Recession Retool

Published: November 2004
Colleen Hennessey | CT Business Journal

Executive managers know about and expect business cycles, “the good times” and “the bad times.” However, when a recession comes along, most companies are unprepared and may be vulnerable. Once weak companies start dropping off, feelings of apprehension and panic set into the business community. Some companies think they are “lucky” just to survive.

More than luck, it takes astute management and diligent planning to steer a company through recessions. Smart managers see opportunities in a recession, and are ready to seize opportunities and ride the waves. That is exactly what Antoinette Allocca is doing.

Learning From The Recession

“I learned a lot about my own company during the recent recession,” say Antoinette, Founder, CEO and President of Stamford-based Essential Data Corporation (EDC), an eighteen-year technical writing and documentation firm based in Stamford.

“Business was booming up until four years ago, and then things started receding,” she says. “This past year was the worst, and finances were tight. We cut our sales staff and closed our national locations,” she continues. “We were worried and very uneasy about the economic recession.”

“Then it occurred to me,” say Allocca, “that the company was changing for the better. We weren’t losing ground. We were gaining it. I realized that my own leadership skills were sound, and that EDC was on its way to a prosperous future,” she states. “Then recession forced changes in EDC that made it ready for the ‘boom’ times. And now I am preparing the company for the next downturn.”

A profitable History

Antoinette Allocca was an entrepreneur from an early age. Raised by a single mother in Long Beach, NY, Antoinette was the oldest of five children. Her first venture was created at age eight when she recruited her siblings to shovel snow for neighbors to earn extra money. Antoinette would knock on neighbor’s doors and ask if they wanted their driveways and sidewalks shoveled for $4.

After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing from Hofstra University, Antoinette worked as a salesperson for companies such as Burlington Industries and Vital Software Company in Manhattan. She quickly became the top sales producer at Vital, and later proved her managerial prowess by launching and managing the company’s technical writing division.

An Untapped Market

In this role, Antoinette recognized an untapped market. When companies change computer platforms or software programs, there are no instructional manuals to educate end users on how to effectively and efficiently use the new technology. Upper management usually delegates the tasks of documentation and teaching end users to the company’s programmers.

This is a problem, because programmers are more “engineering types” than trainers or writers. Employees and managers get frustrated when the programmers are unable to deliver training sessions and written materials that are easy to understand and use.

Even before Antoinette was promoted to Vice President of Marketing at Vital, she had already conceptualized much needed services that would make businesses more efficient and profitable. When the promotion excluded an increase in annual salary, it was an easy decision for Antoinette to create her own company. In 1988, she opened EDC for business in Stamford.

In 1997, EDC earned $1 million in sales. The following year sales grew to $10 million, and in the 1999 to $20 million, a 1,900 percent increase over a three-year period. “With a solid long-range plan in place, we project the company sales to be at $100 million within five years,” says Allocca.

Today, EDC is the largest technical writing firm in the country, and services over 200 clients nationally and internationally. The majority are Fortune 500 companies. EDC positions itself by providing the highest quality technical writers available, hiring only the top one percent in the industry.

In recent months, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) have been driving more business into the company along with disaster recovery.

Strength For The Future

“EDC had enjoyed long-term success, and the stress we witnessed during the recession was a ‘wake-up call,” says Allocca. “The recession gave me time to re-think who we are, what we do, and what strategies are appropriate for the future,” she says.

“I have acquired a revitalized vision for EDC,” asserts Allocca. “Going forward, EDC will improve on client service, reinforce our internal structure and create reserves for difficult times.”

EDC is currently hiring new salespeople, and is ready to expand into all major city locations around the country in 2005.

“Our senior salespeople are taking more active role in supporting the new salespeople,” Allocca says. “We have also implement a more solid selection proves for writers and salespeople, installed a more comprehensive sales training program and have an aggressive PR program in place.

Helpful Management Hints

Client Centricity: Know your customers’/clients’ needs and challenges. Always strive to exceed their expectations.

Stay Focused: Don’t let negativities distract you. Keep your vision and priorities straight.

Rethink Strategies: Examine and re-examine your internal structure and resources. Be ready and flexible for the environmental factors you cannot control.

Human Capital: Hire wisely, retain and reward good performers, and foster employee loyalty.

Stay Lean: Even in the “boom times,” keep costs and expenses low. When cutting costs, make sure you cut the right ones, diverting resources to activities that actually create value.

Technology: The latest information systems and computer modeling software gibe you an edge over your competition.

Take it from a sharp CEO. “Well-positioned companies do better than expected in a good economy and have plenty of reserves for a recession,” says Allocca.

Recent studies show that savvy executives who manage a recession and strategically align their companies gain market share, acquire more new customers and strengthen their product and service offerings. They build a platform for profitability and future growth, even in the wake of a recession.

Colleen Hennessey is the owner of Aquila Marketing, a strategic business and communications consultancy, www.aquilamktg.com (860) 648-4609.

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