Advice from 4 leaders who survived the 2008 crisis

  • Businesses are bracing for a possible recession in 2023.
  • Insider spoke to four business leaders who lived through the last great recession between 2007 and 2009.
  • They shared the struggles they faced during the recession and tips for getting through the tough times.

Top executives, investors and analysts have warned that a recession could be just around the corner, meaning many businesses will face financial problems next 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, causing high unemployment rates and declining household incomes.

Insider spoke to a number of businesses about the challenges they faced during this downturn and what they would recommend to other companies facing financial difficulties.

“Don’t get stuck in your ways”

The owner of the chocolate, 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 recession hit her business in 2008, she said she was still very new to the business and “often worried” about overcoming the challenges.

“It’s been really difficult to get our wholesalers and corporate customers to pay us on time,” Croman told Insider. “However, we were being pressured by suppliers for early payment as everyone was very nervous because of the companies going into liquidation at the time.”

Croman said she had to lay off some employees and temporarily leave the brick-and-mortar store to cut overhead.

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

Croman’s advice to businesses in the face of a possible recession was: “Don’t get stuck in your ways.”

He said it is important for companies to be flexible and prepare to change the way they work. Businesses should focus on what is profitable and “shed things that don’t serve you best.”

“Cut deep the first time”

Amy Sperling

Amy Spurling, former CFO of EXOS

Amy Sperling

From 2008 to 2014, Amy Spurling was the CFO of Arizona-based health and wellness company EXOS Athletes Performance.

Spurling told Insider that when the recession hit EXOS in 2008, some major customer contracts fell through and the company made “horribly painful” staff cuts.

“I was constantly concerned about how to effectively walk the balance between creating a path forward for the company, managing cash as tightly as possible and supporting our team,” Spurling said. “It felt like threading a thin needle.”

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

He advised companies to “cut deep” on redundancies because constantly letting employees go means staff “live in constant fear and terror”.

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

“When you’re in such an incredibly stressful time, with so much weighing on you, it feels impossible to catch your breath. It’s important that leaders sleep, eat and exercise while this is happening so they can make better decisions,” Sperling said.


Daniel Wheble

Daniel Wheble, CEO of The Boutique Workplace Company.

Daniel Wheble

Daniel Wheble chose to start a new business in the Great Depression. In 2009, he started a British property management company called Ventia.

“You wonder if it’s the right time or the wrong time to start a business,” Wheble told Insider. But by helping landlords and tenants mitigate costs in a housing downturn, he said Ventia has discovered a gap in the real estate market that he described as “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 was still concerned about paying workers’ 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 will probably change,” according to Wheble. “We’re in for a bumpy ride over the next couple of years, there’s no doubt about that.”

“Over communicate 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 Depression hit. He said the impact of the recession, such as the struggling mortgage market, fueled negative perceptions of banks, but he tried to remain optimistic.

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

“Leading in good times is easy – not so much when the world seems to be falling apart. You have to overcommunicate. Be honest. People in a gathering,” he said.

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