If you lead your company long enough, you will lead it through some difficult stretches. Sometimes, they will be caused by a downturn in the economy. Other times, they will be caused by the business itself—either as a result of competitors, industry context, or execution. Managing in tough times is much harder than managing in good times. It’s also more important not just for getting through the tough time but for reshaping the company for the future.


One of the benefits of running a company for more than a decade is that you start seeing some of the same macro trends more than once. For me, that means having lived and led through both the 2000 recession and the 2008 meltdown. The two recessions hit the Internet economy quite differently. The first one was devastating for Internet companies, since the Internet wasn’t mature yet as either an advertising or commerce vehicle and much of the money fueling the growth of the sector was stock market money in a bubble. The second was, in some ways, productive for Internet companies, as the more mature sector was able to steal dollars from traditional sectors in the name of efficiency.

That said, leading and managing through both downturns was quite challenging and revealing. Your people are nervous. They’re concerned about their bank accounts and their jobs. As CEO, you have to be even more present, more transparent and more communicative than usual. You have ...

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