dangerous – advice my fellow insolvency practitioners are regularly giving out…

The first was about the bad advice being given to company owners, selling them a liquidation they didn’t want, need nor could easily pay for…

The second was about the failure to advise individuals that income based individual voluntary arrangements are a massive gamble…

This, my third, rant is again about the bad advice given to individuals, but on a more general level.

Let me explain…

Have you seen how debt advisers of all sorts, but particularly the IVA specialists, send husbands and wives, or couples, down the same debt solution at exactly the same time?  They argue that it makes perfect sense, that doing so is cost effective… yet that, at least for me, is manure, and I’m going to show you why…

First of all, a few key principles for you to take on board…

You, me, your kids, your parents, Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all are separate individuals in the eyes of the law.  We’re each our own entirely distinct legal entity.  It matters not that we are married, part of a family, related in any way – we are all our own separate legal being, with our own little package of assets and liabilities, and thus our own individual options for dealing with our financial problems. 

And, importantly, those options are often not mutually exclusive.   An option taken now doesn’t always stop another being taken later on.

Sure, there are a few complications when their are joint assets or joint debts, but the principle remains – we each have our own separate options, which we can take as and when we choose.

Let’s take a typical situation…. Husband (Basil) and wife (Sybil); Basil is a landscape gardener who chooses to run his little business through a limited company, in which he owns all the shares.  His normal work is maintaining your and my garden, doing a little building work from time to time, pathways, rockeries, decking, BBQs, that sort of thing.  A nice little business, but not enough to keep house and home, the family has to rely on his wife’s income too, especially as he had an accident a year or so ago – he twisted his back beating up his Morris 1100 and couldn’t work for 6 months.  Couple this with a foray into the buy to let market where a void period and some unexpected repairs as a result of the actions of a dodgy tenant and supporting one of his kids through university saw his debts built up.  He now has £50,000 in personal credit card and loan bills, each at their max, he’s now not even paying the minimum payments – the business isn’t doing as well as he’d hope as people aren’t spending like they used to on their gardens, and his bad back plays up from time to time, middle age is taking its toll.  There’s nothing but a few items of small plant and an inexpensive van in the company: it”ll generate £1,500 per month on a good month, more often than not a lot less, particularly in the winter months.  The buy to let is in negative equity – they’d taken out the maximum mortgage they could when they bought it, and have remortgaged a few times, using the money raised to buy Basil’s van and tools.  The buy to let is making a profit of £120 per month, after paying the mortgage, assuming everything goes hunky dory….

Feisty Sybil is a part time shop assistant and home maker.  When the debts started piling up she took on a few debts too – but at a far lower level, after all, she earns a lot less than Basil.  She’s got £20,000 of credit card debt, of which £15,000 is in her own name, £5,000 is a joint debt with Basil.

The family, Basil, Sybil and their three kids – Martha, 20, going through Wolverhampton Uni; Steve 16 and at Bilston Academy; and Sarah, 13 at Coseley School – all live in a cramped three bed semi on the Coseley/Bilston border.  A few years back, with the walls moving in, Basil, a dab hand at building, started on an extension above the garage.  But then he hurt his back, he couldn’t work and now he hasn’t got the money to finish it and doesn’t know when he will ever have.  The house is virtually unsaleable in its present condition, at best a buyer would pay a knock down price, leaving nothing in the kitty to set up home elsewhere after settling the mortgage.  Basil is hoping Sybil’s mother, Ethel, will leave them something in her will, but they’d be lucky to get £45,000 when she turns her toes up.  And that’s assuming it doesn’t all go in care home fees.  He/they have been holding on for that legacy – it might just provide the lifeline they so desperately need – but cantakerous old Ethel, whos’ yoyo’ed in and out of hospital over the last 18 months, seems to have 9 lives.

So you’ve got the picture – The Fawltys are a hard working, average, working class family who are trying to work their way through life, but have been hurt by a few things that all came together to put them into quite a difficult position.

So they go to see an insolvency practitioner.

