Thriving in the New Economy
Guest Author Blog by: Lori Ann LaRocco author of, "Thriving in the New Economy: Lessons from Today's Top Business Minds"and the Senior Talent Producer here at CNBC.
While covering the free-fall of the markets in the Fall of 2008, I worked the phones like many journalists, talking to my contacts to see what interesting stories and guests we could have on the network and more specifically my show, Squawk Box. In addition to reporting the facts of the daily market happenings and government bailouts, I also started looking into the opportunity aspect of the crisis. Here at CNBC, we are all about providing actionable information to our audience. "Thriving in the New Economy," while a book, is no exception. It is not only a celebration of capitalism, but is also loaded with stock picks and investing advice from some of the best and biggest market minds in the world.
All 23 of my contacts highlighted in this book look at the positive side of a crisis. None is afraid of a challenge, or care what others may think of their strategies. That's what makes them leaders and market trailblazers. CEOs like Ramius' Peter Cohen, Ron Baron of Baron Capital, Goldman's Abby Joseph Cohen and Invemed's Ken Langone talk about what stocks and sectors they are investing in right now and why they believe their company picks will carve a path of success over the long-term. Vulture investor Wilbur Ross opens up about how he analyzes a crisis and why he chooses complicated sectors to invest in. Mutual Fund Dean Jack Bogle talk about how to create a path to successful investing.
The book is broken down into five segments: Economy, Banking, Real Estate, Autos, Retail and Opportunities, but the business leaders featured share the same qualities. They do not get caught up in a moment; rather they look at it, recognize there is a problem and then figure out a game plan on how to seize on any opportunities. As Ken Langone told me, "I am always looking for opportunities. One person's pain is another person's pleasure."
While writing the book Richard LeFrak, President of The LeFrak Organization, told me for the first time in 15 years his company had no new foundations in the ground. Developers by trait are optimistic about the future. That story screamed volumes of what his outlook on the commercial real estate market was. But instead of not growing his business, Richard teamed up with Wilbur Ross and created WLR LeFrak and has since put his money to work in banks like BankUnited, Corus Group or in his existing properties.
Peter Cohen, CEO of Ramius and former Shearson Lehman CEO, is no stranger to the financial industry. Cohen said there will be a reshaping of the financial industry in the new economy and the future of the business will be based on the past (returning to an environment of a more client-oriented business). Ramius' reverse merger with Cowen is a perfect example of how Cohen is positioning his company in the new financial landscape. Cohen also talks about his strategy on picking good stocks. He says, "Good ideas are all around you. You just have to pay attention... Winning is all about showing up."
Leadership also turned out to be a big theme in my book. Everyone emphasized that strong leadership at the top is the very first element for a company to be successful. H. Wayne Huizenga, who wrote my forward and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who wrote my afterward, emphasized the need for capitalism to be lead by those who could visualize the future even at the darkest moment. Gerald Greenwald, who helped Lee Iacocca during the first Chrysler bailout, was emotional when he spoke with me about his outlook on the auto industry as well as his investing picks and strategies. He shared this quote that Iacocca shared with him years ago during that time- "If you are a leader, it is so much easier to slow down 10 stallions you have than it is to get 10 mules to keep going." How true!
Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation told me when he began as CEO (back in 1999) he told his executives he wanted to put together a disaster plan where the company could remain profitable by selling 10-million cars. Some questioned why, but Jackson didn't listen to the naysayers. Jackson stood his ground. "A business disaster strategy is a lot like flood insurance: you can try and do without it, but when the water starts topping the levee, you sure wish you had it." Because of Jackson's planning, AutoNation blew by consensus and made a profit in the first quarter of 2009 during a downturn the likes of which hasn't been seen since World War II.
We have heard the phrase "never waste a crisis" a lot in 2009.
One of the CEOs who told me he is "not letting this recession go to waste" is Saks CEO Steve Sadove.
Sadove spoke candidly about the challenges facing Saks after the fall of Lehman. He said one of the lessons learned in the crisis is "control what you can control"- that meant to him: inventory. Sadove broke down in detail the steps he made to help Saks navigate through the choppy consumer waters.
Kelly King, CEO of BB&T, was quite frank on the ramifications of a bank taking TARP money, as well as talking about the company's thriving game plan, "When your competitors are weak, you certainly try to take business away from them if you can." BB&T was growing into new markets when it purchased Colonial Bank's loans, deposits and most of its assets from the government on August 14th, 2009. BB&T was the only bank in the Carolina's to survive the Great Depression. Today the company is using its history as a way to brand themselves from the competition.
I enjoyed my experience writing the book.
It just shows you there are two sides to every story.
While there has been no silver lining to the financial crisis, there are opportunities to be had if you have fortitude and a game plan.
You can read an excerpt from the book including my interview with Wilbur Ross here. Excerpted with permission from the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, from Thriving in the New Economy, by Lori Ann LaRocco. Copyright (c) 2010 by Lori Ann LaRocco."
Lori Ann LaRocco is the author of, "Thriving in the New Economy: Lessons from Today's Top Business Minds" and is the Senior Talent Producer here at CNBC.
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