Letter from London: Now Is the Time to Plan for the Upturn

written by Ed Wooller, EMA Partners, Atlanta

"It is now time to take stock of our situation and plan for the upturn. There is a window of opportunity to strengthen management teams with strong performers", says my London colleague James Douglas.

That we are all experiencing strange times is to just state the obvious. So much so that I don’t believe there is one person, expert or otherwise, who can answer the question above. We have expanded our vocabularies with expressions such as “trillion” and “quantitative easing” Is it any surprise that there is so much contradiction in the economic and political landscape?

But we can offer some observations, based on having experienced previous economic downturns in the early 90s and the beginning of the New Millennium. We can also highlight actions that can be taken to protect all our businesses, and the people who have committed themselves to make the businesses work.
In the UK, the Recession of the early 90s was very tough and had wide reaching effects. However, although many other countries suffered economic downturn, the levels of such downturns varied greatly. Since then, the world’s economies have become a lot more interdependent. So when problems occur in a major economy the effects spread rapidly, as has happened now.

Based on historic data and direct experience, one prediction can be made with certainty: Just as day follows night, an economic upturn will follow the current downturn. The question is when?
Regrettably, we do not have a clear answer to that question. But the current feeling amongst our clients and colleagues is that perhaps we have seen the worst of this downturn – most of the bad news is probably now out in the open.

It is now time to take stock of our situation and plan for the upturn. The crisis has led to many talented professionals across the board becoming available for employment. There is a window of opportunity to strengthen management teams with strong performers who otherwise might not consider career changes.
A downturn reveals personnel and other weaknesses in organisations. As the American investor Warren Buffett remarked in the early 90s “Only when the tide goes out, do we discover who has been swimming naked” So we have seen many of our clients re-assessing their executive teams and making changes, despite the uncertain times.

However, a recent survey in the UK revealed that less than 20% of the UK’s FTSE 100 companies had an effective talent management strategy in place. It also seems that the same situation applies in other countries. So we are stressing to our clients that despite the uncertainty around us and the pressures to contain costs, now is the time review the state of your talent management.

In the recession of the early 90s, we saw that many companies downsized too quickly and too deeply. As a result, they were greatly hampered when the subsequent economic upturn came. The expression “War for Talent” is heard less often now than it was 3 - 4 years ago. But we will inevitably be engaged again in such a conflict.
In the meantime, we may also see how this crisis highlights the talents of current management. As the Roman poet Horace wrote “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.”
As always, finding and attracting the best talent for our clients is crucial to the success of their businesses. In fact, at the time of writing, several of our offices are currently engaged in searches that are global in nature, and the pool of available candidates is relatively small and highly sought after.


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