Survey: CEOs Most Concerned About Execution

Conference Board CEO says international executives are also realizing the crucial role of people within a company.

NEW YORK — Execution is taking precedence over profit and top-line growth as a focus for CEOs around the world, according to a global survey of chief executives released today. The Conference Board surveyed 769 CEOs from 40 countries.

When asked to rate their greatest concerns from among 121 different challenges, chief executives said excellence of execution is their top challenge and keeping consistent execution of strategy by top management is their third greatest concern. Sustained and steady top-line growth — which led the pack last year — now ranks second, with profit growth fourth and finding qualified managerial talent fifth.

''This year's overall top challenge shows that CEOs from around the world are realizing that strong execution is a critical factor in driving profits and revenues,'' said Jonathan Spector, president and chief executive officer of The Conference Board. ''These executives are also becoming increasingly aware of the crucial role that people play in growing their companies.''

Judging by the top 10 answers, finding qualified managerial talent (sixth) and top management succession (seventh) have become the dominant people issues for U.S. CEOs, replacing last year's top human resources concern: healthcare costs. The two concerns are closely intertwined because competition for talented managers will become even fiercer as many baby boomers depart the ''top of the house'' to move into ''third-stage careers'' and retirement.

The challenge of employee healthcare benefit costs slipped out of the top 10 this year.  The lower ranking is likely due to the downward movement of average annual rises in employee premiums for employer-sponsored health coverage.

But the cost of employee healthcare benefits still ranks much higher for U.S. CEOs than it does for CEOs in Asia or Europe.

Survey responses for Asia reveal key differences. Chief executives in Asia are more focused on seizing opportunities for growth in China than their counterparts in Europe and the U.S.
CEOs from Europe show a greater concern with getting new, more responsive ideas out sooner, a finding that might be based on the needs of companies operating in a more mature market. Therefore, execution in terms of speed, flexibility, adaptability to change is a more dominant theme in Europe than in Asia and the U.S.
The survey found U.S. CEOs from less successful companies feel more pressure from the costs of healthcare benefits than CEOs from more successful companies. A comparison of the two groups also shows that the less successful CEOs report more strain from the costs/supplies of oil/energy challenge than their more successful counterparts.

All findings and data in this report represent the accumulated experience of the senior executives surveyed. A subsequent report will explore the implications of this year's survey findings as articulated by chairmen and CEOs of leading companies from a range of industries around the globe. Their perspectives were gathered through a series of in-depth interviews, in which the topics ranged from balancing short-term and long-term goals under the relentless pressure for speed, addressing uncertainty and risk, succession planning and the availability of skilled labor, to the backlash against global outsourcing, the impact of rising energy costs, and what we are likely to see in the next wave of mergers and acquisitions.

Source: The Conference Board survey