CEO's Notebook

Ask them to improve the company. During a six-month lull, Bob Dabic, president of Dabico, put teams of employees to work on internal improvement projects. Thanks to a cash cushion, the airport-equipment manufacturer in Costa Mesa, Calif., with projected 1996 sales of $9 million, was able to use the slow period to revamp important business processes. Dabic also kept some workers busy renovating the plant.

Ask them to work part-time. A cash-flow crisis a year ago left few options open to Sales Building Systems, a database marketing company in Mentor, Ohio. To survive, CEO Tim McCarthy turned many full-time positions into part-time jobs and let 13 people go. Over time, he replaced them with two kinds of part-timers: those who work part-time by preference and those who ultimately want full-time work. According to McCarthy, the new arrangement makes the company, which projects $3 million in 1996 sales, more agile. Most new hires now start part-time, and almost all full-time recruiting is done internally. McCarthy keeps morale up by sharing 10% of profits with everyone, apportioned by hours worked.

Ask them for suggestions. That's what April Morris, president of Associated Engineers in Ontario, Calif., did when work slowed at her civil-engineering company, which projects 1996 revenues of $4.2 million. Morris explained the company's situation and asked the engineers for ideas. One result? Twelve salaried engineers volunteered to take an hourly wage for a while, getting paid only when they had billable work. (Morris had to make some tough decisions herself: she let 3 engineers go and switched 3 others to part-time.) Six months later, the 12 volunteers got their salaries back.