This ‘expert’ recommends an IVA – a ‘joint IVA’ – the great thing is they’ll be able to substitute the need to pay the minimum payments on their debts with ‘one affordable payment’ of just £400 per month into the IVA – it will mean paying less and bring some certainty to the situation, they’ll be able to slep at night.  They’ll even keep their home; Basil will still be able to act as a director of his little limited company; they could keep the buy to let; and in 5 years time, they’ll be debt free – what they’ve not paid to their £65k of unsecured debt will simply be written off.  What’s more, them both going into an IVA right now would not only keep the IVA experts’ costs down, it would make things far simpler for them as they’d both come out of it at the same time, ten years before retirement.

Sounds reasonable?  Sure it does… but as I said, it’s appalling advice.

Let me tell you what taking that advice would lead to…Ethel’s legacy going into the IVA to pay the insolvency practitioner’s fees and Basil and Sybil’s creditors – that’s to say, the Fawlty family would see nothing of it; Basil and Sybil still having to pay £400 per month into the IVA for 5 years – these monies also going to the creditors to pay off the ‘capital sum’ and interest (with interest being charged at 20% to 30% pa); the IP getting about £20k in fees in total; etc… there are other implications too.  All in all a poor deal for the family.

So let’s pull the advice to bits…

The following is a key principle – please remember it…  ‘Just because one solution might be the best option right now for one person, doesn’t mean to say the other has to follow the same course at this exact point in time, even if ultimately it might be the best option for them too.’

Here’s another – both Basil and Sybil have their own full tool box of options each – these include (i) Best manage their cash, keeping themselves out of any formal insolvency; (ii) Keeping creditors at bay using the ‘token/no payment’ option; (iii) Debt Management Plan; (iv) IVA; and (v) Bankruptcy.

It’s vital they should assess their own individual options first, asking themselves ‘What’s the best for me at this particular point in time?’.  Then when they know what that option is, assess what that means for the other member of the couple.

So the steps are:

1)  What’s the best option for me?  Write down the pros and the cons for me.

2) If I take that option, what impact does that have on my partner?  Write down the pros and the cons for them.

3)  Are we prepared to live with the cons?  Could those cons be reduced, if not eliminated, by something either I or my partner could do?  If I’m not happy with the cons, and neither I nor my partner could reduce them, what’s my second best option and what are its pros and cons – the cons on both me and my partner?

4) Repeat steps 1) to 3) for your partner, assessing the pros and cons on both them and you.

5)  Put together a plan that you’re both ‘happy’ with.  Ask yourself, whether overall, this plan works and fits with what you both want to achieve.

6) Run with it…

Here’s what I would have advised in Basil and Sybil’s case…as you’ll see it’s a country mile away from what the other IP advised…

Basil should go into bankruptcy soon, and first – cost of doing so £700, debts written off £50,000 – it would be like picking a 70 to 1 certain  winner at Epsom, a great return on his money; he’d come out of bankruptcy in 12 months time. Sybil should keep her creditors at bay for that 12 months, using the token payment option; before Basil goes bankrupt, Sybil should become the shareholder and director of the company, taking responsibility for running it, with Basil becoming a mere paid employee – for just 12 months.  Then when he’s out of bankruptcty the roles would reverse – she’d go bankrupt, but before she did so, he’d take buy back her shares in the company and get appointed as its director.  Cost to her, £700, debts written off £20,000. Get Ethel to change her will, so the beneficiaries are Martha, Steve and Sarah, missing out the Basil/Sybil generation (she could always change it back in 24 months time if she’s still around!) – that way the legacy would not fall into the bankruptcy as ‘after acquired property’, it could be used to pay down the mortgage on their home or the BTL giving them a far better chance of a prosperous retirement.

An alternative to think about in 12 months time would be, if Ethel dies in the meantime and leaves her £45k to the kids, for some of that to be used, say 40%, £8k, to offer to her creditors in full and final settlement, if she really wanted to avoid bankruptcy.  The point is, she doesn’t necessarily have to follow Basil’s route – having ringfenced the legacy, she could take another solution then.  Watch, wait and see!

Result if plan A, of them both going bankrupt, him first, her later: No disruption to the business; total process 24 months when one or the other was in bankruptcy compared to 5+ years in an IVA; no assets lost – not even the home or BTL (unless they actually wanted to lose the BTL – they have the choice);  legacy kept within the family, doing it, rather than the creditors some good; no IP fees, whole process cost £1,400 (plus the cost of my advice), a little inconvenience and form filling, and the cost of writing one/two wills, compared to an IVA which would see over £69,000 spent, I’d argue wasted.

