Executives Thrive Despite Economic Fears
As seen in The Wall Street Journal.
The collapse of financial titan Bear Stearns has heightened concerns among executives across industries that the U.S. economy is in a recession. The mess on Wall Street has made it difficult for companies to get financing to do deals; slowed sales of cars, clothing, other consumer goods; and prompted managers to scuttle hiring plans and consider layoffs.
The worst thing business leaders can do, however, is panic, especially because the length and severity of a slowdown is impossible to predict. Here are some management lessons gleaned from recent events to help executives navigate successfully in coming months.
• Seize opportunities while you can. — What is your company doing to cope with the recession? Are your top executives doing enough to save business and jobs?
• Look overseas for growth. The weak dollar and continued growth in India, China and other emerging economics are a boon to small, and some big, U.S. companies with broad global reach.
• Keep debt low. Cash is king as debt markets roil. Executives who have built up their companies' cash reserves will have a cushion if the economy swings widely in coming quarters. They also will be best positioned to keep investing in new products, to hire talent and to take advantage of falling prices for deals.
One big reason executives at International Paper were able to acquire rival Weyerhaeuser's containerboard, packaging and recycling businesses last week was by having a balance sheet with low debt and strong cash flow. The deal also gave Weyerhaeuser $6 billion in cash for a business it wanted to exit. That should allow Weyerhaeuser's CEO Steve Rogal to expand the company's forest and building-materials businesses, which he sees as its strengths.
• Get your résumé on the street. Network if you're in a vulnerable industry, even if you haven't been told you're losing your job. Managers should feel prodded to consider alternatives to the companies they currently work for and even to the careers they have.
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