Some respect for Edward Liddy, even just a little

I had to get this off of my chest, even though it is Saturday night. Obviously AIG is in the middle of this whole economic mess and Edward Liddy is in the middle of AIG. I have no opinion of this man or his career one way or the other, but I do hold a strange kind of respect for him. He took the job of CEO of AIG knowing that he was going to be in the middle of chaos. When he was asked to step in back in September of 2008, AIG had just received a significant bailout package from the US government. Do I agree with all of the decisions that he has made or  the things he has done? No. But I also do not envy him one bit.

Watching him on C-SPAN answer questions in front of the US Congressional committee, with each member angrier than the last, I realized that every day, he wakes up to clean up someone else's mess. He was not at AIG when most of the bad decisions were made and he was not the one that allowed questionable financial investments to be made by an insurance company. Yet he still agreed to take over the tiller of a sinking ship. Maybe he wanted to be the guy who fixed AIG or maybe he was naive as to the public outcry that would ensue. Either way, I would not trade places with him for all of the money in the world, and for that, I owe him at least a little bit of respect, if nothing else.

You need to thrive to survive

As I was reading an article in the Wall St Journal today, it gave me a "can it get any worse" moment. The article was about people purposely ditching their cars in the desert or sinking them in rivers, then reporting them stolen and collecting on the insurance. Is that what we have become?

Yes things are bad and yes people are suffering. But first we have people walking away from their homes and now people are walking away from their cars. Executives are hiring security guards and quitting their jobs because they cannot no longer take the public scrutiny. What kind of society are we living in? I am less concerned about making people pay for their sins as I am about looking for ways out of this mess.

The more I read about these types of events, the more opportunity I believe is out their for people to take advantage of. We need to stop thinking about how to survive and start thinking about how to thrive. Lots of industries are doing well, housing prices and mortgage rates are low, new cars are being given away…..now is the time to act! This is no time to feel sorry for ourselves, it is the time to stop being the armchair quarterback and do something.

Do something now! I mean it, now!

As I sit in my client's office, I am thinking to myself "what can I do right now to make their business better?" I am not thinking about long-term strategy, I am not thinking about complicated diagrams or setting up a meeting. I am thinking "what can I do right now, at this moment, that can have a positive impact on their business?" 

Thinking like this changes the way that I approach things. Of course it is important to have a long-term strategy and mapping out the future, and of course, who doesn't love meetings? But the reality is, we worry about too many things at once, which effectively means we get nothing done. If you do one thing each day to make your business grow, you will have done 5 things in a week and 20 things in a month. That is a pretty compelling argument to taking immediate action. I am sure that there is one thing you could do right now that would improve your business. Call your biggest customer, go talk to your employees, walk around your facility, just get up and do something! I know I am….

Bold new move

As I sit in my hotel room at the Bellagio, overlooking the strip and all of the flashing lights, I think about the bold move that it took to make this city what it has become. There was no guarantee of success and very little support for the idea of building an adult playground in the middle of the desert. But now look at it.

My point is that we need to be bold in order to differentiate ourselves from the pack. We need take on accepted norms, we need to question basic premises and we need to challenge all assumptions. Only then can we truly come up with new ideas and new approaches.

We need to reinvent ourselves constantly and we need to be engaged in a constant learning process. 

Being bold and staying ahead of the pack is the way that you can emerge from this economic downturn with a competitive advantage. As the economy picks up, there will be companies and leaders that will thrust themselves ahead of their competition as a result of the foundation that they are building right now. You need to make sure that you are one of those companies.

Surround yourself with smart people

As I was participating in a workshop yesterday, I remembered how much I enjoyed being around smart people. Being around smart people forces you to challenge your paradigms and develop new ideas. We cannot be afraid of what the future holds and we should always be looking to improve our businesses and ourselves. The best way to learn is to challenge basic premises and assumptions. This is a very challenging way to learn because we are hard-wired to to the same thing that we have always done and we believe that is the right thing to do.

When you research why Executives were successful, they almost unanimously cite the fact that they had a great team around them. I do not believe this to be a party line that they tow, it is the truth. Successful people challenge themselves to learn and improve every day and question their daily norms. They encourage those around them to develop new ideas and give them an opportunity to implement those ideas.

Now is the time to leverage and thrive and reinvent your company. How do you do this? Talk to the smart people around you and encourage intelligent discussions on your business model. Talk to your customers, talk to your suppliers, talk to your business partners. Question every assumption and premise, find out what paradigm change you need to make and just do it.

Is there a downturn?

As I walked through the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas at 11:00pm last night, I was wondering to myself "downturn, what downturn?" The place was packed to the gills on a Sunday night with people gambling, drinking and spending money. The airport was jammed last night with people coming in from all over the world.

My only reason for mentioning this is to say "Everything is going to be OK." We will not be in this thing forever. People are still traveling and spending money and looking for ways to take their mind off of the economy. Sure, we are doing this at a slower pace than before, but just by walking through a Vegas casino, you can see that there is still a lot of life left in us and things will soon get better. In the meantime, find ways to take your mind off of your troubles and enjoy life, whatever it has to offer!

Don't wait for the last minute

One of the keys to running a successful business is not always waiting until the last minute to do things. You should always be mapping out not only your long term strategy, but also your short-term needs. Keep your eyes focused on moving forward and always be two steps ahead in identifying what you need to keep your business growing. An easy way to do this is to have a list of what needs to be accomplished this week, this month, this year…..these lists will allow you to maintain your ability to see what you want the business to look like in the future without compromising execution in the present.

Desperate for any good news in the markets or let the good times roll?

Yesterday's increase in North American stock markets seems to be a result of some strong reported earnings by banks, but mostly on a comment made by the CEO of Citibank. We are so desperate for good news, that we will hang on the every word that comes out of these large companies. Citigroup announced that it was profitable in January and February, while Bank of America stated that it could withstand the economic downturn. Isn't it amazing what a few hundred billion dollars of taxpayer money can do?

I am all for the stimulus package, but this just shows how sensitive the markets are. These were not quarterly reports or economic updates, they were verbal statements with nothing to back them up. I have to believe that both statements are true and I am happy to see markets go up almost 10% in 2 days, but it seems a little desperate for my liking. Maybe a dose of desperation is exactly what we need to move forward and prosper.