Stay Focused in Challenging Times

I wrote this article back in March of 2009. The message was on the evergreen topic of “Focus”. All the observations made are still valid today. I have added some commentary about current times after each appropriate section. 
John Werner, Chairman | White Commercial


FOCUS - it is a simple concept, but so difficult to master. Why is that? Some say focus is boring. I am of the mind that the organizations that are truly focused on their mission will end up being the most successful companies in their industry. Look at Microsoft. Why have they been so successful for so long? Because they FOCUS on writing software--good software. I have not run across the Microsoft Bank or Microsoft Furniture or Microsoft Drugstore etc. They focus on being the operating system on my computer. And it works. There are a lot of other examples of FOCUSED companies whose revenues are certainly down but will make it through these challenging times for the simple reason that they are focused.

Let’s focus on our industry. The grain industry has been blessed over the last several years. Most of the companies we work with had, if not their best, one of their best years ever in 2008. A combination of events came together and the ones who were disciplined and had a meaningful merchandising program were handsomely rewarded.

2021 was an interesting year to say the least. Rising costs as well as rising commodity prices have put stresses on our industry…it has also created many opportunities for disciplined operators.

So, what did the successful merchandisers FOCUS on?

  • Focus on following the rules. The greater portion of the business world and many individuals simply forgot about the rules. The simple principles that govern prudent action. You know what they are. If you followed them you were rewarded. Others were not so fortunate.
    When economic times get volatile and stressful the key is following a few simple business tenets. Protect your working capital. Don’t overpay for grain. Manage spread structure proactively. Keep close to bankers and buyers.

  • Focus on what works. Things that survive the test of time. Planning. Improving your merchandising skills. Meaningful conversations with producers. Things you can pass along that have value. Things that are easily understood. Success in business is not complicated.
    Keep it simple. Build your team.

  • Focus on what doesn’t work. Eliminate it. Noise, distractions. Webster’s defines a distraction as mental confusion. Things that get passed along that have no real value. The complexities of recent products in the financial world have a lot to do with the trouble many are facing. Few if any understood them. They were sold by those who wanted the fast return. Be careful who you listen to. Again, success in business is not complicated.
    The many outlets folks have at their disposal these days to get “noise” is incredible. Keep your and your employees eyes' on the ball and don’t lose valuable time during the day wasting it on screen time that has no real value. When you pick up your device ask yourself the question: “will this action move me forward toward a meaningful goal?” The data says it is typically gratification not accomplishment.

  • Focus on keeping margins at acceptable levels. 2008 was a year of well above average margins. As the economic environment settles down margins will tighten up but those who focus on keeping their margins at acceptable levels and not handling bushels for nothing will find success.
    The age-old challenge…don’t overpay and manage structure.

  • Focus on banking relationships. Last year was one for the record books as far as borrowings go. What have you done lately to shore up your banking relationship? Many have been lulled to sleep by the large decline in prices. We are one day closer to the next rally. Focus on getting together with your lender and sharing your merchandising plan along with your cash flow worksheet to project your potential financing needs for 2009-10. If corn heads back to $6.50 and beans to $13.00, are you prepared to handle it? Don’t wait until the market takes off. Be proactive.
    Keeping close to your banker is important ANY time. Many lenders have retired in recent years and many of their replacements have never experienced a rally and large inversions. Get close to them and encourage them to join you at WCC meetings. An educated banker is a big part of keeping your stress level manageable.

  • Focus on being positive when everyone else is not. You decide how you feel...you can change that in a second. So, what will it be? Half full or half empty? There's a lot to do to move yourself and your company forward. Spend your time on meaningful tasks. Planning, skill building, meaningful producer and buyer contact, things that have value. Nothing feels better than getting a group of producers in a room and having a meaningful conversation about production costs and profit goals. Not price direction...profit goals. Remember, success in business is not complicated.
    Positivity and enthusiasm are contagious. Bring actionable opportunities to your producers and buyers and watch what happens!

  • Focus on your customers and employees. Folks can tell when you are focused on them and not yourself. Most of the world’s problems came from situations where individuals or organizations thought they were the “center of the universe.” I am here to tell you...looking out and having a real mission to help others wins the day. Try it.
    This is something we believe in deeply.

  • Focus on you. Everything starts with how you feel about yourself right NOW. Having a positive attitude comes from a meaningful mission to look forward to and accomplishing it. That’s on you. Have a look at yourself and the things you focus on. You would be surprised at what a little change can do for your future. The decisions are easy...you just need to make them.
    Amen to that!
“What about your company? The future belongs to those companies that develop a powerful focus today."


Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends On It
by Al Ries