Analyst proffers recession-busting advice

Last updated 05:00 15/03/2012
American expert Tom Peters
THINKER: American expert Tom Peters has told business leaders to stay positive and keep smiling.

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Business meetings are a good thing, calendars never lie and managers need to listen more: those were some of the messages delivered by Tom Peters, one of the world's most influential business thinkers, to 300 attendees at an Auckland Food & Grocery Council function.

The former Vietnam veteran also had some personal advice for those running companies and trying to steer a course out of the recession.

"A personal message to leaders – and I'm well aware of how silly this sounds – is keep smiling," Peters said. "It's silly stuff like that old business axiom about positive mental attitude – literally the ability to smile when all of the dirt is falling down around your head."

Peters, an American author who has churned out titles including his original bestselling book In Search of Excellence 30 years ago, lives with his wife for three months of the year in Golden Bay at the top of the South Island.

"My one-liner is that business leaders aren't allowed to have bad days, especially on bad days," he told BusinessDay. "If you can't deal with that, then just stay in bed."

If people had to be fired or made redundant, there was a proper way to do that, he said.

"In the worst of situations when a business will have to lay people off – I've seen this a million times in the United States – even that can be done with grace and decency," he said.

"There's never a more important time to behave well, relative to your people, the people who work for you, than during a recession."

He cited the example of US retailer The Container Store, which has previously been voted the number one company to work for.

"What [they] did, which was totally counter to the average effort, when the recession came along, they doubled their training budget for front-line employees," he said.

"Their logic was fascinating – you're a retailer, you have a recession, everything possible imaginable goes wrong and your sales are off 20 per cent."

The message was to focus attention on the remaining 80 per cent of business out there, "so increasing the emphasis on frontline people, increasing the emphasis on selling," he said.

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