American Comebacks

What does a business do when its very existence is threatened? What are the strategies that undergird successful comebacks?

Anyone who has tried to pull a business out of a downward spiral will tell you it’s a soul-searching, gut-wrenching, taxing endeavor.

The key is to be very sure of the root cause of the decline in order to develop a workable turnaround strategy. And certain personality traits can prove helpful: a willingness to change, an amazing level of confidence in the ultimate success of the vision and the ability to get the rest of the team to believe in that vision.

But comebacks are possible. You have to believe again.

We found five comeback businesses with stories as instructive as they are inspiring.

To Make Socks in Vermont, You Have to Be Darn Tough – by Jim Motavalli

Out of Katrina’s Wreckage, a New Business Model – by Lisa Monti

An Iconic Seattle Bookstore Owner Faces a Move-or-Die Decision – by Rebekah Denn

Leveled by a Tornado, a Community and a Business Rebuild – by Aaron Barnhart

Solid Relationships Help a California Aviation Company Fly Again – Craig Hanson

Tips For a Comeback

Don’t go it alone. When things are toughest, many business leaders isolate themselves. That’s precisely the wrong response, since it’s nearly impossible to be creative in a vacuum, says executive coach Michelle Randall. Talk with coaches, mentors and members of your team. “When things do turn around, the leaders who do this have created a more trusted team than ever before,” says Randall, the principal of Enriching Leadership International, a global management consultancy.

Turn vendors into allies. Ask for more generous terms and programs while always positioning them as being in the vendors’ best interest—because they are.

Get focused. “People I’ve seen stage successful comebacks were completely focused on the desired outcome. As a result,” Randall says, “they sought any course of action that would get them there.”

Be flexible. “My clients who have pulled off the most successful comebacks have been relentless in their belief that they could do it. As a result they were flexible in finding opportunities and marshaled the people around them to create extraordinary results.”

Don’t wallow in self-pity. “People I’ve seen be less successful got mired down in why-me thinking. That victim mentality wasted time and energy and made them overly apologetic with vendors, customers and employees instead of acting like peers.”

Remember, Randall says: “Every real business has been through plenty of crises. It’s what they do when that happens that defines them.”


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