The Fawltys’ name may be made up but the facts are real,but in recent weeks I’ve seen 2 families, both where they’d been led down the garden path by so called experts with plausible yet downright dangerous advice, costing them money they couldn’t really afford.  You see, they suffered the outcome I ‘anticipated’ above, they will probably now never manage to rebuild their lives.

And that is inexcusable.  The IPs took them to the cleaners, their entire family, not just the ones in debt, but them all.

You see nothing will ever be a substitute for experience, professionalism and a single minded focus on getting the best outcome for the client … and with almost 30 years in the insolvency game, you can be sure anyone who comes to me for support will be getting these in abundance.  They will not be sailing into unchartered territory, they’ll get advice and support that will stand the test of time.

If you’re accustomed to using another insolvency practitioner and the story I’ve painted above is ringing true for you, I’ve a question for you…why?

BEWARE! – What you’re not being told could be more important than what you’ve been told (2)

This is the second in what is likely to be a series of articles over the poor advice that my fellow insolvency practitioners are giving out.

In my last article – click here to read it – I talked about how owners of small companies that had no, or very few assets, were being talked into paying for liquidations they neither needed nor were obliged to carry out.  Today, I’m going to be talking about personal insolvencies, specifically a process called an ‘individual voluntary arrangement’ or IVA.

Take a look on the web and you’ll see numerous references to how easy IVAs are to both get into and live through; how they’re great because they’ll write off most of your unsecured debts; how you’ll protect your home; how they will leave you with money in your pocket every month; how they are somehow better and softer than bankruptcy.  It all sounds too good to be true…

And it often is.

You see, what they don’t tell you is that one third of all IVAs fail.  This is not anecdotal evidence, it’s hard evidence gathered by the government – click here to see the figures.  Look at figure 2.

OK, so one third of IVAs fail. Big deal, that’s not so bad, is it?

Well yes, it is.  You see not all IVAs are the same – some are income based, some are ‘one-off’ settlements.  Under a ‘one-off’ settlement type of IVA, money from an inheritance, windfall, gift from family or friends, or the sale of assets is paid into the IVA in a lump and then paid out to the unsecured creditors in full and final settlement of their debts.  The point is this money is certain – it’s probably already sitting there in a solicitor’s or the Insolvency Practitioner’s bank account held on trust pending the creditors’ agreement to the IVA – the success of the IVA is assured.  So if we knock out of the equation the one-off settlement IVAs, the true failure rate for income based IVAs must be higher than a third… let’s be conservative and say it’s 40%-45%.

Do you hear IPs telling people coming to them looking for an income based IVA that the process they are about to go into is about as likely to fail as it is to succeed?  No, I don’t.  Do they warn people of the impact on them of the IVA failing?  If you’re lucky, it’s skated over, after all it’s never going to happen is it? – you have every intention of fulfilling your part of the bargain.

So now we know the IVA has about 50-50 chance of failing as succeeding, but what is the impact of it doing so?

Let’s go back to some basics.  Back in 1986, IVAs were invented as a softer alternative to bankruptcy for sole traders, i.e. business owners.  They weren’t invented to deal with what they have turned out to be used mainly for – hundreds of thousands of consumers who have unsecured credit card and loan debts they could never pay.  So with something like 50,000 a year IVAs being put in place, rather than the handful expected, the insolvency governing bodies got together with the banks and agreed a standard form of IVA for such consumer debtors.

It’s called the ‘IVA Protocol’ – here’s a link to the government’s website linking to its various versions over time – and in a number of ways every version of it is truly horrible.  It’s clear the banks had the whip hand in the negotiations as it’s very much written in the banks’ favour.

So what does it say about failure?  Well, if you miss just 3 income contributions into the IVA over the 5 year period of the IVA – 5 years is the standard duration – the Insolvency Practitioner can petition for your bankruptcy.  It’s at his discretion, you cannot stop him. With many IVAs failing in years 2,3, even 4 or 5 of the IVA, all you’ve done while you’ve been paying into the IVA is throw good money after bad.  And what’s worse, the longer you stay in the IVA, the bigger a chance you’re giving a trustee in bankruptcy of taking your home off you! (house prices tend to go up, your mortgage will have either stayed the same or gone down, so after a time you’ve probably got equity you didn’t have previously that the trustee can get his hands on).

