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The Upside of the Downturn

Upside of Downturn

WHILE WE recognize that nothing good can be said about the misery that people are experiencing as a result of the current financial crisis, it is a “rare moment when we all face the greatest possible opportunity to make ourselves winners for a long time to come,” says Geoff Colvin in The Upside of the Downturn.

The Upside of the Downturn
In his standard brisk, clean and engaging style, Colvin argues that the recession has created a new world in which the U.S. economy will be less consumer-driven and consumer-focused, social attitudes toward working, saving, spending, and borrowing will shift, the world economy will become less U.S. centric, investors will remain spooked for a long time, and, as you might expect, government will play a much larger role. He contends that the best companies will respond in ten particular ways beginning with resetting your priorities. To borrow from Max DePree, "the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality" and then to understand exactly what that means for you and your organization or as Colvin puts it, “to understand the challenges of what you see, is the first crucial step toward finding opportunities in this recession.” Colvin then advises:

Protect Your Most Valuable Asset. Layoffs are more costly than you think and are not always the best answer. Toyota’s policy of keeping employees on staff during recessions (and giving them extra training) means that when the economy turns up, those employees are in the plant, ready to go, and far better prepared than the employees of any competitor.

Reexamine Your Strategy and Business Model. Excellent companies are certain of their core and focus their attention there. Kohl’s actually spent more on marketing in the recessionary 2008 holiday season than it had in 2007 because marketing is an essential part of their core.

Create New Solutions for Customers’ New Problems. Instead of cutting prices, Hyundai offered US consumers a different value proposition that was entirely original – buy one of our cars, and if you can’t make your payments, you can give the car back to us and we’ll cancel the debt. While sales of most carmakers fell, Hyundai’s sales rose by double digits.

Get Fitter Faster. American Express recently made an unusual offer – pay off your outstanding balance and close your account, and we’ll send you a $300 prepaid gift card. They figured it was worth paying people to clear their debts now rather than let those debts go bad, at a much higher expense to Amex later.

In addition, he advises that we engage the outside world, manage for value, price with courage, understand all our risks, and don’t forget to grow ourselves. He says that faced with the fact that the recession pushes us past our current abilities, the question is “how will we respond to being shoved outside our comfort zones.” Now “is the very best time for us to surge, to push ourselves ahead and develop the new skills and abilities that will change us and stay with us forever.” Agreed.

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