Volume 43, Issue 1 - January 2008

the Business

So How Bad Is It Really? 
By Lyle R. Hill

In December of 1991, John Lawo, who at that time was the publisher of USGlass magazine, called me and asked if Iíd be willing to write an article on where I thought the industry might be headed in the coming year Ö 1992. In that era, the January edition of USGlass was typically referred to as the forecast issue. Different individuals from various aspects of the glass and metal industry would be asked to give their prognostications on what they thought we could expect during the upcoming 12 months. Prior to this, I had not written anything for USGlass and on those occasions when John and I had talked, it was usually about the Chicago Cubs and their future is, unfortunately, always easy to predict. 

Johnís request took me a bit by surprise for, while I had previously written for a few other publications, I had not as yet written for any of the glass industryís publications and John had not seen anything from me other than a few handwritten notes regarding our Cubs ticket sharing arrangement. But after thinking about it for a day or two, I accepted the offer and in January of 1992, my first USGlass article entitled ďHow Bad Is It Really?Ē appeared. 

It was not a fun time to be in anything related to the construction industry. As was pointed out in that article, the preceding eight-year period had added 1,463,000 construction industry jobs and from February 1990 through April 1991, a full 40 percent of them had been lost. People in the glass and metal industry, like everyone in the construction industry, were hoping that 1992 was going to see a rebound to better times, but the well known forecasters of the day were not predicting any immediate relief. My article quoted a few of the experts of the day Ö some of whom would be looking for new jobs themselves before the end of the year Ö and I tried to give what I thought was practical advice. But in rereading the article now, 15 years later, itís easy to see that I didnít really have much to say. And yes, Iím aware that many of you have pointed out during the past 15 years that I rarely, if ever, have anything meaningful to say.

So when Deb Levy, the current publisher of USGlass suggested that I do a forecast type article for the 2008 January edition, I agreed to do so, but I told her that it would need to be written in non-specific terms. If nothing else, time is a great teacher and only the fool doesnít learn from mistakes both he and others have made. And at my age, I have now personally made enough mistakes and also seen enough from other people to hopefully avoid repeating too many of them. Iím also very much aware that there are some who are predicting a complete economic meltdown in the next 12 to 18 months, while others are saying that we may slow a bit by mid-2008 but everything is fine. Its almost like weíre sailing into a fog. A couple of weeks ago, I got a chance to spend a few minutes with my old boss, Joe Kellman of Globe Glass fame. The event was the inauguration of a community center built in his honor combined with an early 90th birthday party. I spent 19 years working for Kellman and it is still my opinion that no one was quicker or more intuitive in a business sense than he was. He was reviled by some Ö worshiped by others. To me, he was a true visionary. The only one Iím sure Iíve ever known, and yet on more than one occasion, even he was wrong. So who am I to tell you where the New Year is headed? Compared to 1992, we seem to be OK, but for how long? What will the Fed do about interest rates during the year? Where will gasoline prices end up? Is inflation about to take off like a rocket? Will the dollar rebound? Can the presidential race get any crazier? Will energy surcharges top 20 percent? Will the sub prime loan fiasco bring the entire construction industry to its knees? Will the Chicago Cubs finally make it back to the World Series on this the 100th anniversary year of their last appearance?

I donít know the answer to any of these Ö well thatís not totally true Ö I think I can answer at least two of those, but let me get back on track here. No one knows for sure what 2008 holds, but as the old guy who is supposed to sometimes come up with an answer or at least some advice, let me suggest this: These past few years have been pretty decent and we may be overdue for some turbulence Ö so be prepared. The losers in the year ahead will be those organizations who have become too rigid in their ways and who have lost touch with their customers. When in doubt, stick to the knitting. Continue to do those things you know how to do well. Donít let your ego run your business. Be analytical. Be flexible. Be careful. Whatever is ahead, the good operators will make it through. They always do! 

Lyle Hill is president of MTH Industries of Chicago. Mr. Hillís opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.

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