BCG: Simple tips for difficult times

by Vault Consulting Editors | June 24, 2009

  • My Vault

Good old BCG. Just when you're tempted to start believing the hype about "green shoots," and a possible end to the recession, the company comes along with the research report equivalent of a bucket of cold water and throws it over everything. The seventh (and latest) part of the company's Collateral Damage series, in which the firm assesses the current state of the global economy, begins with a particularly hubristic quote from Herbert Hoover in 1930: "Gentlemen, you have come 60 days too late. The depression is over." And, as if that weren't enough to foreshadow the bad news to come in the following 23 pages, check out its title: Green Shoots, False Positives, and What Companies Can Learn from the Great Depression.

Clearly, someone at BCG thinks we ain't seen the last of this particular down cycle, and they're making it their business to let everyone know it. Indeed, almost half of the report is dedicated to debunking the happy-talk that's been popping up in the media of late, and while the firm says that it remains hopeful of a recovery beginning in early 2010, it's worth noting that it expects it "to be sluggish—as with all upturns after a recession that is synchronized around the globe and preceded by systemic financial stress."

The remaining half of the report (which is well worth reading, by the way) provides an analysis of what went right for companies that did well during the last cataclysmic economic event—the Great Depression. Spanning firms from GM and Chrysler (no, really—and there are some eerie parallels to today) to the likes of GE, Procter & Gamble and DuPont, the section reads at times like a Greatest Hits compilation of top (or once-top) American corporations and management bromides. But the underlying message remains: rather than any bold stroke of genius, the success enjoyed by these firms through the remainder of the 20th century sprang directly from their handling of the Depression.

In its conclusion, the report answers its own question:  "What should today's companies learn from the Great Depression winners?" While BCG's answer ranks up there with the sort of advice you'll find in Business Management 101, it's no less true because of that. And, in a profession where complicated jargon and incomprehensible models are endemic, you kind of have to applaud the sort of straight-talkin', call-it-like-you-see-it-and-don't-worry-if-sounds-boring-or-repetitive attitude at the heart of BCG's answers.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, the report suggests that all the ills in today's companies could be solved if leaders would just:

1) Control costs;

2) Protect revenues; and

3) Invest in the future.

One wonders if BCG is attempting to kill its own industry; what other reason could there be for a consulting firm publishing such common sense, easy to follow wisdom?

-- Posted by Phil Stott

Filed Under: Consulting

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