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What I learnt in the downturn

An economic slowdown—that's what it was in India—isn't necessarily a time to batten down the hatches, as India Inc.'s brightest leaders reveal in this package on "What I Learnt in the Downturn".

Print Edition: January 10, 2010

Subprime borrowers in the US trigger a global financial crisis. A Wall Street marquee name goes bankrupt. Many more banks around the world go under. Liquidity tightens. Demand conditions weaken, prices of commodities crash, employees and consumers panic. Say hello to a recession, or a depression, or an economic slowdown, depending on which part of the world you are, and how badly you’ve been hit. For those in business, it’s time to cut down production, clamp down on investments and capital expenditure, ruthlessly lay employees off, and grit one’s teeth and wait for the rough times to pass. Right?

Wrong. An economic slowdown—that's what it was in India—isn't necessarily a time to batten down the hatches, as India Inc.'s brightest leaders reveal in this package on "What I Learnt in the Downturn". Sure, you've got to keep a tight rein on costs, but then you should have been watching them even in the boom. Sure, you should get into a mode of prudence, but if you've turned irrationally pessimistic that's because you might have been wildly exuberant during the rah-rah times. Sure, you need to exercise restraint in expenditure, but that moderation shouldn't be in inverse proportion to your eagerness to buy everything with a sale sign when valuations were over the top.

These are just some of the lessons that India's top business leaders have for those in business, big and small: To stay focussed on your long-term vision, with the confidence that the downturn can't last forever. As a leader, you need to be able to take along those who work with you—in good times or bad; you need even more energy and a clearer sense of direction to fire them up in the tough times. Above all, go in the opposite direction of the herd. One size doesn't fit all—and never will. In the next 78 pages, you will come across the experiences of a diverse range of CEOs in what was the toughest period most of them have ever been through; and how they pulled through it. There's plenty to learn from what they learnt—some of it the hard way—from the downturn.

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