Lessons from a CEO Outlasting 4 Downturns


Shannon Bowen-Smed, CEO, BOWEN Group

Having been in the workforce since 1984, I have had the pleasure or curse to now be experiencing my fourth major market downturn.

I am certainly not suggesting the COVID-19 pandemic mirrors the energy crisis of 2014 and nor did the 2014 economic combustion look anything like what happened in 2008. So, while no economic slowdown is the same, there are shared strategies for your business to outlast each.

Slowing Down is Not Failure

For me, I have always started with the end goal: preserving my colleagues’ jobs and making sure there is still a company to run at the end of it all.

To make both happen there needs to be a balance in pulling both cost reduction and revenue creation levers. 

In this 2020 downturn, there are more solutions than businesses have ever had access to. Thanks to the Federal Government, there are many ways you can keep your employees working:

In addition to this:

  • Obtaining lease, premium or subscription payment deferrals
  • Accessing the new BDC loan

These are all means to slow down costs taking your cash out the door and create cash flow when regular business volumes won’t. 

Beyond the financial considerations, the next big question is how will you show up as a leader?

Focus on Human, Not Financial, Resources

During times like these, we’re reminded of the most important things in our lives: the people around us, our relationships, and our wellbeing. Without these, nothing else matters.

Great people are what make great organizations and it’s up to you as a leader to choose how you will take them forward during this time of uncertainty.

Choose Gratitude, Not Fear

You can’t always control what goes on beyond your office walls, but you can choose what goes on inside them.

During each downturn, I have always chosen to lead with optimism and celebrate the team’s progress and wins. Sharing your gratitude and recognizing accomplishments go a long way in inspiring motivation and accomplishments. 

Your office (or in this situation, your home and the homes of your colleagues) must be a safe haven from doom and gloom, and it’s up to you to set the stage.

Forget Perfect, Be Creative

In uncertain circumstances like these, it’s opportune to throw out the pursuit of perfectionism. Fear of failure hinders creativity, and creative solutions are will get you through any downturn. 

There is no better time than now to negotiate creative employment relationships.  We have a surplus of incredible talent who could make themselves available for short-term and contract work that you might not otherwise have access to.

There are businesses of every size desperately looking for opportunity. Try spawning collaborative partnerships or even leveraging each other’s products or services. Opening up your perspective opens up opportunity.

People First – Always & In All Ways

Remind yourself where you came from and how you got here: your people.

When I think about the sacrifices, brave decisions and brilliance of each of the collective individuals who build BOWEN Group over its 46 years, I am humbled. What started with two people: a single mother (my mother) Laverne Bowen-Kruger and a $14,000 loan from my grandfather has become a company that has by far surpassed all expectations.

It’s thanks to the shared contributions of our people that nearly five decades and numerous economic declines later, here we are with our doors, eyes and hearts (still) wide open.

My mantra is we didn’t get this far to only get this far. Fight for your business and fight for your people. They will both thank you for it.