Friday 10 February 2012

The Economic Crisis - Every man for themselves?

I rang up a friend recently in London who was working in hedge funds. I had asked him, how things were? How is the market? Is there really a recession? He took a deep breath and he sighed.  ‘Things are flat, not a lot going on. It seems to be a case of every man for themselves.’ This was not the first time I had such a phrase. It is an interesting study -  human behavourial patterns when things get rough in business. How to be cool in a tough economic climate and how to behave rationally in a crisis.

Another friend working in a business that due to few deals coming through, it was not what it used to be, everyone in the company was at each other’s throat, total mistrust and loss of synergy. The company is clearly a sinking ship. In the case of the spectacular tragic semi submerged cruise ship last month, I had read differing reports of whether women and children were allowed off first or was it a case of ‘every man for themselves’ and in some cases even the crew.  Acts of selflessness are rare and in few circumstances.  I am no expert in disaster situations as I have not experienced one, I wonder how I would behave in such a dramatic situation. I have only experienced a crisis.

One other chap joked to me that in his rich neighbourhood nowadays, businessmen in the evenings if they were not drinking heavily in the pubs, they were fighting their wives back home because they were close to bankruptcy or their firms were suffering.  In public during daylight they would be keeping up appearances as decent and respectable businessmen. Yes, different masks were put on adaptable to each situation.  Oil crisis have a tendency to cause panic buying of petrol even of food, foolish really if you think about it that we should be so dependent on oil.

Internal selling of shares when you know there might be a profit warning on the horizon. (as with 2 recent Tesco business executives reported recently in the UK) This could also be a case of unfortunate misconception but suspicious nevertheless. 50% above Inflation busting salary rises in the case of top executives in 2011 reported in the BBC business just after Christmas and the increasing debate on pay inequality where clearly more transparency is needed.

It is a very dangerous concept ‘Every man for themselves’ Human nature can become raw, and our selfish tendencies more exposed, corrupt….possibly savage. It is a condition of fear and panic closely intertwined.  It can instil so many negative emotions whereby we behave irrationally, lack sound judgement and character.  Like an illness, when one person catches it, it is easily transferred to the one next to you. You can let down the whole group, the crew….everyone else. The entire ship will sink.

This is a time when in fact we ought to be behaving the opposite, a time to develop our true character.  How do we help ourselves, each other in a time of hardship? Many years now of stagnation in our economies, is this not giving us a clear signal?  Is this not the perfect time we group together, to really spend time to think, how we can move forward for the long term?  Do we have a vision? Be creative, have passion in our ideas or possessing discipline in executing our strategies. Showing acts of courage and selflessness in our businesses and crisis situations and thinking ‘we’ and not ‘me.’  Have a deeper understanding of what is required and missing in our world, seeking to understand, redefining our attitudes, to do things differently and to change.  If one responsible or influential person gets it the others will follow suit, not like an illness but more like something positively motivating.

It is really very simple. There is a natural principle and moral compass in each of us that points North. It is thus that governs our natural principles and behaviour.  When it veers off course as it so often does, it starts to rattle and shake, possibly move backwards.  It may just stagnate.  It may just sink… and next time with everyone else on board.

‘Character in the long run is the decisive factor in life as an individual and of nations alike’ Theodore Roosevelt.

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