Beyond the Build

Customer Relationships

Tips from the Trenches: CEO’s Recession Strategy Improves Leadership in Any Economic Climate

I was recently reading Institutional Investor, a magazine that provides financial commentary and survey results directly impacting investment decisions. They’ve just announced their  “All-American Executive Team” award winners for multiple corporate titles. This is a composite from a survey of 570 sell-side analysts at more than 100 securities firms and 780 buy-side investment professionals at 425 financial institutions—big rainmakers.

I found it interesting to read what this group considers the most important criteria for evaluating corporate management. Here’s what they graded in the survey:

  • Access to senior management
  • Responsiveness
  • Communication of corporate social responsibility and green initiatives
  • Credibility and candor of investor relations team
  • Industry knowledge
  • Quality of earnings guidance
  • Transparency of financial reporting and disclosures
  • Quality of information on their website

And top marks went to…Staples Office Products who won 7 out of 8 awards and came in second for all industries. Their CEO Ronald Sargent was lauded for being a shareholder friendly 20-year veteran of Staples who has steered the company through these difficult economic times. The 3-pronged strategy he shared seems valuable to us all:

  1. Take care of customers.
  2. Hunker down on expenses.
  3. Invest in the future.

It’s been no “Easy Button” but Sargent says, “The most important thing you can do is to maintain or even strengthen your relationships with your customers.” Staples is coaching employees to emphasize value and steer customers towards less expensive store brands, with hopes this will build trust and loyalty.

I couldn’t agree more. We’ve been trying to use the downtime to improve practices and strengthen relationships in innovative ways. Planting Acorns is one tool we’re using. We’re already starting to see how our take on the three points has reinforced our company for opportunities that have yet to surface.

Now I’ll ask you. What is your company doing now to invest in the future? Could an adaptation of Sargent’s simple strategy work for you?

Merrill Stewart Jr.

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