Changing the game Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2009

There are few game-changing moments in life. When they happen, if you’re not prepared to adapt, you may find yourself heading down the wrong path from that unique fork in the road, unable to retrace your steps.

Let’s say your target market undergoes a radical shakeup, caused by the economy or new legislation. What do you do?

Taking a wait-and-see attitude isn’t an option. The longer you wait to make your move, the greater the odds that your business will suffer or you’ll fail to be among the early movers that gain competitive advantage.

Reacting too quickly is just as dangerous. You might completely dismantle what isn’t broken rather than simply tweak something that just needs a small adjustment.

Consider Joe McAleese, president and CEO of Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems LLC.

This month’s cover story subject was used to the cyclical nature of his business — manufacturing air brake charging and control systems for commercial vehicles — anticipating cycles that moved about 50 percent from top to bottom.

But when housing starts started to decline as one of the leading indicators for the current recession, Bendix saw a steeper drop in demand for new trucks and thus a greater-than-expected reduction in business. When the full recession hit, Bendix’s cyclical drop from top to bottom reached a whopping 75 percent.

“For us, the challenge is how do you manage through that,” McAleese says.

He could have panicked. Many of his competitors did, some slashing executive pay by 10 percent and laying off double-digit percentages of employees.

Instead, McAleese kept a level head.

“You can’t let yourself get carried away with the current situation and not recognize the context of the long term,” he says.

McAleese assembled a group of staffers that represented a strong cross section of the company rather than relying solely on a small group from his senior leadership team. Together, they put as many ideas and suggestions on the table as possible. Then they identified those that not only gave Bendix the best opportunity to sludge through the recession but also those that put the company in a strong position to emerge from the recession poised for significant growth.

That’s a good example of how to take the long-term view while still recognizing the need to make short-term moves that preserve your company. And when you face a game-changing moment, making the right moves adds up to smart leadership.

Contact executive editor Dustin S. Klein at dsklein@sbnonline.com..