Thursday, December 13, 2012

Santa Claus… you’re fired.

Not too long ago, Santa Claus was reduced to mortality in our house with some of the “older children.”  Trust me when I admit that preparing for it was much worse than doing the deed itself.  I had a flash of creativity about alternative ways to deal with his demise—eggnog poisoning, Rudolph crashing after being beamed with a red laser (ironic), elf sabotage, inaccessibility to healthcare in the North Pole and St. Nick falling through the Medicare donut hole, Grandpa and cousin Mel ordering a gang-style revenge killing for Grandma getting run over by a reindeer... My daughter, the sensitive one, took the news better than I thought until she tabulated the list of improbable beliefs that she has clung to for years (E. Bunny—gone; tooth fairy—vaporized; leprechauns; the 2013 NHL Season; and so on…) My more pragmatic son kept muttering under his breath, “ I knew it—we don’t even have a chimney….”

In the spirit of keeping it seasonally “light,” I’ll move away from Santa Claus’s demise to something I picked up from catching a few minutes of Fred Claus while trying to be productive doing something else. In Fred Claus, the antagonist, Clyde Northcutt (played by Kevin Spacey), is a corporate efficiency expert who has been deployed by shareholders to the North Pole to investigate concerns that things “up north” aren’t being run properly.  SPOILER ALERT: Spacey’s character reveals that while things in the North Pole are running “just fine,” there are legitimate shareholder concerns about efficiency and profitability that ultimately lead to Santa being fired (with a little help from Santa’s brother Fred.) 

What makes any movie a classic is characters that resonate with an audience and communicate an element of at least one moral truth or lesson.  In Fred Claus, that lesson is that external and internal forces can foul up an otherwise effective organization, even the global operation led successfully by the iconic and immortal S. Claus for hundreds of years. 

This year, perhaps more than any other in recent memory, has highlighted the resiliency of companies of all sizes to adapt, pivot, and change in the face of remarkable external market, political and global forces: changes in healthcare policy, changes in tax rates, changes in tax policy, uncertainty in the markets, global currency stress, flagging of the EU, new medical device taxes, user fees, superstorms, banking regulations, changes in regulation, a mind-numbing election cycle, the fiscal cliff, and—for the love of humanity—the demise of Hostess.  Yet the one thing that stands out is that the business owners, the entrepreneurs, the managers, the staff and the leaders—individuals who really make up the companies that we all depend on—continue to find creative ways to stay in business and remain viable and engaged. 

Yes, unemployment and underemployment are still issues and the aforementioned factors affecting businesses are real problems, but business owners will find a way to persevere just as they always have.  Will layoffs continue as companies seek to find new ways to be efficient? Yes.  This always happens and, despite the human costs, the indomitable American spirit keeps people coming back, finding new jobs, starting new companies and finding ways to succeed.  Consumer confidence may wane, but business owner confidence has remained, even if at a lower level than in prior years.

According to a recent USA Today story, “The NFIB survey of business confidence fell almost six points to 87.5, the lowest score since 2009 and far below stock market expectations for 92.5. The drop is a sign that business owners are losing confidence...” Is this a concern? Certainly, but the day to start worrying is when business owners decide, “it’s not worth it anymore”—in other words, when we approach an “enthusiasm cliff” as opposed to a “fiscal cliff.” Let’s hope that 2013 ushers in greater confidence in all sectors of the economy. Otherwise, maybe 2013 will be the year when Santa is fired (downsized).

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