Over the last three years, the hostile economic times have taken a major toll on the well-being of employees and businesses, with many coming ever so close to their rope's end. As business people, many of us have been fighting very hard to survive, but we must never forget the folks who bear the heaviest load of those pay cuts, reduced hours, and dwindling benefits: our employees. An encouraging word or clearing of a path in the direction of common sense may be the difference between survival and surrender.
- You must have a willingness to abandon your sacred relics and positions. In my garage is a fully restored 1971 Blue Plymouth Duster, which is an exact replica of my first car. Tomorrow, I would not bat an eye if I had to sell it for the needs of my family. Also, don't make statements like, "There's no way I will ever do _________!" If you are going to survive this mess you will be forced to make decisions you never thought you would have to make. The only things you should never abandon are your soul and who you are.
- Do you have the courage to change? If you plan on doing the same thing you have been doing for the last five years and expect to survive, you need to go ahead and call the coroner for your economic autopsy. The survivors will be flexible, quick-changing artists who understand that every day there could be a new purchasing manager at the builder's office.
- You'd better work every angle. To win the battle for success in this current economic war, everyone will have to pursue multiple fronts. If you expect to head down one single road and achieve success, you must understand that one roadblock on your single-road theory will lead to your failure. At times, I feel like a circus juggler, but at least I am still inside the tent.
- Keep your emotions out of it. In my view, most emotions are worthless because they serve no purpose. If you allow stress and pressure to rage within, then emotions like anger, fear, loathing, and hatred will become part of you. This current economic turndown is a problem and problems are best solved when you are devoid of emotions. Don't be a baby, thinking you are the only one who is suffering a home foreclosure, bankruptcy, business failure, or dramatic cut in income. This economic boiling pot is full of a lot of other poor souls; so, solve your problems.
- Know what is important in your life. God, family, and work are very important to survival, but ranking right up there is shelter, food, clothing, and transportation. Many people are in this economic jam because they confused wants with needs. Have you ever paid for a ring tone for your cell phone? Why? Spend your money on important things and don't worry about Internet service, ring tones, and other nonsense that don't support your real quality of life. A couple of nights of well-seasoned red beans and rice with the ones you love can be just as enjoyable as a Texas Steakhouse.
- Don't give up and become a quitter. Since we were all children, people have told us not to quit. Has anything changed? When your dad told you not to quit baseball, softball, dancing, or the Scouts, he was doing so because he knew life is hard and success is more about tenacity than expertise. Survivors don't quit, they don't relent, and they damn sure aren't accepting of failure. Don't be a quitter!
- Let's stay together. One of my favorite songs is Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." If you plan on surviving, whether you are talking about a marriage, family, or a company, coming together is critical to success. In nature, most animals flock together because evolution has created a herd survival mechanism. How many times have you seen the National Geographic picture of the lone zebra being attacked by an alligator because it has wandered from the herd? What makes no sense to me is when some people hit hard times and they believe divorce is the answer. In my life, hard times and challenges have brought the binds of my family closer because we all know there is nothing we can't accomplish together. You become easy prey for failure if you are by yourself.
- Don't be scared of being poor or the unknown. If tomorrow you lost your job or business, what would happen? Time doesn't stop. The old clock on the wall keeps turning, and you can tune out with mind-altering drugs but that clock keeps spinning. The sun will rise and set, and you will be okay. I was raised dirt poor and spent a large portion of my life in that state of living. I must share an honest evaluation of being poor: I don't like it, because it did not allow me to do as much for others as I would have liked. Still, my best memories in life are when I had no money. Enjoyment in life is not linked to dollars; you create your own enjoyment. Being scared about the unknown or poverty will not change the outcome if you are working hard, so lighten up.
- Pride will cause you to make some silly decisions. I believe pride is important in our life for self-fulfillment, but too much pride can be an elixir that distorts your reason to a point in which you make horrible decisions. If you are contemplating leaving a job, leaving a town, busting up your family, or hurting yourself or others, simply because something bad has happened to you which bruises your pride ,then stop now. This economic chaos is causing a lot of people to do things which are embarrassing. Who gives a damn? Pride and $1 will get you a cup of coffee and that is just about all. I'll be a janitor of a row of portable potties at a redneck beer fest before I break my family up or worry about what my current peers think. Survivors smile and go on.
- Stand up for yourself. I have breaking news for many of you today: your competition is working every day to ensure your failure. That's right--other companies and people will pop a big smile on their face if they hear you have failed. The only person who is going to fight for you with passion is you, and survivors stand up for themselves. Business and life are bare-knuckles, no-holds-barred fights, and lately it has gotten so bad that I have reached into my bottom desk drawer for the brass knuckles. You are either taking punches or punching back. Sadly, in your personal life there are friends and family who will actually flash a smile at your demise because of their own failures; don't give them the satisfaction.
Friends, I fully understand my approaches are somewhat on the backwoods Mississippi hick side of the fence, but whatever and however you do it, encourage your employees, friends, and family that they can survive. Surviving means that you are still living.
My older brother Bill is a simple, hard-working man who feels 30 years of backbreaking work every time he takes a step. Whenever we are together and see a small child in a wheelchair, we automatically look at one another and he says, "Don, we don't have any problems." As you battle through these hostile economic times, count the blessings you have and not the ones you don't.
Don Magruder is general manager of Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply Inc., Leesburg, Fla., and is a past chairman of the Florida Building Material Association. This article originally appeared in the Sept. 17 FBMA newsletter.