Cristobal Conde is CEO of SunGard, a leading global software and IT company. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Conde was asked what has been the best move he’s made during the downturn. He answered, “We could have generated more earnings by having more layoffs. We wanted to protect R&D. We wanted products ready to go at the end of the cycle. I saw a huge competitive opportunity to protect programmers when others weren’t.”
Conde’s perspective is smart, but rare. Our research shows that most companies overreact to a downturn and cut not just fat, but muscle. If they go beyond what’s absolutely necessary, that can easily compromise their future. Conde turns the fear on its ear by asking his employees “What is it you need to do now so you will remember the crisis as a gift?”
Chilean by birth, Conde has developed a taste for a uniquely American institution: NASCAR. Perhaps it’s because he sees in racing similar patterns to those of business. “Going into the crisis is not that different from going into a turn,” he says. “You slam on the brakes. In the turn, the most important thing is your position relative to other cars. I’ve been telling people, ‘Focus on our relative market shares rather than overall volumes you can’t control. What are we doing to improve our position?’ After the turn, you take that better position.”
Conde can’t guarantee that SunGard will come out of the recession a winner, just as even the best NASCAR drivers don’t know when they’ll cross the finish line first and when they’ll come up short. But races are decided by the strategy of the driver as much as the speed of the car.
Steve McKee is a BusinessWeek.com columnist, marketing consultant, and author of “When Growth Stalls: How it Happens, Why You’re Stuck, and What To Do About It.” Learn more about him at www.WhenGrowthStalls.com and at http://twitter.com/whengrowthstall.