If You Have Made It This Far …

If You Have Made It This Far … By Brian Rowland, Publisher Originally published in the Aug/Sep 2011 issue of 850 Business Magazine

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been speaking with my counselors, mentors and business friends as I work through the process of hiring new workers for four positions, training a couple of new employees and wrestling with the ongoing challenges of navigating a company through one of the most stressful economic times of the past 50 years.

Has it been difficult? Yes. Have I learned more about corporate leadership in the past three years than I have in the past 20? Yes. Am I ready to get back to the problems of dealing with double-digit growth that I didn’t appreciate as much from 2003 to 2007 as I do now? Yes. Please.

During a recent conversation with a business friend who has run numerous firms, founded several start-ups and sold several companies quite successfully, he said something that has given my entrepreneurial spirit a boost of adrenaline that will carry me for at least the next six to nine months.

This, he said, is his favorite time of the economic business cycle. Why? Simple, he explained. This is the fourth quarter of a recession and the predecessor to an economic upswing in Northwest Florida. I said, “Tell me more.”

Bottom line, he said, is that all the weak businesses have closed over the past three years — or are so economically ravaged they are unprepared to be an active participant on the front line of the recovery. Opportunities abound for those companies that have successfully maneuvered through this economic minefield and are financially sound. These are the companies strategically positioned to lead the charge as business begins to ramp up in the recovery.

As I now stand back from the forest and look at the trees, I realize he is right on point.

Banks are begging to lend money to those who can demonstrate they are able to handle the loan and repay it. Real estate values have never been better for those with cash on hand or borrowing power. It truly is a buyer’s market, from a commercial as well as a residential perspective.

And the employment pool is flush with motivated and qualified individuals who want a job and will give a 150 percent effort to a new employer to become part of a successful team. This labor pool is available at a fair and reasonable cost. Prospective employees know that this is not the time to play hardball with a good job offer. That may have worked to a job applicant’s advantage five years ago, but today it is those who are willing to take a half-step back in order to capture an opportunity that will let them take three steps forward during the upcoming recovery who will secure their success in the long run.

I embrace the economic pendulum as it swings back up to its zenith and returns Northwest Florida to a period of renewed economic prosperity. They say that experience is the best teacher — and I for one will never forget the lessons learned during the Great Recession of 2008-2011.

It is unfortunate that the greed of several Wall Street firms set into motion a practice that allowed people who could not meet the standard qualifications to buy a house — because they simply could not afford it — to get loans and purchase homes, leaving them financially over their heads. When the bubble burst, those who didn’t walk away from their loan obligation are now left upside down in a property that may never be worth what they paid for it. There was greed on both sides — from those pushing the loans to make a buck and from the consumers who obviously couldn’t afford what they were buying.

Put this all together and add a war on top of it. Presto! America is in a financial position that will probably take decades to get right, if it ever does.

My hope is that the financial industry and our government leadership will also hold that memory close so that they and we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past but instead carry those lessons well into the future.