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BW Businessworld

The Children Of Recession

In an economy like India which expected to grow at 5 - 6% over the next decade, there are enough opportunities likely to arise.

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While I have been speaking at many of the IIMs and IITs over the past few months, one of the questions that I am often asked is about my learnings from the 2008 recession. The question assumes significance as aspiring management professionals look at another impending recession with fear, anxiety and panic.

I happened to pass out of IIM Bangalore in 2009, witnessing one the best summer placements ever in the history of the institute in 2007 and one of the worst final placements ever in the history of the institute in 2009. Having borne the burnt of it personally, I can write on this topic with a fair degree of authority. In my opinion, the following are six guiding principles management professionals need to be cognisant of, to handle this upcoming period well.

Take the least miserable option

The absolute notion of risk taking has changed significantly over the last decade. While the last decade made drastic risk taking fashionable (e.g. leaving your job overnight to pursue your startup), the upcoming decade is going to be characterised by incremental risk taking (e.g. leaving your job only if your startup achieves a certain scale, growing slowly but avoiding vulture capital). When the markets are down, it makes immense sense to take the first option that doesn’t make you miserable. This approach while doesn’t lead to the best possible upside but caps the downside significantly. For management students who sit for their placements and working professionals who make important career choices, this paradigm will be of tremendous help.

Build a routine

In a downmarket, there is no shortage of negativity, pessimism, sob stories and a depressing environment. Such a sustained environment can lead to poor mental health. To overcome this phase of an impending downturn, it is advisable to build a routine and follow it everyday. Have a fixed time to get up, to eat, to go out for a run, to watch Netflix, to relax, to chat up with friends and to hit the bed. In fact, building a routine will help a professional to overcome the vagaries of a corporate career, not just in a downturn.

Build an identity greater than your LinkedIn designation

It is unfortunate, but with a lot of graduates from IIT and IIM, their entire sense of self- worth is linked to their job titles and their salaries. Such a psychology is erroneous as when things go sour, this can lead to soul crushing experiences. It is necessary to have a sense of identity outside work (e.g. creative arts, a small personal business, a teaching assignment) which gives an individual balance in life and a sense of greater control. In fact, it is only natural that layoffs and professional setbacks are normal and are no longer considered taboo. This assumes significance for senior professionals above the age of 45 as a professional setback during this age can often mean professional retirement.

With most things in life, everything is a matter of time

As they say in sports, form is temporary but class is permanent. In an economy like India which expected to grow at 5 - 6% over the next decade, there are enough opportunities likely to arise. A period of downturn or professional setback is a matter of 4 - 6 quarters at best. Once the economy recovers, life often tends to make up for lost time and opportunity at one go.

This period is a huge blessing in disguise

A period of sub-optimal professional opportunity can be a huge blessing in disguise. As you are out of the rat race in the short term, it gives you the opportunity to think hard about what you want to do, what your strengths are and what you should work on in the immediate future. It also assists in building tremendous mental strength and resilience. Most successful management professionals are used to succeeding 9 / 10 times in their academic careers. However, in the world of business, anyone who succeeds more than 5 times out of 10 is a legend. A setback earlier on in life can prepare an individual for tremendous success later on. 

Finally, always understand ground reality

It is said that during the times of adversity, you will know who your well-wishers and real friends are. Most people will be amazed at the number of good friendships that will vaporise overnight due to an early professional setback. There will be people who will snub you, ignore you, backstab you and write you off. As things come back with a boom in a few years’ time, the same people will come back asking you for a share of your time and success. One should never forget those who helped you out during adversity and the ones who looked the other way.

In conclusion, I don’t think the upcoming 1-2 years will be as bad as the 2008 financial crisis as consumer confidence is likely to return to normalcy over the next 2 quarters. At least I hope so.

Even if I am proved incorrect and if your worst horrors come true, you should realise that life is setting you on a different path of tremendous success later on in the form of a bitter sweet pill.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Sandeep Das

The author, Sandeep Das, is an MBA from IIM Bangalore, a management consultant, the author of “Yours Sarcastically” and a columnist.

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