It is hard to believe but it has been approximately seven full years since America was hit with an economic downturn that we now refer to as “The Great Recession.” The downdraft tested many companies, people, and portfolios. Recently, I talked to a seasoned ad man about the recession and its affect on ad agencies.
He went through the usual delineation of issues that many struggled through but then said that he knew a number of agency chiefs who could survive easily through anything. As we talked, I had to disagree. Survive yes, but prosper and grow all the time was something that I am quite unfamiliar with in this business.
To me, business professor Don Hambrick of Penn State nailed it when he wrote, “An executive who is well suited to leading a firm during one period may be ill suited for the next period.” Many chiefs can look effective when the wind is at their backs. Can they adapt to more challenging circumstances?
Ambassador Joseph Kennedy is widely credited with coining the now proverb, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” I have witnessed agency leaders who seemed bored or a bit disengaged during good or middling times, yet rise to the occasion when their shop has its back to the wall. Suddenly, they make tough decisions, stay hands on and drum up significant new business in very trying environments.
Some analysts go even further and say that some firms grow at times because they seem to be near perfect fits to the current marketplace. Management and staff are not exceptional but rather are at the right place at the right time. Remember when the internet first started to gain real traction as an advertising medium? Some shops had big gains as they had keyed on the emerging platforms early on. A few years later some early mobile players had similar success. Were they that good or was it simply that in the valley of the blind men, the one eyed man is King and the competition was playing catch up?
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that these people were mediocre. Sometimes success is due to many factors not the least of which is a bit of luck. Granted, there are some people who are excellent forecasters and seem to see what is happening a bit earlier than the rest of the pack. Some 90+%, however, see the trend after it is clearly in place.
Life, business, and the free market are all full of bumps in the road. Leaders react to them differently. Few, if any, perform well through all of them.
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