By John Ellsworth
What a tumultuous year! Thus far, 2009 in the dairy industry has looked like a cross between two of Dr. Seuss’ children’s books. On the one hand, it parallels If I Ran the Circus, with its irrational supply and demand, particularly on commodities that are plentiful in comparison with their current usage, yet remain overpriced. On the other hand, our industry scenario seems to be replicating Mike McClintock’s Stop that Ball, with an economy that appears relatively lifeless, yet in other ways seems completely out of control when we look at the painful process of loan approvals and the dramatic changes in real estate. Hopefully, by the time you read this article, things will be appearing more normal again.
However, just in case they are not, it may a great time to reexamine your game plan and determine what your mode of action will be. Whenever I get into a situation like our current one, I like to check out what several of my favorite business authors have to say:
1. Seth Godin, in book titled, The Big Moo advises us to “stop being ordinary.” He suggests:
a) “Avidly collect firsthand experiences” – be more observant of events.
b) “Practice the Zen Principle of ‘Beginner’s Mind’” – be open to learning.
c) “Keep an Idea Wallet so you don’t lose Momentary Insights” – i.e. write it down regularly!
d) “Be a Proactive Idea Broker and Practice Continuous Cross Pollination” – Use ideas you learn in various settings or contexts.
e) “Embrace the Power of Storytelling to bring it all Together” – Be like Medtronic, a blue chip medical technology company, who, when their team needs some motivation, they bring in patients and ask them to talk about how a Medtronic product has changed or saved their life.
2. Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York City, shared the following suggestions in a presentation that I recently attended:
a) Have conviction and strong beliefs. Stand by what you know is right.
b) Be an optimist. He shared the story of the legendary Coach Vince Lombardi, who, after his team was defeated, was asked by a younger coach how it felt to lose. Lombardi replied, “Son, I didn’t lose that game. I only ran out of time!”
c) Be positive and always visualize a “hit.”
d) After reviewing what you know and anticipate, take action. As he added, courage does not equal the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of it.
e) Practice and rehearse. Have a plan in place to cover most things and even some of those you don’t normally think of.
f) Remember, teamwork is key! Ask yourself, what are my weaknesses? Where do I need help?
g) You have to communicate. Let people know what you are thinking. This holds for employees and your banker. They both need to know!
In summary, this is no time to panic:
a) Keep things in perspective. Is the economy tough? Yes, however, interest rates are quite low for now. Inflation, given the present large government borrowing, may force rates up by year end. Yet, for now they are historically low.
b) Milk prices are weak, but overall feed prices have dropped, too. Choose your ingredients wisely.
c) Remember that every complete business plan includes a successful exit strategy, too. Is this the time? As former Microsoft President Rick Belluzo stated, “Enjoy the opportunity to reinvent yourself. When I was displaced, I knew that it wouldn’t be the only hardship I’d face in my career. Rather than dread the future, I became eagerly excited. I looked forward to facing additional experiences that would require me to ‘reinvent’ myself.” This is good advice for all of us.
As you go through the process, be open to change, both within yourself and the way you run you business. I think you’ll be glad you did!