I have a good number of other issues with the IVA Protocol, but what really concerns me is that not once have I ever had someone who’s subject to one of these things come to me ever fully understand what they had got themselves into.  They simply got sold a story that it was the panacea to all their financial woes.  Not once has any Insolvency Practitioner fully explain the ‘what ifs’ satisfactorily so the person fully understood everything they needed to know before taking the plunge.  And that’s inexcusable.

I recognise that no one has a crystal ball that tells them what’s going to happen over the 5 year period of an IVA covered by the IVA Protocol … that people tend to be optimistic as to the future and hate taking a pessimistic view of what might happen … that people who are desperate will cling to any lifeline… but there is never any excuse from any insolvency practitioner for not being entirely honest with the facts and open as to the implications of a 50-50 gamble going the wrong way.  And that’s why I have a problem with my fellow IP’s advice.

BEWARE! – What you're not being told could be more important than what you've been told (2)

This is the second in what is likely to be a series of articles over the poor advice that my fellow insolvency practitioners are giving out.

In my last article – click here to read it – I talked about how owners of small companies that had no, or very few assets, were being talked into paying for liquidations they neither needed nor were obliged to carry out.  Today, I’m going to be talking about personal insolvencies, specifically a process called an ‘individual voluntary arrangement’ or IVA.

Take a look on the web and you’ll see numerous references to how easy IVAs are to both get into and live through; how they’re great because they’ll write off most of your unsecured debts; how you’ll protect your home; how they will leave you with money in your pocket every month; how they are somehow better and softer than bankruptcy.  It all sounds too good to be true…

And it often is.

You see, what they don’t tell you is that one third of all IVAs fail.  This is not anecdotal evidence, it’s hard evidence gathered by the government – click here to see the figures.  Look at figure 2.

OK, so one third of IVAs fail. Big deal, that’s not so bad, is it?

Well yes, it is.  You see not all IVAs are the same – some are income based, some are ‘one-off’ settlements.  Under a ‘one-off’ settlement type of IVA, money from an inheritance, windfall, gift from family or friends, or the sale of assets is paid into the IVA in a lump and then paid out to the unsecured creditors in full and final settlement of their debts.  The point is this money is certain – it’s probably already sitting there in a solicitor’s or the Insolvency Practitioner’s bank account held on trust pending the creditors’ agreement to the IVA – the success of the IVA is assured.  So if we knock out of the equation the one-off settlement IVAs, the true failure rate for income based IVAs must be higher than a third… let’s be conservative and say it’s 40%-45%.

Do you hear IPs telling people coming to them looking for an income based IVA that the process they are about to go into is about as likely to fail as it is to succeed?  No, I don’t.  Do they warn people of the impact on them of the IVA failing?  If you’re lucky, it’s skated over, after all it’s never going to happen is it? – you have every intention of fulfilling your part of the bargain.

So now we know the IVA has about 50-50 chance of failing as succeeding, but what is the impact of it doing so?

Let’s go back to some basics.  Back in 1986, IVAs were invented as a softer alternative to bankruptcy for sole traders, i.e. business owners.  They weren’t invented to deal with what they have turned out to be used mainly for – hundreds of thousands of consumers who have unsecured credit card and loan debts they could never pay.  So with something like 50,000 a year IVAs being put in place, rather than the handful expected, the insolvency governing bodies got together with the banks and agreed a standard form of IVA for such consumer debtors.

It’s called the ‘IVA Protocol’ – here’s a link to the government’s website linking to its various versions over time – and in a number of ways every version of it is truly horrible.  It’s clear the banks had the whip hand in the negotiations as it’s very much written in the banks’ favour.

