CEOs increasingly upbeat


It probably feels like it's been a long time coming but, finally, chief executives appear to be turning their attention to the longer term, and much more familiar, challenges of managing a return to growth.

A survey of CEO expectations for 2010 by The Conference Board has found growing optimism that the, as yet, relatively weak global recovery will be able to be sustained and built upon.

The poll of more than 200 CEOs, chairman and company presidents was carried out between October and December last year after production of the previous year's report had to be scrapped because of the economic and financial meltdown.

"Both the year-on-year movement and rank order of challenges suggest that CEOs' focus has moved from crisis reaction to preparations for recovery," said Jonathan Spector, CEO of The Conference Board.

"Clearly, CEOs in the United States in particular are returning their focus to the road to growth. We're seeing a similar trend in the overall business questions we capture from our members," he added.

Within the midst of the economic storm of the past 18 months, CEOs were, quite rightly, focused on "bread and butter" survival issues, with longer term challenges such as talent management consigned to the back-burner. But this was now starting to change, the survey suggested.

"In that late 2008 survey, worries about global economic performance, business confidence, geo-financial instability, and integrity of capital markets leapt up into CEOs' Top 10, and each has now dropped at least 10 places," explained Linda Barrington, managing director of human capital at The Conference Board and one of the report authors.

"This year, all the challenges that jumped into the Top 10 in the crisis have now jumped back out," she added.

While excellence in execution and consistent execution of strategy by top management remained the top-ranking challenge overall for CEOs, more growth-oriented challenges such as sustained and steady top-line growth, customer loyalty/retention and profit growth were all now getting higher ratings as "greatest concerns".

Also moving up the list were corporate reputation for quality products/services and stimulating innovation/creativity/enabling entrepreneurship.

"CEOs' focus on these challenges suggests that recession-weary customers need to be wooed with significant new value to win back their business," Barrington added.

The challenge of government regulation also made significant leaps in the U.S, (from 19th place to 6th) and in Europe (from 28th place to 6th), particularly within the financial services industry.

"U.S and European CEOs are bracing for the potential regulatory aftermath of the near collapse of the global financial system and the associated recession," said Spector.