CEOs Not Billboards Will Make The Difference

June 19, 2002
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Many area public companies are showing third/first quarter numbers of overall improvement. These reporting periods, however, ended Aug. 31, reflecting why many area business leaders in late summer forecast optimism and stability in 2002. Events since that time certainly have impacted productivity, an area of specific concern to Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who added last week that the events of September should only set improvements back two quarters.

Economists say entrepreneurs and creativity in existing business spawned the productivity explosion in the late ’90s. One could wonder who in West Michigan might be staying that course in light of recent events, but Gentex and certainly X-Rite are maintaining commitments to research and development, new products and new alliances. Even among the hard hit office furniture manufacturers, Steelcase is betting on new acquisitions to diversify and augment operations to make it less susceptible to downturns.

Local car dealers are seeing some improvement in consumer interest since the offer of “zero finance” charges, but they also note consumers are leery because of the possibility of layoffs. While many retailers are pinning patriotism to consumer spending, it sounds less likely that terrorists are to blame for the halt in consumer spending than true concern about job reductions.

One need only recall that the year began with workforce reductions at Alticor, Old Kent Bank and then Meijer Inc. The trail of laid-off office furniture workers has a significant domino effect in West Michigan, and calls from automakers earlier this year for price reductions among suppliers has only fed a “rightsizing” mentality.

Company officers can do what patriotic billboards cannot. The reasons for and lessons of participatory management and achievement of international standards come home to the head office in one word: Communicate.

While the Grand Rapids area prides itself on its number of family-owned businesses and privately held companies, this is not the time for its tight-lipped practices of the past. People need to know what their employers anticipate, good or bad. Knowing something is better than not knowing at all, especially given the frightening effect of current events.

Billboards won’t lead West Michiganders into shopping centers; the comfort of communication allows individuals to make informed decisions for themselves and their families. Only then will area residents in this conservative area feel confident about spending.

Information is powerful. Use it to help your employees.

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