Beyond the Build


Life Lessons from the Recession: It’s not all bad.

While most of us are suffering from the Recession’s effects in one way or another, there is a silver lining inside our current cloud. Recessions let us step back and observe the way we do business, often providing takeaways for our businesses as we move forward. From the reading I have done, innovation and great companies are born during lean economic periods. Here are a few lessons I have learned this time around:

Maintain an attitude of appreciationAs survivors, we learn to first appreciate what we have instead of focusing on not what we do not have. Hopefully we will always be humble and thankful for the small successes.

Maximize down time to get to know your clients Many of your customer relationships have a decreased workload, and that means they have more time to spend with you. The availability of dedicated time is of course a good thing. It allows us to formulate a clearer image of the people our businesses are dealing with.

Allow adversity to reveal true natureIn a recession, character and culture come out–both the good and the ugly.  Folks that you might think are upstanding may be different when the tide is falling and they are faced with hardship. Take note of how they deal with these situations, as it may be the most genuine portrait of an individual’s character that you will ever see.

Keep greed in checkWhile ethics and transparency are important, the truth is that a need for success motivates us all and is necessary in our economic system. The question is, how much greed is too much? We should not tolerate borderline or obviously unethical behavior. Hopefully, at least for a while, the leadership of our nation’s businesses and Wall Street will remember.

Search for simple places to reduce, reuse and recycleDuring the past year or so we have learned to do more with less. We evaluate everything in our shop to save. As an example, our office has consolidated several subscriptions to the same magazine. The individual recipients now share a single copy of the publication. Small changes in areas like this add up to big saving with little or no effect on our corporate culture—except making us all better stewards of company’s green values.

Quality leadership will always outperform in the long run. When our economy begins to recover, I feel there will be a tendency to think we have corrected everything and the future will be different. Companies that use the Recession as a learning curve and make the lessons they learn intrinsic corporate values will emerge from the downturn as innovators and true leaders.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.