Cynthia J. Pasky
One of the realities of owning a company with 25 branches that stretch from Lithuania to California is that I spend a lot of time on airplanes.
That, in turn, means a lot of time that I'm not in meetings, on the phone or on the Internet, which in turn gives me a lot of time to think.
In recent months, a lot of that thinking has turned to the financial crises that face our city, our state, our nation and our world. It's hard to find optimism anywhere these days. PriceWaterhouseCoopers conducted a survey of corporate CEOs in advance of the recent World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland and found that only 21 percent were confident that his or her revenues would go up in 2009.
Had I been one of those surveyed, I would have been one of the 21 percent. That's due primarily to three factors: 1) I am an optimist by nature, 2) Strategic Staffing Solutions has posted 19 consecutive years of growth, including 2008 when our revenues topped $160 million and 3) we are a privately held company.
No decision is made in a vacuum.
But as the owner of a privately held company, I have a relatively small number of people to answer to, starting with my banker and my CFO.
That doesn't always make the job or the decisions easy. But it does allow you to take a longer-term approach to your planning and your managing. You can take a hit in the next quarter if it is really an investment in the long-term viability of your company.
CEOs of public traded corporations have the additional layers of boards and shareholders that they must factor into their judgments. That can create a situation where choices are made with an eye more to the next quarterly report than to the long-term health of the company. Planning and development or marketing decisions that might help the company in the long run but eat into the next quarterly report get made with an eye on the quarterly report, not the longer-term health of the company.
Then there are those who hold public office. They have a much larger audience that they have to satisfy – voters. The financial realities may be the same, but the decision-making realities are quite different.
If you are a Governor or Mayor asking your employees for concessions, you have to deal with them not only at the bargaining table as employees, but also as voters who have a say in whether you keep your job.
Nationally, statewide and here in Detroit, we see three different scenarios unfolding as we begin 2009.
Nationally, we have a new president with high approval ratings who has time to develop a long-term plan and implement it. He doesn't have to worry about facing voters in the near future. He has time to make tough decisions and then try to convince the public that the decisions were sound.
Here in Michigan, our Governor has two years left on her second term. She just unveiled a plan to reduce the number of departments in state governor and to make other cuts. As a term limited official, she doesn't have to worry about running for re-election. She can focus on what is good for the state and on the legacy she will leave behind.
Here in Detroit, on the other hand, 2009 is going to be remembered as the year of the unending Mayoral election. Detroit is holding a special Mayoral primary Feb. 24, a special Mayoral Election May 5, a regular Mayoral primary Aug. 4 and a Mayoral election for a full four-year term Nov. 3. That may be a full-employment plan for political consultants, but it does not create an environment that encourages tough decision-making.
Political campaigns are the worst time to try to educate the public on the nuances of public policy. We expect our candidates to come up with solutions they can describe in 60 or 90 seconds to problems that have been developing for decades and for which there are no easy answers. Emotions run high, never a good environment for rational decision-making. And the media focus inevitably treats the contest more as a horse race with winners and losers rather than giving us thoughtful analysis of the issues involved and the solutions being proposed.
Add to that an estimated deficit that has grown from $100 million to more than $300 million in just a few months and you have a recipe for a debate with a lot more heat than light. The focus becomes more on surviving in the short-term, both fiscally and politically. The truth is that there are no easy answers. If there were, the problems would have been solved a long time ago.
Fortunately, there are several good candidates in the race who I think have the experience and the courage to make the tough decisions that will need to be made. My fervent hope is that the process, and the voters, will encourage them to do that. We can't afford any less.