How to survive a crisis

Dean Hunter shares how he weathered a dramatic downturn and came out stronger 

Experiencing tough times as founder of HR consultancy Hunter Adams has taught Dean Hunter some valuable lessons. 

Make the most of the good times 

I guess you could say I’d got used to the good times. After years of being in cushy corporate roles, I launched my own HR consultancy and it immediately took off. This was Scotland in the early Noughties and the oil and gas industry was bullish, which is where I ended up getting most of my clients. We went through the most amazing 2,000 per cent growth in the first few years and I expanded the team massively. Life was good.  

Question your situation  

Then came the oil crisis of 2014/15 and the bottom fell out of the market pretty much overnight. We were suddenly exposed and my business plan had no relation to where we found ourselves. My instinct was to protect the team and ride it out, but what should have been a blip of a few months turned into a four-year-long nightmare. There were many evenings where I found myself sitting on my back step with a glass of wine feeling completely overwhelmed. How was I going to keep the team busy? How would I pay the bills? The business felt like a noose around my neck. 

Rely on your people  

My mind kept going back to the security of corporate life during these dark times. Anyone who has been on the ropes knows the temptation to cut and run, but in reality that was never an option for me: this was my team and they were relying on me to get them through this. Despite all the sleepless nights, the pressure and the guilt, I knew I had to keep going. It was actually the team who got me through in the end as my personal resilience was at its lowest. Company culture and camaraderie really are your most valuable assets in times like these and how you handle culture will define your future growth. 

Adapt to the new world  

Eventually I managed to get some perspective, stopped obsessing about monthly forecasts, took a massive step back and worked out a way forwards that focused on the long term. We adapted to our clients’ needs in a recession market, but more than this we massively diversified, opening offices in central Scotland and London, giving us access to another 20 sectors. We managed to pull this off without taking on any debt and never leaving a bill unpaid, which is a huge testament to the whole team. 

Be open to change  

The business that came out of this period is leaner, more efficient and incredibly driven. I wouldn’t recognise it if it weren't for the fact that many of the same people are still with us. We’re even more values-based than before and the fact that we're employee-owned means people are empowered and motivated. Last year we grew 135 per cent and are now working with some of the best and brightest brands across multiple categories. 

Learn from the dark times  

They say you’ve never really run a business until you’ve steered it through a crisis, and I guess that’s how I see things now. I wouldn’t want to go through it again and I’d definitely do things differently in terms of the pressure I piled on myself, but it has made the business stronger and it’s made me better at my job. We often work with CEOs who are going through huge challenges or pivots, and I know exactly how that feels. I can now help people plan for the tough times with the confidence of having seen them through myself. 

Dean Hunter is founder of HR consultancy Hunter Adams 

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