South Africa


  • Service: Advisory, Transactions & Restructuring
  • Type: Business and industry issue
  • Date: 2011/05/17

Business unusual 

South Africa’s formal sector has yet to adopt an opportunistic attitude associated with business failure. Instead, companies in a financial predicament are often scrutinised and criticised for lack of control or management’s reckless or negligent behaviour.

An entrepreneurial view is that failure breeds success and success is not sustainable without some failure. Failure is required to ensure that business leaders continue to question their modus operandi.


It is also tempting to give too much credit to the actions taken before or during a fall. At these times, the clichés such as ‘business as usual’ are bandied about to convince customers and associates that the company is back on track and business will continue as usual. However, the recent economic downturn eroded confidence in traditional business foundations to such an extent that business is not likely to be usual again.


As organisations clamber to break their fall, consultants are often called to ‘right size’, ‘downsize’ and ‘elegantly economise’ in a last attempt to shed excess capacity. The risk is that an organisation may be leaned to such an extent that it remains in survival mode until its inevitable demise.


Organisations that have navigated the financial crisis have demonstrated their tactical resilience. But how are they strategically placed to capitalise on the opportunities and challenges which inevitably present themselves at the end of a crisis? Given that business is guaranteed to be unusual, how confident are organisations that they have sufficient expertise to identify and capitalise on what may not be known to them? With the sky as opposed to the horizon as their vista, the possibilities are endless, but which possibilities are right for the organisation and how should they capitalise on these?


Notwithstanding that survival is key and breaking an organisation’s free fall may succeed in maintaining its existence, at least as much effort should be placed on seeking external advice at the end of a fall as during the fall. Leaning (cost cutting exercises to streamline an organisation) is only part of the process and facilitates survival. Capitalising on opportunities best suited to the organisation facilitates success.


The challenge for organisations at the heart of the economic downturn is to prepare for business unusual by focusing on survival, organisational leanness and a safe and soft landing. Thereafter, the challenge is to resist the temptation to associate the activities that ensured survival with those that will facilitate success. Focusing on opportunity and deploying resource to identify and clarify the unknown, facilitates a foothold to a greater vista. This is the business unusual in which most companies will find themselves as the economy turns.


The big questions are whether organisations are ready for business unusual, and who will guide them through this unfamiliar territory.



Sam Pickering-Dunn
Senior Manager
Transactions & Restructuring
Tel: +27 (0)11 647 5239