Auld Lang Syne

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by David Belforte

Answering the ringing doorbell, I found on my doorstep a baby wearing a diaper and across its chest a white ribbonwith gold letters spelling out 2009. At the end of the driveway I spotted a cloaked figure jumping into a waiting SUV. Across this figure's back was a bedraggled ribbon with a just barely discernable 2008 in tattered letters. The SUV sped away and I was left staring at the baby who looked back at me with what might be described as quizzical eyes.

"Normally I'd be glad to see you," I said, but by my tone it was obvious that just the opposite was true. The infant picked up on this as tears began to build in those innocent eyes. "Look, I'm not blaming you. After all, the year has just begun so you can't be held responsible for the way it may turn out.

"I know, I know – it's a brand new year and we have the opportunity to make it a good one, but I've just been through a rather wrenching exercise, which resulted in the annual report that graces the pages of ILS. And frankly, after analyzing reams of negative news, looking for inspiration that, indeed, we can make the New Year a good one, I am not convinced. And you don't help matters much because you are so inexperienced. I've been through several of these economic hiccups, which should make me all the wiser and well aware that we always recover from down times."

"Age brings wisdom," I continue. And then remembering the hunched over, wizened figure that just left in the SUV, looking like the burdens of the world had worn it out, "Well, at least experience," I offer.

Yes, I was there in 1982, considered by many to be a classic economic recession in the capital equipment market. I had just started my own business and quickly got mired in delayed accounts payable situations where my receivables were 120 days and more, with an anemic bank balance, but fortunately some friendly creditors.

The early 1990's recession sort of passed me by as I quickly found out that consultants make out in poor economic times, when everyone is looking for advice and guidance. Personally OK, it was still painful to see the actions companies took to weather that particular storm.

And again when the dotcom bust dragged the economy down in the early 2000s—I recall sitting in the president's office at a West Coast job shop as he pointed to a stack of promotional brochures for auctions at his competitors, all of whom had been running laser cutters serving the computer industry. His shop was booming. I recall it took several years to work off all that used machinery inventory.

Did we all get stronger and smarter because of these economic events? I suppose there are historians and economic writers who will say so. Because I was not directly responsible for any of these perturbations, only reacting to them in a rather not empowered way, I guess the best I can offer is that I gained some experience, not on how to cope, but just to say, been there, done that.

So we will survive, even thrive, experience tells me.

The baby looked up at me, frowned, and kicked me in the shin. "Get a life," it said, waddling away. But I noticed, after our short conversation, a very small wrinkle appearing in the kid's forehead and an ever so slight rounding of its shoulders.

David A. Belforte
belforte@pennwell.com

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