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What’s keeping CEOs up at night?

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in Leaders & Managers

It’s no smooth ride being a leader in an economic downturn.

Here’s what three CEOs on Fortune magazine’s most-admired companies list had to say about sleepless nights and what they’re doing about it.

Problem: Coca-Cola’s restaurant business is off.

Solution: Less dining out gives Coke an opportunity to sell more drinks headed for home, says CEO Muhtar Kent, who sees opportunities in cheap advertising and in the fact that another billion people will become urbanized by 2020.

“Don’t waste this crisis,” he says. “Be thoughtful about your expenditures and be sure to focus only on what delivers.”

Problem: Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly dreads two things his company has never resorted to: pay cuts and layoffs.

“We’re going to strive mightily, especially this year, to avoid them once again,” he says. “I worry about that every day. And I don’t worry about much, but I worry about that.”

Solution: Encouraging employees to move around the company. Not too fast or willy-nilly, but enough so that people in overstaffed areas can move into vacancies in other divisions.

For FedEx, it’s not a good thing that people are buying less stuff.

Solution: Flexibility. To buffer rising and falling business cycles, the company keeps a number of fully depreciated airplanes as its reserve fleet, says CEO Fred Smith. In boom times, FedEx flies them. In bad times, it parks them in the desert. “It’s free spare capacity,” he says.

— Adapted from “A View from the Top,” Jessica Shambora, Adam Lashinsky, Barney Gimbel and Julie Schlosser, Fortune.

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