Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Rewards Of Change


Paul Sharkey

     The world around us is constantly changing. And while time advances in a linear way, nothing else does. The circumstances in which we find ourselves have an ebb and flow. The only constant is constant change. Sometimes change is moving us forward and sometimes it’s not. As I see it, our individual and collective challenge is to master both positive and negative change.
     By master I mean to understand nothing remains the same and to be prepared to deal with change. For me, preparation means having a plan to move forward toward clear goals and then to execute the action plan that will achieve those goals. I find the forward movement of executing a well thought out plan—one with defined activities according to a time table–can insulate against being negatively impacted by circumstances outside our control. Simply said, having a process and controlling its execution will get us to where we want to be, most of the time.

     However, there are circumstances outside our control that we can’t protect ourselves against. In such cases, I find being mentally prepared to rise to each such occasion will best allow us to modify or change as required to navigate successfully through what has changed. This means rather than allowing change to knock us off course, that we assess what changes we must make to get back on track or to modify or change our goal.
     So how exactly does this all make sense in the context of the flexographic printing industry? Let me ask how your personal and company outlook was 10 years ago? A CNN/MONEY Magazine article in October 2003 said Q3 GDP growth was 7.2 percent annualized, and was the fastest in 20 years. An economist at the firm, Lehman Brothers, stated this boom was driven by consumer confidence and spending. At the same time, toward the end of the article, it was noted that the U.S. economy had lost more than 3 million jobs in the prior 12 months. Still, for most, business was very good!
     Fast forward five years to 1:45 am on Monday, September 15, 2008 when Lehman Brothers, one of the largest financial services firms in the world, having been founded in 1850, filed for bankruptcy representing a loss of $639B. It is still by far the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. By comparison, the market crash of 1929 in today’s dollars amounted to $319B.  Even though we didn’t know it officially at the time, our economy had been in recession since December 2007. The stock market lost 34 percent of its value that year. What was your personal and company outlook at that point? I think it’s safe to say we were all very frightened and unsure of what was going to happen next.
     Clearly, in 2008 circumstances outside our control were at play. No matter how good we were at executing our business plans and executing our process, we were all knocked off course as we found ourselves in the Great Recession. 
     Over the course of two years, four of our top ten customers closed their doors. Sales declined to levels we had passed five years earlier. While it took a while to figure out what was happening and more time to decide what changes were needed, we did. We entirely reset our business plan based on a different strategy.
     Today, FLXON has no ambition to become the biggest supplier of doctor blades. As a matter of fact our business is not focused on doctor blades. We are engaged with fewer printers than five years ago. We work with flexographic printers assisting them to add value to their enterprise. Our focus is on driving waste out of their process at multiple levels and to do so in a sustained way. Our relationships with customers are deeper. Today, each of us at FLXON finds our business more rewarding than in the past. Our top and bottom lines are better than ever.
     Today, FLXON’S success is based upon our ability to react and change in the face of the difficult times imposed upon us in 2008. We are just one example of how many companies in the flexo printing industry have made changes to their businesses to become stronger and better prepared to deal with future uncertainty. And in many ways its more rewarding than ever. 

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