Tightening the Belt During Fat Times
I had dinner with a friend of mine who is a CEO of a company, and one of her comments made me chuckle.
She lamented that a lot of her young programmers seemed to gripe more about the minutiae of trivial benefits instead of focusing their energy on product. I related immediately — I always felt that some of the people I hired were, frankly, too entitled.
I’m an old timer now, but in my day at Goldman Sachs, we were expected to get coffee for our bosses — not complain about the variety of beans on offer.
Why is this worth discussing? Well, its important because there is a large generation of young kids who have never lived through anything but pampering and prosperous times. That can be dangerous at some point.
The great advantage of startups is they are young companies with a blank sheet and essentially zero legacy baggage. The disadvantage, however, is a lot of them have not lived through eras that required belt tightening, such as the tech sector in the 1990s dot com bust, or the banking sector in the 2008 financial crisis.
I guarantee that people will stop complaining about how many varieties of kombucha are available when a downturn happens and 30% of the company is being laid off, many of them your friends.
Yes, when the economy is booming, you can spend your time at the water cooler griping about lack of healthcare for your dogs. But when things shift, and you see a startling number of colleagues ignominiously laid off in a single morning, you’re putting your head down and trying to do good work. You are just happy to keep your job.
This is not a doom and gloom prediction. It’s just an important lesson that I learned from the CEO of Goldman when I was working there. At the end of 2008, after the company had navigated the financial crisis better than most, he told senior leadership one thing I will never forget.
He explained that we don’t want to be the only firm not tightening our belt just because we are doing well today. Because one day that will change.