Advice from 4 leaders who survived the 2008 crisis

  • Companies are preparing for a probable recession in 2023.
  • Insider spoke with four business leaders who weathered the last Great Recession between 2007 and 2009.
  • They shared the difficulties they faced during the recession and tips for overcoming the difficult times.

Leading executives, investors and analysts have warned that an economic recession could be imminent, meaning many companies are set to struggle financially in the coming year.

For some companies, this is not the first financial crisis they have experienced. The Great Recession, which lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, was one of the worst economic crises in history, leading to high unemployment rates and falling household incomes.

Insider spoke to a range of companies about the challenges they faced during this recession and what they would recommend to other companies struggling financially.

“Don’t get stuck in your habits”

The owner of the chocolate cellar, Bala Croman

Bala Croman, owner of The Chocolate Cellar.

Bala Croman

Balla Croman opened The Chocolate Cellar in 2005 in Liverpool, northern England. When the economic downturn hit her business in 2008, she said she was still very new to the business and was “often worried” about overcoming the challenges.

“It was really difficult to get our wholesale and corporate customers to pay us on time,” Croman told Insider. “Still, we were pressured by suppliers to pay earlier because they were all very nervous about the companies that were in liquidation at the time.”

Croman said it had to lay off some employees and temporarily abandon the physical store to reduce overhead.

During this time, Croman promoted The Chocolate Cellar at farmers’ markets, food festivals, and pop-up stands at other events. She also asked for flexibility from the bank, suppliers and the business owner.

Croman’s advice to businesses before a likely recession was, “Don’t get stuck in your habits.”

She said it was important for businesses to be flexible and prepared to change the way they work. Businesses need to focus on what’s profitable and “drop the things that don’t serve you best.”

“Cut Deep the First Time”

Amy Spurling

Amy Spurling, former Chief Financial Officer of EXOS

Amy Spurling

From 2008 to 2014, Amy Spurling served as Chief Financial Officer of Arizona-based health and wellness company EXOS Athletes Performance.

Spurling told Insider that when the recession hit EXOS in 2008, some big customer contracts fell through and the company made “horrifyingly painful” downsizing.

“I have constantly worried about how to strike an effective balance between building a path forward for the business, managing cash as tightly as possible, and supporting our team,” Spurling said. “It was like a needle that couldn’t be threaded.”

EXOS weathered the recession by carefully managing its cash flow after a hiring spree and exploring different markets and products, Spurling said.

She recommended companies “cut deep the first time” with layoffs because continually letting employees go means staff “will live in constant fear and terror”.

Spurling also had advice for business leaders: “Take some time for yourself.”

“When you are in such an incredibly stressful time, with so much weight on you, it seems impossible for you to get some air. It is essential that leaders sleep, eat and exercise while this is happening in order to that they can make better decisions,” Spurling said.


Daniel Wheble

Daniel Wheble, CEO of The Boutique Workplace Company.

Daniel Wheble

Daniel Wheble chose to start a new business during the Great Recession. In 2009 he started a property management company in the UK called Ventia.

“You wonder if it’s the right time or the wrong time to start a business,” Wheble told Insider. But in helping landlords and renters mitigate costs in a depressed housing market, he said Ventia had discovered a gap in the property market that he called “risk-free”. He sold the business in 2015 to The Boutique Workplace Company and became its CEO.

Despite previous experience in the industry, Wheble said he still had concerns about paying employee wages and keeping Ventia afloat.

He said his advice to business owners would be to “stop, take stock and reevaluate”.

“What you think you know is probably going to change,” says Wheble. “We’re in for a bumpy ride over the next two years, there’s no doubt about that.”

“Overcommunicate and be honest”

Mike Butler

Mike Butler, former CEO of Radius Bank.

Mike Butler

Mike Butler was president and CEO of Radius Bank when the Great Recession hit. He said the impact of the recession, like the troubled mortgage market, had triggered negative perceptions of banks, but he tried to remain optimistic.

Radius Bank took a few hits, learned from its mistakes, changed some practices and came out the other side, Butler said. There were doubts, but he reminded himself that there would be better days.

“Leading during good times is easy – not so much when the world seems to be falling apart. You have to communicate too much. Be honest. Bring people together,” he said.

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