Many economists are forecasting a downturn, if not a full-blown recession, over the next 12-24 months. We have seen one of the longest expansionary phases in recent history, leading indicators have softened in many countries, stock markets are volatile, and several risks cloud the horizon. Naturally, business leaders are considering how to best position themselves for harsher macroeconomic conditions.

If history is any guide, many companies will prepare too little, too late, and too defensively. Yet our analysis of more than 5,000 companies across the last four business cycles suggests that slowdowns bring opportunities as well as challenges: some companies were able to actually benefit competitively during and after a downturn, and a common set of actions led to that success.

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