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Business Observer Friday, May 31, 2013 5 years ago

Whatever happened to growth?

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As the economy sputters into recovery, don't miss capitalizing on the next growth cycle. What your company can do to prepare now.
by: James R. Contributing Columnist

I've owned my business for many years. Over the decades I've seen the economy go through many cycles, but I've never seen a so-called “recovery” like the one we are currently experiencing. Every previous recession I have experienced was followed by a period of sustained economic growth. America has always led the world in every economic rebound in my lifetime; however, the best that can be said these days is that the U.S. economy is treading water as well as any. So, as a business owner, what can be done to reignite growth in a company, employees, customers and eventually the economy? The answer is more feasible than you may think.

There is no doubt that the past six years have been tough on businesses of every size. Not only do we have to battle a lethargic economy, but we also have to battle political headwinds. The “unfairness” issue is demoralizing even for the heartiest believer in free enterprise, and that hasn't helped the economy one bit.

Pointing to the rebound of the stock market isn't cause for excessive celebration, either. It should have rebounded long ago in a normal recovery. The fact is that the underlying fundamentals are far from supportive of a growing economy either domestically or globally.

Matt Krantz, in an April 28 USA Today article, said, “The corporate profit machine may be churning out better-than-expected results, but investors are getting increasingly bothered by companies' inability to find real growth.” The article continues, “Investors were hoping by this point in the economic cycle, companies would be able to find growth selling new products and services or tapping new customers.”

How bad is this economic recovery? In an April 27 article in The Wall Street Journal, Ben Casselman wrote: “...by historical standards, the current recovery has been dismal. On a per capita basis, neither economic output nor personal income has returned to its pre-recession level. Nearly 12 million people remain out of work.” He went on to say: “To put that in perspective, growth has averaged 2.1% over the 15 quarters of the current recovery. Following the double-dip recession of the early 1980s—the recent downturn's only postwar rival in terms of severity—growth averaged 5.3% over the same 15-quarter period.”

How can senior management reignite their company to achieve growth during economic stagnation? How can business owners motivate, excite and get their company moving forward when so much news about the economy is mediocre or worse?

The answer is to think BIG. Think beyond tomorrow. Think optimistically and look for interesting and emerging bright spots in the economy. Here are just a few to consider:

Big data is going to revolutionize marketing and sales. There are new ways to mine your own data and to reach your customers with more meaningful and cost efficient one-on-one offerings. This is happening right now and the potential growth outcome can be significant for most companies. Learning how to leverage big data to benefit your company should be a top priority for growth.

The cost of energy, which has been a heavy tax on our economy since the 1970s, is going down due to the growth of natural gas and recent major oil finds. America can hopefully expect to count on cheaper energy in the future, which would positively impact consumers and manufacturing. How can your company grow by taking advantage of less expensive energy?

When you think about growth, it is important to remember that not all of it comes from the high tech sector. Consider the newest findings from Millward Brown's, BrandZ “top risers” report, which indicates that Subway increased its brand value by 5,145% since 2006, while Apple increased its brand value by 1,045%. Both companies have built their brand by delivering a consistent high-quality customer experience, which is a key to growth.

One of my favorite clients was a genius when it came to generating big ideas for growth. His name is Bob Reisner, and he ran a business unit of GE Capital. Bob would start a new brainstorming meeting by saying, “How would you approach this challenge if money were not an issue?” It is amazing how that one phrase would open up the various realms of possibilities. Of course money was ALWAYS an issue, but what this did was to remove the constraining blinders for the purpose of generating new ideas and thinking big thoughts. He went on to spin-off this business unit, which evolved into an IPO. I was rewarded with a board position in his new company.

So, what is the outlook for the future of growth? The U.S. economy is finally showing some signs of recovery as business investment is picking up. Consumers are spending more and housing continues to gain traction. Major economies of the world, while still slow, are beginning to improve and global trade is growing. I believe U.S. manufacturing could be at the beginning of a break-out based on improving competitiveness, lower cost of energy and labor. Companies should prepare themselves now; we are on the cusp of growing again.

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