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What Recession?

Is it really all in our mind?

What an amazing event, the Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States and the first African American in the White House. So monumental was this moment that over 2 million Americans huddled in The National Mall on a cold winter morning in Washington DC just so they could say to their children in years to come, ‘I was there’.

Trains, planes, cars and over 10,000 busses ferried some 4 million average Americans into town. 13,000 ‘Port A Potty’s’ were set up in the National Mall ready for the crowd. 90 military high school bands and community groups turned out for the parade and 81 year old Charlie Brotman announced the big day as the President’s announcer; a job he has had for fifty two years!

The entire country stopped, witnessed and celebrated the moment. And an amazing moment in time it was, as time of hope, of change, of reflection and of anticipation.

So it begs the question.

At that moment, where was the recession?

It seems that the recession for many, is a state of mind. When it’s top of mind it’s Armageddon, but when it gets in the road of a good party, a dinner with mates, or a reason to feel better, it’s forgotten. So who is really hurting?

In the last few weeks I’ve been doing my own bit of research both from the safety of my Florida home over the Christmas break and from my travels to Houston, New Orleans, Washington DC, New York, San Diego, Fort Lauderdale, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, Connecticut and a few pit stops in between. And it’s been really very interesting.

By way of some simple examples; it seems to me that hair and nail businesses have never been busier, bowling alleys are having a field day, restaurants are still belting out the all American Supersize everything meals and golf courses are still tough to get a tee time. In other words, we’re whinging about slow sales and a spiralling market, yet someone is still spending the money? So who’s telling the real story?

The media will report retail sales are down, and yet at Costco the mayhem that happens there every day can be likened to everyone scrambling for the restroom at halftime during Superbowl.

I had dinner with a mate of mine last night who was worried about his ‘job’, and yet only minutes earlier took me on a tour of his house to show me his $340,000 renovation to his home.

I listened to the cab driver whinge about the economy as he took me on my short ride from Santa Monica to LAX, and yet he dressed like a banker.

I spent some time on the phone to a real estate mate of mine who tells me that 2008 was a most shocking year for him, and then only a few sentences later offers me a lift with him from California to a meeting in Arizona on his private jet.

Here’s my humble take on it all.

This is the 3rd real economic change I’ve lived through in business. In 1987, during the market meltdown I was just starting in private enterprise, at a time when most people said, ‘what are you doing, you’re crazy’ we had a field day in the property market and made some great money thinking a little laterally about the market and how to work it to our advantage in a changing time. I was new to business and therefore had no belief system and no fear that prevented me from thinking that business could be anything other than, well, good.

In 1997 during the Asian Crisis, it was an entirely different story. We got hammered. But as I look back, we probably didn’t NEED to get the belting we did had I been a better business leader. I’d been in business for about 10 years and had about 4 companies during that time in different categories. By 1997, I had a belief system, debt, staff, and all the other stressors of business. By 1997, business for me was, well, defined. I had metrics and KPI’s that told me when things were bad and of course that’s how I perceived them and of course we had to have a tough time because of those beliefs and my belief system. And the experience cost me half a million dollars.

In 2007, I was a little smarter. This time around my belief system was to, as Dan Frishberg says, ‘break from the heard’. Lead, not follow. Believe only what can be done, not what can’t. Believe in yourself not necessarily what the media is dishing me up. As a result, the last 2 years for us have been some of our best in business. Sure, there’s a recession going on out there somewhere. But it’s not MY recession.

So as I finish my month of unsubscribed, impromptu research around the country and my reflection on my last 20 years in business, through 3 major economic changes, I reinforce to myself that the real recession will happen if you let it. And business is still an illusion.

Troy Hazard