Staying Cool in a Bad Economy
BALTIMORE, Md., June 3, 2009 – “If you haven’t done the right thing before the downturn, chances are you’re not going to make it,” said Milton Huffaker of Coherent Investments, adding that only the best and well-prepared survive.
Huffaker was one of 10 industry leaders at the PhAST Power Lunch on Tuesday, June 2 at CLEO/ IQEC 2009. The premise of the luncheon, titled, “Strategies for Surving a Downturn,” was to not only offer advice on how to navigate through these difficult times, but also to hone in on the advantages of this seemingly dismal economic state.
Attendees at the luncheon selected the industry leader of their choice and ultimately each of the 10 tables had between 5-7 attendees who were then afforded the rare opportunity for a 30-minute one-on-one with an industry powerhouse.
The luncheon, which lasted for nearly 90 minutes, was organized by Milton Chang, managing director of Incubic, and Christopher Myatt, founder and CEO of Precision Photonics Corp.
Milton Huffaker, manager of Coherent Investments. (Photonics Media photo by Krista D. Zanolli)
One table in particular enjoyed the unique perspective of Huffaker, who has a long history of helping early stage companies grow. While he is currently working with several companies through early growth and serving as president of a charity called Forward Steps Foundation, Huffaker is perhaps best known for his 21-year tenure as president and CEO of Coherent Technologies Inc. (CTI) located in Louisville, Colo. CTI developed laser and remote sensing systems for atmospheric, environmental and target tracking, ranging, and imaging applications for the military and commercial markets. In 2005, CTI was acquired by Lockheed Martin Co. and is now called Lockheed Martin Coherent Technologies.
Huffaker believes that economic downturns are typically short-lived, but cautions that while they may last only a year, for example, it might take another five years for a full recovery.
However, the luncheon speakers all seemed to stress similar points – with the right people in position and little bit of luck a company can weather this type of financial storm.
Make Use of Marketing
When asked his thoughts on marketing and self-promotion amidst a bad economy, Huffaker stressed the importance of taking advantage of marketing, but using a bit of a different approach.
“The CEO and the senior management team should be out promoting the company’s marketing strategies,” said Huffaker. “People tend to listen a bit differently when a CEO speaks as opposed to someone in marketing.
“Your senior management can play a critical role in new sales,” he added. “And they should emphasize sales quickly.”
Cash is King
Besides making sure that the right team, the right product and the right strategies are in place, perhaps more important is the financial partnering. The bank relationship is crucial – when your financial house is in order you have the cash to hire in quality and be proactive, thereby positioning your company for the future, he said.
Positioning also includes assessing what parts of the business are the strongest and what has the best chance for success during a downturn. What’s thriving in the market and can you participate?
“You have to grow or die,” Huffaker explained, adding that even if you need to pull back you still need to position yourself for growth.
“A downturn is a chance to wake people up and learn how to function as a team,” he said, emphasizing the advantages of a poor economic state.
Despite several mentions of luck, the theme for Huffaker’s one-on-one session was this – stay cool. He emphasized that with the right people, quality products and a good partnership with your bank, the best advice is to stay cool – and try to have a little fun along the way.
Other industry leaders at the Power Lunch included Donald E. Bossi, general partner for Technology Venture Partners; Robert P. Breault, chairman and founder of The Breault Research Organization Inc.; Alex Cable, president and founder of Thorlabs Inc.; Robert M. Edmund, CEO of Edmund Optics Worldwide; Wilhelm Kaenders, president of Toptica Photonics; Michael J. Morris, president of SpectrEcology; Gregory Olsen, president and founder of GHO Ventures; Rob Randelman, president of Ocean Optics; and Ömür Sezerman, founder, president and CEO of OZ Optics.
Krista D. Zanolli
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