Asking Hard Questions Without Easy Answers
An interview with the Chair of the Board of Decorators on how print businesses doing the right thing now can also be doing the right thing for the future.
As someone who has survived the ’87 downturn, the dot-com bust and the recession of 2007, Anthony Corsano is no stranger to difficult times. “But this is significantly different because of the scale and how it’s coupled with people's health and safety.” Speaking from his home, Corsano took the time to reflect on the challenging questions every business owner is asking themselves.
What are some of the biggest questions facing owners, companies, and employees right now?
I think during this time you have to engage all of the stakeholders in order to survive. I see a business entity as a living, breathing thing. It’s made up of other businesses, shareholders, and employees. It's made up of suppliers and customers, and it's made up of the community we all live in. Whether you're the owner, the president, or the CEO, I think now is the kind of time where you have to think, ‘How do I protect this business?’ ‘How do I make sure that at the end of this, the business is still intact, that it will still be there for all my stakeholders?’
In order to get through this, I think you have to work with your employees and potentially furlough them or cut salaries. You have to speak to your suppliers and ask them to accept less than full payments while still supporting you. And you have to speak to customers and see if they can still continue to work with you in some capacity. I think it has to be a holistic approach.
You’re right, we are all in this together—what are some thoughtful ways business owners can respond to this level of economic adversity?
Always act with the care and respect and kindness and empathy that one should. If you get it in your mind that you're the caretaker of the business, that within reason, you’ll do whatever you have to do so that at the end it's still standing, well, I think there's some freedom that comes with making some of the hard decisions that you'll have to make.
If we can get up every day and do absolutely everything we can, then we can celebrate the effort and not the results.
During the industry’s opportunity to rebuild in the coming months, what are some things you’d like to see print wear companies focus on?
When you start a business and it's growing and it's doing well, you don’t necessarily plan for the worst. For small businesses, this is a wake-up call for the need to have an advisory board. Now is the time not to be ashamed about reaching out and looking for advice. It’s an opportunity to try find somebody in the community in which you're working to say, ‘Hey, can I lean on you? Can I bounce things off of you? What do you think about this?’
Can you talk a little about backup plans?
From a business perspective, if this pandemic doesn't cause you to say to yourself, ‘You know, I’m not going to buy that piece of equipment until I can afford to pay for it in cash and still have a month or two worth of overhead in the bank,’ then I think you have to ask those hard questions and make those hard decisions. The truth is, you are going to do the best you can to manage things right now and you're going to try to figure out, ‘How do I minimize this the next time?’
What are some ways you think both owners and employees can be intentional about doing or not doing business during this time?
I think there's two pieces to it. A company doesn't need a leader in good times. It desperately needs a good leader in bad times. And I think this is an opportunity to ask, ’How am I going to navigate this as an individual and how am I going to navigate this as a business owner?’ And that question goes for the employees too, because this is a time for an employee to set themselves apart and think, ‘What can I do to help here?’
You also have to ask, are you going to be the company that says, ‘I'm going to build even stronger relationships with my employees. I'm going to be empathetic. I'm going to be there for them.’ I think you can make a conscious decision in response to, ‘How do I want to behave now, so that it's not only the right thing to do— but positions me much better down the road?’
Now is the time to be as human as you possibly can.
If there was one thing you’d write on a sticky-note for your office, what would it say?
You know, there are so many. I love ‘Hope is not a strategy.’ I love, ‘Plan for the worst, then hope for the best.’ But I guess the one that I would put on my sticky-note would be for me and for every employee—it would be one simple word— and it would be ‘Balance.’
Find the balance between work and play. Between doing the things that you have to do, you want to do, and spending time with your family, your spouse, or your significant other. I would say, just always check in—‘Am I balanced?’
Note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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