Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Lessons of Adversity: What has Corporate America learned fro the Economic Crisis?

"The Fortune 500 is having its worst slump ever, but the survivors have been taught a few things about thinking long term and sticking to principles", Rick Tetzeli wrote in his recently published article in Fortune Magazine's May 4, 2009. Rick highlights the learned lessons as follows:
1. Gorging on easy profits can be fatal.
Author recognised "Wall Street and Detroit tumbled for a lot of reasons, but high on the list is the fact that they thought the free buffet would be open indefinitely". In context of Wall Street, the beliefs were that "accepting risk would always pay off" and for Detroit "the assumption was that consumer preferences would be slow to change".   
2. Highly disciplined companies can thrive in all seasons.
The companies highly disciplines companies although suffered yet they didn't suffer nearly as much as others. "IBM (No. 14 in Fortune 500 companies) has become the model for pushing itself up the technology learning curve, while Johnson & Johnson (No. 29 in Fortune 500 companies) has relentlessly taken the long view".
3. The tech sector is now a pillar of stability.
The technology sector's  strength keeps growing. "Many of the tech companies that soared onto the list in the 1990s started as small, venture-capital-backed firms and have now become a mostly boring set of increasingly huge companies like Oracle (No. 113) and Cisco (No. 57)". And the future is promising.  Michael Moritz, a partner at Sequoia Capital, which helped bankroll Google and Yahoo, looks at the list this way: "I've always felt that if the venture business could add one name to the list every five or six years, that would be a massive achievement. No other sector of the economy does that."
4. The Fortune 500 is still an old-boys' club - but it's changing fast.
The majority, 485 of the 500 fortune companies, are run by men. But the scene is changing slowly. Today 15 women run Fortune 500 companies is an all-time high, up from seven in 2003. Lynn Elsenhans took over Sunoco (No. 41), marking the first time a woman has helmed an oil giant. 
5. The next five years may redefine everything.
Banking and automaking aren't the only industries that will be changed for good. Entertainment, publishing, and airlines face threats to their survival. And consider homebuilding: Five companies fell right off the list this year: Hovnanian, KB Home, Lennar, NVR, and Toll Brothers. 
The author stressed that the behavior of American consumer is changing and companies are adjusting their sale offers.  As Dollar Tree's stores CEO Bob Sasser says "We are positioned well for any economy. We sell things people need every day." The American consumer's focus on value vs. prestige may be changing in a lasting way. 
6. American business - we hope - has been tempered by fire.
"If the next five years will be defining ones, they will also be years where we should see U.S. companies apply what they've learned from 2008". 
7. Business will be more accountable.
There is a societal pressure on the companies to be more accountable and companies are preparing for the same. Ram Charan, a consultant to CEOs of many Fortune 500 companies, foresees: "a shift in the composition of executive pay. Corporate boards will try to ease the grip of Wall Street by adopting pay structures that consider all stakeholders, including employees and customers". 
That would be a change we could all live with. And a sign that we actually learned something from the disaster.

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