So what does it say about failure?  Well, if you miss just 3 income contributions into the IVA over the 5 year period of the IVA – 5 years is the standard duration – the Insolvency Practitioner can petition for your bankruptcy.  It’s at his discretion, you cannot stop him. With many IVAs failing in years 2,3, even 4 or 5 of the IVA, all you’ve done while you’ve been paying into the IVA is throw good money after bad.  And what’s worse, the longer you stay in the IVA, the bigger a chance you’re giving a trustee in bankruptcy of taking your home off you! (house prices tend to go up, your mortgage will have either stayed the same or gone down, so after a time you’ve probably got equity you didn’t have previously that the trustee can get his hands on).

I have a good number of other issues with the IVA Protocol, but what really concerns me is that not once have I ever had someone who’s subject to one of these things come to me ever fully understand what they had got themselves into.  They simply got sold a story that it was the panacea to all their financial woes.  Not once has any Insolvency Practitioner fully explain the ‘what ifs’ satisfactorily so the person fully understood everything they needed to know before taking the plunge.  And that’s inexcusable.

I recognise that no one has a crystal ball that tells them what’s going to happen over the 5 year period of an IVA covered by the IVA Protocol … that people tend to be optimistic as to the future and hate taking a pessimistic view of what might happen … that people who are desperate will cling to any lifeline… but there is never any excuse from any insolvency practitioner for not being entirely honest with the facts and open as to the implications of a 50-50 gamble going the wrong way.  And that’s why I have a problem with my fellow IP’s advice.

What we can all learn from the mountains about fear …

Hi, this month I’m going to talk to you about something we all experience from time to time – and that’s fear.

We all feel fear from time to time, and right now, although there is more of a feelgood factor around, I am seeing people who are fearful of making key decisions whether they be ‘positive’ – growing their business or exiting – or less so, such as seeking a formal insolvency solution.  Fear can paralyse.  It can cause people to settle for a lesser outcome than they’re capable of.  Fear holds us all back, it’s just a question of how much we allow it and where.

I’m going to tell you a few personal stories about when I was afraid, indeed in fear of my life in the mountains, drawing on the circumstances, my thoughts, my and others’ actions – you see the principles that apply in the mountains also apply in business!

Firstly, let’s set the scene … I’m a member of a mountaineering club, a small team of us within it are ‘ticking off’ the highest mountains across Europe… and doing so has got us into a few scrapes.  Here are just three of them…

Let me take you back to my first European trip, all those years ago…

Here’s me part way up Gran Paradiso, Italy’s highest mountain.

Taking a break, high above the clouds, I was feeling good – I’d already put a lot of effort in, I was enjoying myself.  Sure, I wasn’t exactly in my comfort zone and had no idea what the next few hours would bring, but all was good, I was feeling strong and moderately confident.

Over the next few hours as we climbed higher, more of my colleagues fell by the wayside – the combination of intense heat, effort and reducing oxygen levels was taking its toll.  20 steps before stopping gasping for breath and waiting for the pain in my legs to subside became 15, then 10, then 5.  The slow plod up the snowfield then became more technically challenging, the penalty for a stumble more serious – if I hadn’t been roped up to an experienced climber who’d been along a similar, even though not the same route, before, I wouldn’t have got this far, I couldn’t have gone on.  But I was, and could.

Eventually we got to the top.  Euphoria!  Staying there for half an hour we drank in the views.

How many countries, how many mountains could we see?  Then it dawned on us, the snow and ice was melting in the afternoon sun… descending is always far more difficult and dangerous, and can be slower, than ascending…  even more so as the snow and ice softened.   It seems as suddenly things had got far more serious.  Our plan needed to be bold… our actions decisive… we had to implicitly trust each other and our equipment.

This was the plan…  I’d belay the climber down the ridge until where he could safely belay me, then  we’d swop; if there was no safe belay stance, we’d both walk carefully down the ridge, as close to the top edge as we could so that if one of us fell down the steep snow slope (this seemed more likely), the other would instantly throw himself over the cliff (3,000 foot drop) the other side to counterbalance the fall.  A fall or slip not stopped by the other climber would mean certain death for both of us.

God I was scared… I’d been afraid on the way up but this was altogether another level … and I was uncomfortable having to place my trust in one person for so much…I’d not had the opportunity to train with him before, there’d been no dry run.

4 hours later we arrived down safely at the hut, exhilarated, a real thank God moment .

