Tighten the Belt Without Strangling the Business

Yesterday, Art Roti (a Horst Engineering colleague and manager) and I attended a lunch time talk with Benson Shapiro, the Malcolm P. McNair Professor of Marketing Emeritus at the Harvard Business School. We saw him speak at the Bush-Holley Historic Site on the waterfront in Greenwich, Connecticut. The event was hosted by the HBS Club of Connecticut. Shapiro is known worldwide for his industrial marketing prowess and has taught for more than 40 years. 


Art and I picked up some nuggets that we can used at Horst Engineering and also with the non-profit organizations that we assist. Any organization struggling in today’s environment needs top leadership and management to navigate the waters. Shapiro’s talk to a sold out crowd touched on the current economic climate, but also referred back to previous times when businesses faced serious challenges. He avoided specific predictions about a recovery and focused more on the tools that business leaders can use to manage in a down cycle. 

He said every manager has to ask three key questions about human performance:

1) Are your people capable?

2) Are they individually motivated?

3) Do they have the ability to be part of a team that functions as a unit with joint commitment? 

90 minutes with Shapiro was well worth the drive. If anything, he reminded all of us listening, that the economy will eventually recover. People have short memories and consumption will pick up again. Of course, the focus needs to be on our customers and businesses need to make their adjustments now in order to 1) survive and 2) to remain viability so that they can capitalize on the recover when it occurs. Responsiveness should be a key objective, which he defines as, “Quick delivery, high quality, or adapting to customer needs.” 

Shapiro wore a tie that had a drawing of the Titanic on it. This drew laughter from the crowd when he reminded us that more than 40% of the people on the Titanic survived. It was his way of saying that the economy will recover. Not all is lost.

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