By the time you read this column, hopefully the drama of my past few months will be behind me. To explain: we run offices in Laos, Thailand and Vietnam as one unit – Greater Mekong Sub-Region (GMS) which also covers Cambodia and Myanmar – and the first part of the year is always a challenge. Christmas and New Year bring a business lull that doesn’t really pick up until mid-January, and then Vietnam – an increasingly important market for our GMS operation – starts to think about Tet. Laos and Thailand usually take up the slack in February but this year, for some unknown reason, it didn’t happen and we had a shocking month with next to nothing on the books.
Although we didn’t send out any bills, this didn’t affect the incoming expenses! We still had payroll and rent, our two most important and largest expenses (just like most service businesses) to pay, along with myriad other bills that seemed to pop up like mushrooms. When times are good it’s easy to absorb extra costs but when times aren’t so rosy, they get a careful reassessment. Do we really need this or that? Every expense went under the microscope.
One thing that is very important, as a manager, is not to panic under such circumstances (even though it was tempting). A cash crunch is just that: a short-term, temporary, problem that will be solved. Somehow. And it was. Business started to pick up in Vietnam quite quickly after Tet. And early in March good things started to happen in Thailand too – so we were getting back on track. As March progressed even Laos was getting in on the act with active leads and clients. In a business such as ours it’s a challenge to persuade clients of the (perfectly valid, in my view, naturally!) reasons why executive search is a good idea. But of course we know that we work in price-conscious markets where there is always someone who will do it cheaper.
The unsung stars of this episode – and this is who I want to thank – are my colleagues. They know the pressure I have been under, they see and feel it every day, and they are still with me. They understand the issues and – up to a point – forgive me for my (many) shortcomings. I try not to delegate pressure (it’s my job to absorb it) but it’s near impossible to always hide it. And besides, a decent manager shares information with his/her colleagues, right? Then everyone knows where we are: we are all in this together. There’s a saying that ‘tough times pass, tough people last’. It couldn’t be truer. Thank you all. I couldn’t have come through the past few months without you.
As usual, let me know if you have any particular topic you would like to see covered here.
Gary Woollacott is an executive search consultant who works for Horton International in Vietnam, Thailand and Laos. He can be reached at +84 8 3910 7682 or via firstname.lastname@example.org