Then there was Liechstenstein…Grauspitz

In the restaurant at the top of the cable car, we took ten minutes out in for a coke, today was going to be a long day…  today’s objective was a simple climb up a mere 2,500 metre peak before crossing the ridge to the hut.  You see we were following a route set out in the trusted Cicerone guidebook.

I guess we should have listened to the restaurant owner, he’d been to the top 200 or so times.  But we were taking a different route – one he said didn’t exist.  Surely, we can trust the guidebook?  ‘Which hut?’ he asked?  ‘In one day? – that’s impossible’.  Maybe we should have listened.

We started on our way…the scenery was stunning, it was Spring in the valleys, the flowers were incredible, the lakes a magical colour, the views across to the high mountains stupendous.   So this is where the Swiss army do their mortar practice?  They weren’t firing today so we carefully picked our way up the firing range, avoiding the UXBs stuck in the mud, posing for photos with the remnants of those that had gone off.

A check on the GPS, yes, this is the climb, time to rope up…there were no telltale signs of climbers having been here before, but checking the guidebook, this looked like the route.  Anyway we’d be ok, we’d been training for months, we had done this before.

50, 100, 150 metres up the climb … things were getting progressively more difficult.  And there was no way of retreating – there were no safe anchor points off which we could abseil.  We had just one option, to keep climbing…


This is a photo of me at one of the advanced belay stances.  The look on my face says it all.  A few minutes before this was taken a rock the size of a fridge had come down, dislodged by my climbing partner, missing my head by inches.  I’d never seen it, my colleagues yards from me had.  There had been no warning shout, it had happened so quickly.  This was serious: I had just one piece of gear attaching me to the rock – the norm is 3 – and it was poor, it wouldn’t hold  a fall; the rope to my partner then ran out, he hadn’t moved for several minutes, he’d dislodged a ruck of rocks, it was obvious he was stuck; and on the way to where he was now stuck he’d been complaining he couldn’t get any gear in. There was a good chance he’d fall from 30 metres + above and straight past me – unless I could somehow jump on him as he went past.  We’d probably both fall straight to the bottom – 400 ft or so.  Look at the concentration on my face! – I was listening what was happening above, feeling, reading the rope, hoping to make the right decision in a split second should my partner fall – what was happening on the climb next to me was ignored, we had our problems, they had theirs, we couldn’t help them right now, 100% focus on the here and now.

A shout came down ‘ I need you to leave your stance, start climbing with me, I’m ten metres from a ledge, I might be able to make it’.  Leaving such an uncomfortable, unsafe place wasn’t too hard a decision, yet it still meant making a gigantic leap of faith… sure it might not work, but what was the alternative?  And it meant climbing at a grade above my normal lead climber capabilities, up a collapsing route, essentially with us both operating at the very limit of what we can do for a short while.

A few hours later, exhausted we go to the top of ‘the climb’.  We’d made it… or so we thought.  A plod up a rubble field led us to a col ….

The summit was a mere hour’s round trip to the left, the hut a very long way down, you can just see it left of the mountain.  As it was early evening we took the difficult decision of abandoning the summit attempt despite traveling all that way just to bag it!  Our plan of crossing the ridge was also abandoned – it wasn’t a ridge as the maps had suggested, it was another immense climb – our plan, based on books and maps, was unachievable – foreign maps are so unreliable!

Contour around, pick up the path, it’ll be easy, won’t it?  8 hours later, 2am at night, in the pitch black, exhausted physically and mentally, we collapsed into the hut – having improvised on our crossing of 2 precipitous snowfields (we’d abandoned our snow and ice gear in the car as we’d been told there was no snow up there); done several via ferrata in the dark, above huge drops …etc.  We’d been the first to cross from the col this year. Although hardy mountaineers this relatively small one had pushed us to our limit, and beyond, time and time again.   We’d given it our best shot, but we’d failed… but we were alive, no one had died – our pride was dented.

Then there was Germany…Glossglockner

Getting up any 4,000 metre peak is hard work, they don’t give in easily.  A long walk up the valley, across the glacier, up a scramble led us to the hut at around 3,500 metres.  I was really struggling – the speedy climb to such a height meant I had ‘mild’ altitude sickness. I couldn’t eat, I had a raging headache, I ached all over, I was shivering uncontrollably, my breathing was shallow and very rapid.  I doubted whether I’d be able to get up in the morning, let alone have a crack at the mountain.

