Scott Harris’ Column on Economy Runs in San Fernando Valley Business Journal

Recession Leaves Market of Opportunity for Some
By Scott Harris

According to the Ad Council, Smokey Bear (unofficially known as Smokey the Bear) is recognized by more than 90% of adults and by three out four children. Almost all of us are familiar with the 1944 slogan, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.” For years the United States Forest Service mascot has been telling us that fires are bad and to be prevented at all costs. In recent years, a new view has evolved, known as “restoration ecology.” This new discipline recognizes that there is value, perhaps even critical need, in having wildfires, to the point where we now have “controlled burns” in areas that have gone too long between fires. New fire policies benefit from advances in ecology studies and now take the position that many ecosystems need the disturbance created by a wildfire to continue evolving and growing.

It strikes me that the same can be said for recessions and our economy. We have been trained to believe that recessions are bad and to be avoided at all costs. However, it is my belief that a recession, like the one we are coming out of, is actually beneficial to the economy in the long run. A forest fire moves quickly, burning through deadwood and the small, weak plants, leaving the strong and adaptive plants a better environment for growth and strength. We are seeing the same thing as we emerge from our recent economic troubles. Many weak companies did not survive and many weak employees lost their jobs. (Note: I recognize, too, that some good companies didn’t make it and that some excellent employees lost their jobs.) The downside of a wildfire, natural or economic, is that it is indiscriminate. However, if we look at the net results, we see that this recession leaves a larger market of opportunity for the surviving companies and employees.

The companies that survived should now be stronger and better managed; they should also be smarter for the experience. I have said before that, “Success breeds mediocrity.” What that means is that it’s easy to be a lazy manager, business owner or employee when things are going well. When profits are up, it’s easier to hold on to a weak employee, to continue doing things as “we’ve always done them” and, most important, to put off difficult decisions. After what we’ve been through, very few of us, at least for a few years, are going to take sales, good employees or profits for granted.

As employees, most of us are now thankful to have jobs. I have certainly seen a lessening of feelings of entitlement and an increased sense of gratitude for having a good job with a good company. We’re working harder and smarter and bringing more value to our employers.

For those who didn’t make it, it’s a time of re-evaluation, change and growth. Community colleges are flooded with people looking to get a better education and bring more value to the workplace. I have been contacted by many people who are starting their own small companies, looking to control their own destinies. When I lecture at colleges to soon-to-be graduates, I now hear questions such as, “How can I be a good employee?” or “What’s the best way to bring value to a company?” – rather than, “How much vacation time should I expect?” and “Does the job come with a company car?” Entry-level jobs are no longer looked down on, but welcomed.

If we continue to learn from this experience, build better companies and work harder to be good employers and employees, then, in the long run, this recession will have been valuable. If we forget the lessons too soon and drift back to our previous ways, then we will have wasted a tremendous opportunity. While I don’t suggest the economic equivalent of a controlled burn, I do strongly recommend that we take a moment and learn as much as possible from the past couple of years. We will then be equipped to make the next few as successful and as profitable as possible.

Scott Harris is the owner of Mustang Marketing, a full-service marketing agency serving the San Fernando Valley for more than 20 years. You can reach Scott at Scott@MustangMktg.com or visit Mustang’s website at www.MustangMktg.com.

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