WHEN TIMES ARE TOUGH, WHAT KIND OF MANAGER SHOULD YOU SEEK?

By Bill Sitter & Joe Jordan

Editor’s Note: While this article was written a number of years ago, when the economy was certainly different than it is today in 2011, it is still relevant. Enjoy, and read on.

The equipment industry, like the US economy in general, has been enjoying several strong business years. As we edit this article for MHEDA, we hope the good times will continue. However, in the event that we face another down cycle, these hiring nuggets may be very helpful. In fact, they can serve employers well in all seasons.

Why should a distributor executive give a minute’s thought to hiring someone in tough times? Consider the following:

  1. You have a responsibility to shareholders, employees and customers so that the company survives and emerges as a profitable, viable organization. You have an obligation to provide managers who can perpetuate the business for the next 10, 20 or 30 years.
  2. “Tough managers” must be willing to work hard and earn less, in a down cycle. Some wear two or three hats due to the reduction in head count.
  3. When a manager joins in tough times, he or she learns the real ins and outs of the business and gains the respect of others. They demonstrate the ability to perform when the chips are down.
  4. You’ll show customers and suppliers you are planning beyond tomorrow.
  5. Adding a person with proven expertise in an area that is missing from your current managerial mix could enable the company to make a strategic leap into a new market or niche such as rental, new product lines, used parts, service contracts or innovative lease/finance programs.

If you are going to hire someone, be prepared to share the current status of the dealership and your expectations with potential candidates. Also, prepare a list of desirable characteristics for an executive who would be capable of enduring and performing well during tough times. (The enclosed position spec form may prove helpful).

Ask yourself these questions about potential new managers:

Does this person grasp the “big picture?” This means a manager who can step in and see what the company really does, where it is going, and how to help it get there. One who would not get bogged down in organizational charts, red tape or other negatives.

Does this person have raw intelligence or “smarts?” Not necessarily a degree but, rather, good common sense mixed with good business sense. People who are still striving to learn all they can about new techniques to improve the business and new ways to market products and services. If a manager is not doing outside business reading in his field, additional schooling, etc., then he or she will get out of date fast.

Is this individual a “people person?” Participative management is an MBA buzzword from the 1980’s. It simply refers to managers who realize they actually gain power by sharing power. They understand their people can make great contributions. The people manager recognizes that the old “X” theory or autocratic management style, where a manager assumes the worst about people, will not get the job done.

Is this person energetic? In tough times the manager needs to be able to maintain a special energy level and high concentration. Evenings and weekends are often required. Good physical and mental conditioning is necessary.

Can this person react to priorities? The effective manager has the ability to pick out a few key opportunity areas then apply his or her best efforts with positive results.

Is this person financially savvy? Tough times to most folks means low or no profits. It is essential that managers be aware of financial relationships. They need to think of opportunities and alternative solutions in terms of how they affect the company’s cash flow, flexibility and impact on financial statements.

Is this person committed and hands-on? Tough times demand leaders who will not accept repeated losses as acceptable; managers who are willing to travel and to join the competitive battle with their people. They need to accurately assess competition and react accordingly.

Is this person tough-minded? When cutbacks have to be made, special requests denied or pay reduced, can this person do his or her job and be part of the program?

We encourage hiring authorities to carefully consider these elements when developing a position spec for a management role, and to look diligently for these during the selection process.