Lessons learned from the Great Recession

    Every year, I have the privilege of meeting with the board of directors of the Council of Small Business Executives (COSBE). I ask them a question, and they enlighten me with their answers.

    This year, my question to them was, “What was the best lesson you learned from the Great Recession?” I mean, as painful as the downturn has been, it would be a shame if we didn’t learn anything from it, right?

    As usual, their answers were forthright and to the point.

    Wayne Staats, chief executive officer of the Granville Business Development Center in Milwaukee, began the conversation by saying his companies needed to get “leaner and meaner.”

    Michael Herro, CEO of Nickal LLC in Waukesha, played the Jim Collins “Good to Great” card, saying it was important for companies to “keep the right people on the bus and get the wrong people off the bus.” Better productivity is “the new normal” for businesses now, Herro said.

    Paul Sweeney, principal of P.S. Capital Partners LLC in Milwaukee, said that if companies needed to reduce staff, it was best if they did it “as deep and as early as you can,” rather than debilitate the company with the constant drip of layoffs that destroys staff morale.

    Consultant Cary Silverstein of Fox Point, a columnist for BizTimes, said many CEOs did not know how to lay people off from the procedural, legal and emotional standpoints. Many companies tended to skew toward keeping younger employees with lower salaries, leaving the firms at risk of allegations of age discrimination, he said.

    Randi Becker, vice president of The Mark Travel Corp. in Milwaukee, said the recession demonstrated the importance of having a strong banking relationship when capital became scarce.

    Mary Scheibel, principal of Scheibel Halaska Inc. Inc. in Milwaukee, said she tightened her company’s focus on the fundamentals, the “blocking and tackling” of doing business. She also said it was important to “keep your faith” that your company will survive.

    Rob McNamara, president of FJA Christiansen Roofing Co. Inc. in Milwaukee, said, “‘Reset’ is the best way I know of putting it.'”

    Jerry Jendusa, CEO of Emteq in New Berlin, said it was important for his company to get its employees involved in developing ways to cut costs. “Be transparent,” he suggested.

    Connie Roethel, president of Core Health Group in Mequon, said it is important for employers to realize the toll that the uncertainty of the recession has taken on the mental, emotional and physical health of their employees.

    David Griffith, CEO of Cross Town Machining in Muskego, said that in a recession, “you find out who your friends are,” and loyalty should then be rewarded when the economy rebounds.

    Tina Chang, CEO of SysLogic Inc., said many companies are “missing out” by not seizing new opportunities though social media and new technologies.

    Charles Engberg, partner at Engberg Anderson Inc. in Milwaukee, said his company has used the recession to “re-educate” its employees on new technologies that will position them for success as the economy rebounds. “We’re leaner, we’re nicer and we’re greener,” he said, adding that he also is looking for ways to put his company “in the spotlight.”

    So, whether you’ve gone “lean and mean” or “lean and green,” here’s hoping your company comes out of this recession prepared to seize the opportunities the rebound will provide.


    Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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