After a night of no sleep, things hadn’t really improved, yet forcing some breakfast down, and with some encouragement from my fellow climbers, I decided to give it a go as I’d come that far.  The problem was Andy, our most experienced guy, suggested that I should lead the team!  I hadn’t lead climbed a 4,000 metre peak before.  And I was feeling terrible. My pride meant I simply had to give it a go – the nickname ‘bunk-bed’ given to one of my climbing friends who had had similar altitude issues but stopped in the hut on a previous trip had stuck with him!

Slowly I started off, zig-zagging up a snow bank that steepened until eventually the snow gave a way to a scramble, time to ditch the snow gear.   I still felt terrible.  Huge drop to the left – memo to self – be aware of it but don’t let it detract from my focus – always keep three limbs on the rock; plan half a dozen moves ahead; find and stick to a rhythm; test each move before committing to one that might be fatal; look out for and use what protection you can when it’s there, but if there’s none, trust yourself; small moves, no big ones; stop and re-appraise strategy when you can; expect a crux – don’t worry about it until you get there, and then just deal with it; control the emotions; trust in your team but keep watching them to monitor their performance; expect someone, in this case the foreign guides, who somehow think you’re inhabiting their space to try to walk all over you.


This is a photo of the ridge, that I led us up to, across and back down…with pride, with increasing confidence and adrenalin overcoming my physical difficulties and mental uncertainty.

So what comparisons can we draw to being in business, especially one that is struggling?

  • Being in a comfortable place is only temporary.  Make the most of it because it’s not the norm – the norm is being out of the comfort zone, continually stretching yourself.  
  • It’s ok to aim high and miss, because even then you’re still achieving far more than almost everyone else!
  • If pushed, you’d be surprised what a normal person can achieve…especially if they’re supported, even tacitly, by an expert who’s got real, practical, experience along a similar route. 
  • It’s important to have the right equipment / tools around you.  It’s vital you have the right team around you.  You may be able to improvise on the equipment/tools, but don’t ever consider compromising on the team.
  • After someone has got used to operating outside of their comfort zone, decisions and actions that were once considered to be impossible become easier.   And that breeds self-confidence.
  • Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and get on with it, however hard it becomes.
  • Desperation is not always a bad thing, even if it did feel like the worst thing in the world at the time. 
  • Pride can either get in the way of achieving something major or drive you on to do it – it’s neither entirely a good nor bad thing, but it’s important to know how it’s effecting your decisions and assess whether you should allow it to, or not.
  • There must be an end game and a plan, but neither should be set in stone – it’s a good idea to adapt both of them as you go along to reflect changing circumstances.
  • You can never stop working on your skills – it’s not enough to just rely on the experts.  Everything that’s worthwhile achieving involves a good degree of self-help. 
  • What’s going on inside a person’s head is key – your own self belief and a willingness to take calculated risks are vital when the chips are down.  To others, even you at an earlier moment in time, this may seem reckless, but it’s not.  Having overcome any sort of challenge in your life, even in completely unconnected areas, can be a help to taking tough decisions now.  
  • Sometimes to survive it’s essential to focus on one thing at a time, ignoring everything else that is going on around you.  The ability to blank out things you cannot influence and are irrelevant right at that moment in time is important.   
  • 99.9% of the time there’s no need for you to take big steps – there are only small steps strung together to make one big step.  Looking no further than the current step can be a good thing.
  • Things take longer than you’d anticipate.  Everything… always.  
  • It’s ok to be scared, even out of your wits, and to lack confidence.  But it’s vital to harness your fear, to control your emotions, to maintain your cool, to dampen down any uncertainty even if things are going against you – doing so will sharpen your awareness, up your game if only to enable you to live for another day.  In business what’s the worst that can happen? – after all, you can rebuild!

As an insolvency practitioner, I have to deal with stressful situations similar to those I’ve encountered in the mountains, every day.  I believe that these experiences help give me the right balance, help me best support the clients I work with.  Sure, not everyone wants to go on such a journey, but that’s ok, because plenty do, and for them the world is their oyster.

Paul Brindley
Midlands Business Recovery