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Pulled in Every Direction

The challenges women face when leading a corporation, people, your husband and your children

By January 2005, I had been at Bancroft for a little over four months. In that time, I had hired new and experienced talent and put new processes in place to collect reliable information about what was owed to us and what we owed. We were holding off our creditors for the time being. We even caught a thief who had been robbing us blind! But there was still so much to do, and I knew things were going to get worse before they got better. I still didn’t see a clear way out. 

Cash, or rather the lack thereof, continued to be our biggest problem. If we couldn’t stabilize the cash, nothing else mattered. I hired a new business office manager to help our consultant, but she needed to get up to speed. I was starting to see financial statements that gave me a clearer view into how bad things were. Even though they still painted a dark picture, the numbers were at least coming in clearly. 

One thing I learned from the reports was that we were sending an end- less stream of money to our operation in Covington, Louisiana, a serious concern on top of an endless—though now tidy—pile of serious concerns. Seven years before I arrived, Bancroft had acquired a brain injury program located on two campuses in Louisiana. In theory, it was a smart financial move since brain injury programs can provide strong streams of cash flow. But the Louisiana market was changing, and insurance reimbursement rates were decreasing. The program director there was attempting to reduce both their overhead and the cost of providing services, but it just wasn’t happening fast enough. Our operations in New Jersey were covering the gap with money we didn’t have. 

The numbers also showed me that our outpatient clinics in New Jersey were struggling, and patient volume was insufficient to offset the salaries of our top doctors. While our physicians had stellar reputations in the neurological field, the facilities could not accommodate the growth we would need to generate sufficient revenue from services provided. In addition, we provided little marketing attention to these physicians and their services— certainly well below that given to Bancroft’s other programs. 

While reporting had improved, the data was still not nearly good enough to give me a solid handle from which to project future cash needs. Things were so bad and seemingly still out of control that I started tracking cash flow manually. I tracked cash day by day, week by week, so I could see firsthand when cash was coming in and when payments had to go out. I created a “MUST PAY” column that calculated the cash needed for the $150,000 weekly health insurance payment, the $1.8 million biweekly payroll, and the monthly rent payments for the 150 homes and apartments which we operated. We held on to the cash for as long as possible, and, after making those critical payments, we divided what was left among the vendors, releasing the money as we could. 

We managed to meet payroll through the end of the 2004 calendar year with help from the state agencies that funded the services we provided. They wired in $1.6 million to our account on the last day of each month, almost enough to meet one of the two monthly payrolls. When the last day of the month was past our payday, we called to ask if they could send it in a few days early. I had multiple calls with our contractor administrator at the state. He worked with me as best he could but warned me that the department couldn’t continue like this indefinitely. 

One conversation stands out in my mind as if it happened yesterday. It was January, less than half a year after I started. I was explaining to him how the state funds had been helping us to get through paydays and how we would then cobble together funds for the second payday each month. 

“I have to tell you something, Toni,” he said. This couldn’t be good, I thought. “Because of the state budget process, the June payment will likely be held until mid-July—after the budget has passed. I won’t be able to help you get any funds in that month.” 

Fantastic. Yes, it was only January, and we’d just taken down the holiday decorations, but I already knew that we would never make it a full month without the state payment, even with five months to plan. 

Bancroft was taking up most of my time—and rightfully so. If we couldn’t make that payroll payment in the summer, then I didn’t even want to think about Bancroft’s future. I wasn’t just a CFO, though. I was also a wife and mother, and while I was battling to keep Bancroft from closing, my family life kept rolling ahead, with or without me. And I desperately wanted it to be rolling along with me. 

The next year was a big one for the Pergolins. My husband John had started a new job at a bank shortly before I joined Bancroft. His company was having a great year, and we were invited to go on a cruise along with the bank’s top customers. Neither of us had ever been on a cruise, and John saw this as an opportunity to get to know the bank’s customers and his co-workers better. 

I couldn’t imagine being out of the office for four days straight. Just the thought of being in the middle of the ocean with no ability to check on Bancroft’s cash situation made me very nervous. My manually tracked columns wouldn’t be up to date, and I saw that daily entry as critical to managing us out of the situation we were in. The cruise wasn’t until March, so we had some time before committing. “Maybe things will be better by then,” I said to John one night at a kid’s basketball game. I hope, I thought to myself. 

My younger son Timmy was in second grade and making his First Holy Communion in May. There would be a lot to do to prepare for his big day, including planning a post-Mass party and coordinating travel and hotel arrangements for my family from Pittsburgh so they could celebrate with us. It was months away, yet I still worried about how I’d get it all done at home while also keeping Bancroft’s doors open. 

My older son Stephen was in the fifth grade, his first year of middle school. He was a super speller and had won his school’s fifth-grade spelling bee, which meant that he would go on to compete against students from other Catholic schools in the area. The competition was scheduled for April, and he had 5,000 words to study. I had been his study partner since he started school, and he relied on our partnership to prepare. I knew I would need to find the time to work with him to get ready for the competition. 

To be honest, I could have slept in my office and still not gotten every- thing done. But every day, I dragged myself from my chair by 6:15 p.m. for my 20-mile commute to get home in time for dinner with my family. As a child, I had always enjoyed our family dinners, and I was a strong believer in the role they would play in my children’s lives. So tired or not, I religiously made dinner for my family every night. Sometimes we ate late, and some- times the food wasn’t the best, but we sat around the table and ate it together. Many evenings, when I could have been poring over spreadsheets, I put on my “mom” hat and was there for my boys in whatever way was needed. 

I always had so much on my mind, and my mind felt like it was split between home and work. Between both, my “to do” list grew longer and longer, and there were never enough hours in the day to get it all done. 

And still, despite all the changes I’d made, the controls I’d put in place, and the new staff now on board, the situation didn’t improve—prompting a meeting with the CEO and the Board Chair, something I was doing pretty often at this point. As we reviewed cash flow and revenue projections, 

I outlined my strategy of holding on to cash for as long as I could while preventing vendors from ceasing services. I also noted that we would be running with a negative cash balance—for a day or two—until the deposits caught up. 

Because I was tracking deposits daily, I knew Mondays and Fridays were usually the highest cash days of the week. We could expect deposits of several hundred thousand dollars in the early part of a typical week, followed by a dramatic midweek drop to the tens of thousands. We would then hope and pray we could recover by Friday. The mail carrier’s arrival was the most anticipated moment of the day. 

I wondered how long this could go on. It was exhausting. Week after week, we’d find ourselves hoping and praying cash would come in, when it didn’t to the extent we needed, and then struggling to have enough funds to make payroll every 10 days—and then starting all over again until the next payroll. I considered it a miracle that we had made it this far on so little, but at the pace we were going, we wouldn’t make it much longer. We needed another miracle, but I wasn’t convinced there were any more in store for Bancroft. 

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