Nick Fickling: Tough times can make us more efficient in Vail Valley
Vail, CO, Colorado
As I dug through my closets and garage seeking suitable items for this Saturday’s Grand Yard sale at Vail Christian High School in Edwards, it occurred to me that the effort would not only help fund my daughter’s upcoming senior mission trip to Costa Rica but also make my life tidier and more efficient.
Locally we have Vail Resorts seeking greater efficiency and announcing cuts of 50 staff, elimination of 92 unfilled positions and a suspension of 401k matching funds.
Multinationals such as electronics giant Sony are cutting thousands of jobs and streamlining their product lines. Media outlets and newspaper businesses are also downsizing, as evidenced by the cutting of 64 employees and two shows from NPR’s lineup.
Then there is the increasing number of companies seeking Chapter 11 protection.
This is all very painful for workers who lose their jobs, creditors who do not get paid, and those of us relying on the performance of the market for our retirement. There is however a bright side. The difficult times make us all look carefully at expenditures and efficiencies, which in the good times we might overlook.
Those companies that take early action to eliminate waste and inefficiency will come out of the economic crisis stronger and more vibrant, and more focused on producing the right product for the right market.
Those that do not adapt and restructure themselves will go under, particularly those that did not anticipate the downturn and take action early enough.
This also applies in the public sector, in which towns and counties also seek ways to operate with less revenue, usually involving cutbacks on projects and staff. The key is the right leadership that anticipates the need for change.
The $14 billion bailout of GM and Chrysler seems to carry with it a great deal of risk for taxpayers. Enabling these companies to survive on federal life support with federal oversight will not change anything other than making it harder for their management teams to bring about the required change.
It would surely be better for them to restructure under Chapter 11 protection than in the managerial no-mans-land that the bail-out promises. Everyone knows that GM and Chrysler are in big trouble so why would Chapter 11 undermine sales or the car industry any more than a bailout would?
If we believe in the free market, then we should allow it to run its course and not micromanage the auto industry from Washington. Leadership is about the big picture and not getting caught up in the minutiae.
The arrest of Illinois Gov. Blagejovich highlights another danger in the GM-Chrysler bailout and the proposed federally funded stimulus package. The sums being spoken of are so large, the time scales so short, and the scope of federal involvement so wide that oversight will inevitably be difficult and corruption potentially rife.
We have seen in Iraq these past six years how billions of dollars can be “lost” due to poor federal oversight.
President Bush and President-elect Obama need to be very mindful of the high cost of corruption.
Meanwhile, I must get back to improving my own efficiency by using the Vail Christian High School rummage sale to become a minimalist and not the pack-rat I have been for most of my life.
If only it were so easy for GM and Chrysler.
Nick Fickling is retired from the British military and lives in the Vail Valley. You can reach him at email@example.com