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May 1, 2008updated 12 Apr 2017 4:55pm

Surviving the recession and realising the opportunities

During the last recession in 1990 most current senior management were at the start of their careers. Therefore for them the essential problem of surviving and prospering in a recession is that, with no real previous experience, the likelihood is that as many wrong decisions will be made as right ones, and the flexibility of the time to learn doesnt exist.

By Phillip Derby

During the last recession in 1990 most current senior management were at the start of their careers. Therefore for them the essential problem of surviving and prospering in a recession is that, with no real previous experience, the likelihood is that as many wrong decisions will be made as right ones, and the flexibility of the time to learn doesn’t exist.
The usual mantras of cutting unnecessary costs and external contracts, raising margins, improving credit criteria and tightening control of bad debts are trotted out by most and are, of course, nowhere near the answer.

In fact, these are no more than the way a business should be run efficiently in normal times. Personally I am instinctively counter cyclical and want to go in the opposite direction to the norm.

My view is that you need to get radical, be totally objective and will have to be fairly ruthless rather than emotional. Now is the time to really analyse your business divisions/sectors, and to do that objectively you will need external help as internal views will be merely self serving and self justifying.

Running down old poor portfolios on the one hand, and transacting new business on the other, are clearly opposite ends of the spectrum. They require differing attitudes and cultures. If you cannot sell out your old portfolio at least separate it. Costs are not important in themselves, but what is important is the relationship with the bottom line. It often makes sense to pay more because it can radically motivate and improve the bottom line.

If you aren’t transacting business then either get rid of your new business staff or start doing business. I know of at least one team that has done nothing for more than a year.

As for opportunities, be patient and don’t ever ‘bet the shop’. What a great time it would be to start a middle-ticket business in asset backed high margin deals. Hey, I have a feeling of déjà vu.

Philip Derby was CEO of ING Lease (UK) Limited from its start-up in 1989 until November 2005. He recently set up a mentoring service to assist companies (both within and outside the leasing industry) to develop strategies and business plans to survive and prosper in recession. He can be contacted at philip@philipderby.demon.co.uk.

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