We’re All In This Together

A veteran’s perspective on the economic downturn.

I’ve been around the gases and welding industry for a while. I’ve spent more than 20 years at Commonwealth Supply Company and even served as GAWDA president in 2006-2007, and I can say with authority that this has been one of the most challenging years in recent memory. The last 12 months caused many in our industry to reevaluate the way we do things. Keeping costs down became more important than ever and providing for the customer became more complicated. Fortunately, most of us have survived this downturn in one piece, and now have the opportunity to take full advantage of the eventual recovery.

While this year was difficult, it isn’t the first downturn our industry has seen, and it won’t be the last. There are certain lessons that hold true in any period of economic turmoil. They are what helped us get through this recession and they will be what help us take advantage of the recovery.

It Takes a Team EffortIt Takes a Team Effort
As a Young Executive, it’s up to you to help your company make it through what is left of the downturn. It can’t just be the management team pulling the weight; it has to be a dedicated effort from the top all the way down. At Commonwealth, we’ve leaned on our employees heavily in this last year. They’ve always had great ideas, but this year, more than ever, we challenged them to put their thinking caps on and come up with great ideas.

The results have been eye opening. As an employee, you truly do see things that your management team may miss. Don’t be afraid to speak up. For instance, I’ve had several drivers come up to me and explain why deliveries they were making weren’t cost-effective. They were right, and we were able to cut costs by adjusting our delivery schedule accordingly. Another employee found a hidden cost that could be eliminated—cable television. We were paying $68 a month for cable TV and barely using it. By cutting out the cable, we will save more than $800 this year. While that’s not a jaw-dropping figure, it adds up.

What made this employee input even more valuable is that there wasn’t any reward in it for them, no spiff for saving money. They pitched in because they understood that we’re all in this together. The ultimate goal of a business is to keep everyone working, and in times like these, every single employee has to pitch in to make it happen.

Another important thing to remember is that once the recovery does begin, you can’t drop the good habits you developed during the tough times. Think about it: You wouldn’t spend hours working on your golf swing attempting to hit the perfect drive, then celebrate by going back to swinging the way you used to. If you keep looking for ways to improve, there’s no limit to where your company and your career can go.

A Final Take-Away
If there’s a final lesson that Young Executives should take from this downturn, it’s the old adage, “never take anything for granted.” It wasn’t too long ago that college graduates were getting signing bonuses when they were hired; today they can’t find jobs. Life isn’t easy and it’s often not fair. That’s why it’s so critical that you develop a great work ethic and a true appreciation for the value of a job—any job. We’re all very fortunate to be employed when more than 10 percent of the country isn’t. That’s something that shouldn’t be forgotten. So keep your eyes open and always look for ways to save money and be profitable. You are the eyes in the sky and the feet on the street and your company needs you.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Bob Ames Meet the Author
Bob Ames is a former GAWDA president and executive vice president of Commonwealth Supply Company in York, PA and on the Web at www.commonwealthsupply.com.