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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

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The headlines -- and reality -- were painful, but did we come out stronger?

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.


Talkbacks

speakthetruth | Feb. 26, 2010 at 12:15 p.m. (report)

Most employers have been far too "fat" for far too long. Everyone rails on Detroit, but they were just a great poster child. Most industries were operating nowhere near capacity prior to the recession, and still "getting by" in terms of profitability. Technology has eliminated countless jobs--from agriculture to travel agents, from realtors to back office finance teams that used to compile numbers manually. We need more jobs that produce actual goods, and far fewer jobs that exist for the sake of offering employment. The government should lead by example and not back fill most positions for the next decade.

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devidia | Feb. 25, 2010 at 12:49 p.m. (report)

I agree with 414girl. At some point companies are going to have to learn to look past some things that have happened to people because of the recession and start hiring them, including older workers, some of whom are just as capable and willing to learn new technologies and ideas as younger people are. Otherwise, as 414girl said, unemployment will stay very high.

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High_Life_Man | Feb. 25, 2010 at 10:25 a.m. (report)

Again, AJ, we think alike. When I saw "learned", I just about s my pants. This thing is still going on - and is a long way from rainbows and Skittles. And once it is over, lessons "learned" will be forgotten and business will get fat and happy. We should be using this downtime to reform our country and to make it better for the long run. Unfortunately, that won't happen. What can you do for me NOW?

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AndrewJ | Feb. 25, 2010 at 8:57 a.m. (report)

"What was the best lesson you learned from the Great Recession?" Learned? Try, "What lessons are we learning". It's hard to imagine there is anyone in this country, particularly in Wisconsin, that could look at any current job or consumer data and speak of this thing in the past tense. Unemployment is still far too high, consumer confidence is shaky at best, and there is still that giant black storm cloud called inflation is still building as Obama finds new ways to pump "Administration Dollars" into the economy. Residents of Wisconsin should be looking at this with an even more leery eye than the rest of the nation. Our state is virtually bankrupt, and may actually achieve that with today's vote in Madison to possibly institute our own version of Obama Care. Yeah. Great idea. Peanuts for health premiums won't have people rushing into our state to take advantage of foolish legislation, raising costs for the rest of us. Look at the facts, don't just listen to your shepherd, sheep.

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414girl | Feb. 24, 2010 at 10:41 p.m. (report)

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. Sorry to have to copy the whole quote but....I sure hope this is Not what companies think the unemployed people are (the wrong people on the bus) not to mention the long term unemployed...ahem maybe you can sense my position. Well not all unemployed are the wrong people...some of them are recent college grads who just happen to graduate at the wrong time! If companies are hesitant to hire the unemployed and long term unemployed! the rate will stay double digit and the rich will keep on getting richer and the poor will continue to struggle. Many companies had to eliminate positions just to stay afloat, there are many talented people who are unemployed or under-employed because of stiff competition.

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