U.S. CEOs shy away from overseas growth

2007

The world may still look to America for corporate leadership, but the signs are that U.S. CEOs are becoming more isolationist in their outlook – happy to offshore operations to other countries but less interested in chasing growth outside North America.

Research by consultancy Deloitte has suggested that, while the appetite for offshoring shows little sign of abating, chief executives are becoming less interested in tapping into overseas markets.

Nearly half – 45 per cent – of the chief executives polled said they were currently offshoring and 55 per cent planned to do so in the next five years.

In fact, in five years nearly a third planned to have up to a tenth of their workers offshored, with more than a quarter expected it would be a fifth.

Similarly, a fifth predicted they would have offshored 30 per cent of their worforce by 2012 and 15 per cent said it would be as high as 40 per cent.

Overall, 43 per cent of the CEOs polled said it was either critical or very important to look overseas for talent, although they also thought the vast majority of the workforce would nevertheless remain in North America.

Yet it was a very different story when it came to the growth potential of overseas markets, said Tony Kern, managing principal of Deloitte's Technology Fast 500 programme.

"It's not unexpected that CEOs of fast-growth companies would look offshore for the talent they need to continue growing in a tight market," he said.

"What is counter-intuitive is that CEOs' interest in selling to overseas markets is waning, with more than three-quarters of CEOs saying North America represents the best opportunity for significant growth over the next five years.

"Their interest in Asia Pacific dropped by half to 10 percent from last year – possibly due to intellectual property protection issues," he added.

Finding, hiring and retaining talent remained the biggest operational challenge, with nearly half of CEOs citing this as a key concern, up from 41 per cent last year.

To attract and retain key employees, more than two thirds were relying on equity compensation and stock options, down from 71 per cent last year.

Just over a half offered flexible hours, up slightly from 49 per cent last year, said Deloitte.

Training programmes and educational opportunities were offered by 38 per cent, up from 35 per cent last year, and 31 per cent provided a clear career path, up from 28 per cent last year, it added.

"When it comes to talent, supply and demand are out of balance, making employees more like consumers," said Jeff Alderton, a principal of Deloitte Consulting.

"And like consumers, if employees with those in-demand skills sets are not receiving the satisfaction they seek from their workplace, they will find it elsewhere – with the competition. This will put an even greater strain on employers for available talent," he added.

Despite these pressures, More than eight out of 10 CEOs remained very or extremely confident about their growth prospects.

Virtually all (98 per cent) said they would be hiring over the next 12 months, with 37 per cent planning to expand their workforce by around a quarter to half over the next 12 months, up from 30 percent last year.

More than half believed they would continue to grow organically, while 15 per cent planned to acquire other companies, down from 17 per cent last year.

Just seven per cent planned to merge with another company, up from 6 per cent, said Deloitte.

CEOs were in general far more concerned about government regulation and terrorism than access to capital, the survey also found.

In fact, more than a third of CEOs surveyed said the biggest threat to success was excessive government regulation, followed by 19 per cent who said the biggest threat was increased competition from emerging powers such as China and India and 18 per cent citing terrorism.

Just nine per cent were concerned about access to capital, and a tenth expressed concern about rising interest rates.