Most Senior Executives Say We're in a Recession Now - or Will Be within Six Months: With Few Exceptions, Senior Executives Say Their Companies Will be Unable to Avoid the Effects of the Recession, According to Boston Consulting Group Survey Executives Concur that Recession Could Provide Opportunities, Especially for Market Share Gains - But Findings Suggest Companies Aren't Taking the Right Steps to Capture Opportunities

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Most U.S. business leaders believe the economy is in a recession now, or that one is inevitable within six months. That's according to a survey conducted by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) of 101 senior decision makers at U.S. companies with at least $500 million in annual revenues.

we're all in this together

    Almost every executive (94.9%) who said that a recession is likely believes his or her company will not be able to avoid the effects of the recession.

Companies Already Feeling Recession Squeeze

A total of 53.4% of executives believe that we're in a recession now (37.6%), or that we will be within six months (15.8%). While the majority (71.2%) of those who believe we're in or near recession say they base their view in part on macro-economic indicators, they're also feeling the effects in their businesses: 55.9% say their view is based in part on a slowdown in sales, and 30.5% say it's based in part on a slowdown in payments to their companies.

Going into the Recession With the Right Perspective

"We believe companies should approach signs of a recession as an opportunity - to prepare. Downturns magnify relative strengths and weaknesses, so companies that gird themselves intelligently can leverage a change in the dynamics of an industry - something that always happens in a recession - so that it works in their favor," said Hal Sirkin, global leader of BCG's Operations practice, which spearheaded the research.

"In the last recession, 30% of the companies that had been among the top 10 players in their sectors dropped off that list. So, viewed the right way, a downturn presents a strategic opportunity to leapfrog the competition, rather than simply posing a threat," he added.

Recession Trap vs. Recession Opportunity

Indeed, most executives - 57.6% - said the recession will present opportunities (though 42.4% said it won't). Of those who said it will, 64.7% said the recession will lead to chances for market share gains; 47.1% said it will be an opportunity to implement changes with less internal resistance; and 29.4% said it will provide M&A opportunities.

But Companies that Believe They're Prepared May Still Fall Into the Recession Trap

Nearly three-quarters (74.5%) of executives say their companies have taken measures to prepare for the downturn, and 81.3% say they're at least somewhat confident - 23.7% are very confident - that their company is better prepared than competitors.

"Unfortunately, many of these companies are probably less prepared than they believe - and headed for the recession trap. Based on our research, most of the measures these companies say they're taking - 80% of the steps, in fact - are conventional and related to cost cutting," said Sirkin, a Chicago-based BCG senior partner. "By mainly focusing on cost reduction, they're not taking advantage of the opportunities a recession can provide. What they need to do is pull out all the stops now so they can move ahead of their competitors soon and be well positioned when business softens further."

The Right Steps to Being Prepared

Mr. Sirkin suggests that companies should begin immediately to determine and measure their risk levels in a downturn; sharpen their "downturn radars" by setting up early warning systems that look for danger and opportunity; "get in shape" by doing things like building collaborative partnerships, licensing agreements and outsourcing relationships that reduce risk, keep costs variable and lead to new opportunities; think and act counter-cyclically by taking such steps as giving more service to profitable customers or target accounts and increasing marketing and R&D investments; streamline supply chains; free working capital to reduce debt and interest expense; and get everyone involved in making the most of the downturn by creating a "we're all in this together" environment.

"In a recession, everyone feels short-term pain. But companies that successfully approach a recession as an opportunity have the potential to realize long-term gain," said Sirkin.

Note to journalists: Hal Sirkin at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is available to discuss the findings in more depth and elaborate on BCG's recommendations for organizations willing to take steps to prepare to leverage a downturn.

About The Boston Consulting Group

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a global management consulting firm and the world's leading advisor on business strategy. We partner with clients in all sectors and regions to identify their highest-value opportunities, address their most critical challenges, and transform their businesses. Our customized approach combines deep insight into the dynamics of companies and markets with close collaboration at all levels of the client organization. This ensures that our clients achieve sustainable competitive advantage, build more capable organizations, and secure lasting results. Founded in 1963, BCG is a private company with 66 offices in 38 countries. For more information, please visit

About the Survey

The Boston Consulting Group commissioned an online survey, conducted by Chicago-based Research Pros Inc., of 101 corporate decision makers at U.S. companies with over $500 million in revenues. About 80% of the companies had revenues over $1 billion. All respondents described themselves as having a position at their company in which they make decisions affecting the overall direction of the company. The survey was conducted February 19-21, 2008.

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Adria Greenberg
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