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Business leaders need bold vision in bad economy

Lehigh Valley Business recently featured a survey that painted a gloomy economic outlook (Feb. 4: “Eastern Pa. business leaders have glum view of 2013”). The survey revealed concern among business leaders that Pennsylvania’s economy will not improve in 2013 and expectations that the year will bring declining or stagnant revenues.

The survey may be enough to cause some entrepreneurs to take no risks or give up. But what if the survey is wrong? As Zig Ziglar often said, “The media has accurately predicted 28 of the past two recessions.” I believe Zig would have given the same weight to such surveys.

I am not suggesting we ignore data. But I think we should reject defeatist rhetoric that “this is the new normal,” hence positioning us to yield to compromise, accepting anything smaller than the vision that led us into business in the first place. If there is anything that can continue to unite and define us as Americans, it is our commercial ambition, innovation and the ability to survive tough times.

The Great Depression is a case in point. During the 1930s, many businesses were incorporated, countless existing companies thrived and millionaires emerged.

In Kentucky, a grandfather known as Colonel Sanders started serving fried chicken at his gas station. In 1937, his operation expanded into a 142-seat restaurant. Today, an empire built during the worst economic era does chicken right in every state.

In 1935, John Tyson, a produce hauler whose truck sat idle five consecutive months each year, conceived an idea to haul chickens during the winter. Tyson Foods is now a multi-billion dollar business.

During the mid-1930s, recent college graduates Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard opened an electrical machine business in a garage, giving birth to Hewlett-Packard. Many existing companies including Proctor and Gamble, Chevrolet and C.F. Martin & Company, thrived.

What did these entities and so many others that succeeded during the Great Depression have in common? A vision. They saw opportunity where economists and prophets of disaster saw defeat.

While I am not a fan of most motivational speakers and workplace propaganda posters, I believe our attitudes play a key role in whether we succeed or fail. As Henry Ford simply yet profoundly said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right.”

Indeed, these are difficult and uncertain times. But it is in times like these that Americans have rolled up their sleeves and pressed toward making their visions a reality. We have a choice: we can submit to “new normal” rhetoric or we can move forward under the fundamental thinking that made our country great regardless of our circumstances. I hope you will join me in choosing the latter.

Ken Kilpatrick is president of Sylvia Marketing & Public Relations, a Pottstown-based PR agency specializing in corporate communication, crisis management and litigation support. He can be reached at 610-323-3500 or ken@sylviamarketing.com.

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