The koosh ball flew around the table a few times during my first encounter with TEC. Phil Hauck was judicious about appropriate moments to fling the toy, principally at “ba-dum-bum” moments. One thing was clear: These people hold nothing back.
Even if you’re not a member of The Executive Committee, you’ve probably heard business associates or acquaintances say such things as “We heard a great speaker in TEC last month,” or, “So-and-So is in my TEC group.” I was vaguely familiar with it, but I had to find out more.
TEC 32 members and their chair, Phil Hauck, were super gracious to invite me to their meetings several times over the past six months. Most of the time, I was a fly on the wall, gathering background for this month’s cover story. Once in awhile, they invited me to participate as a business owner, so that I might better understand the complete experience.
What an eye-opener. Let’s just say, there is probably no resource as valuable as your peers. When the buck stops with you, there are certain things you just can’t share with your employees, your spouse, your friends or even your business partners. Even if you can, who really wants to hear it?
Thirteen TEC chapters in Northeast Wisconsin offer a forum for CEOs, presidents and business owners to share their challenges and learn from each other, with the guidance of the facilitators (chairs) and the resource of expert speakers the group invites in. In recent meetings they’ve wrestled with issues related to the recession, such as how to finance new projects, how to handle clients who want to cut corners and how to position themselves to buy out competitors.
TEC members are already tackling how to position themselves when we come out of the recession. In one exercise, Hauck asked members to present their plans for how they will weather this economy and ultimately, come out ahead. After each presentation the others rated what they saw as chances of that company succeeding.
The votes were something of a wake-up call for some. The good news? They are on top of it and working earnestly on their strategies – no doubt well ahead of their competitors.
Several times a year, each TEC chapter invites national speakers in to share their expertise. Brian Beaulieu of the Institute for Trend Research, who has spoken to many such groups in recent years, was the featured speaker at the recent Oshkosh Chamber’s annual Economic Outlook Breakfast. He said we should begin seeing some economic indicators of a recovery by the end of this summer. Other indicators will come to light by the end of 2009. It won’t be a picnic, he said, but it does no good to panic, either.
“This is a business cycle, folks. It is not the Depression,” Beaulieu insisted. He offered these tips for weathering the economic downturn in 2009:
» Identify your competitive advantage. Quantify it. Use it to set yourself apart and market your company.
» Look for opportunities to buy competitors.
» Reduce your overhead.
» Set budget reduction goals by department.
» Thin your ranks if necessary, but do it once. Several rounds of job cuts damage morale and productivity.
» Avoid long-term purchase commitments.
» Negotiate long-term leases.
» Reduce inventories.
» Be selective with your advertising dollars.
» Lead with optimism and a can-do attitude.
What’s your competitive advantage? Where will you be in 2012? I suggest you consult your peers. For a glimpse at how some business people do this, turn to our cover story on page 24.