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The top 8 potential calamities keeping CEOs up at night

Posting in Technology

A new survey of 1,330 CEOS from across the globe finds less worry about a global downturn over the coming year, but more concern about their own organizations' prospects. But they still worry plenty about the economy, along with other potential events beyond their control.

The survey, released by PwC, finds overall CEO confidence for growth in the year ahead is down from a year ago.  Just over a third, 36 percent, feel "very confident" about their companies' growth prospects over the coming year, down from 40 percent a year ago and 48 percent at the start of 2011. The low point in the 10-year-old survey series was 20 percent in 2009 -- the bottom of the trough of the financial storm -- and the highest was 52 percent in early 2007.

It should be noted that CEOs are more optimistic for the longer haul -- 48 percent foresee long-term growth for their organizations.  And these executives are somewhat more bullish about the global economy, however. While market conditions in many countries are still very difficult, CEOs are more positive about the prognosis than they were last year, PwC reports: 52 percent think the global economy will stay the same for the next 12 months and only 28 percent believe it will shrink. In 2012, by contrast, 48 percent were convinced the global economy would contract.

Nevertheless, it's uncontrollable global calamities  that CEOs worry about. For example, recession still is near the top of the list of their worries. Here are potential disaster scenarios that keep CEOs up at night, PwC finds -- note than a majority worry about China's economy -- also ranked as the top investment opportunity, as shown in the chart at the end of this post:

  1. Social unrest in one's own country                                    75%
  2. Recession                                                                         65%
  3. Cyberattacks/Internet disruptions                                      63%
  4. Natural disaster in a major manufacturing/trading hub      56%
  5. Breakup of the Eurozone                                                   53%
  6. Blocked access to natural resources                                 53%
  7. Public health crisis                                                             52%
  8. China's GDP falling below 7.5% per annum                       51%

In terms of things that can be controlled, CEOs report they are doubling down in their investments to increase innovation and reach markets. Seventy-five percent, in fact, are ramping up technology investments.

PwC also reports that 51 percent of CEOs consider growing their customer bases to be a top investment priority. (This actually begs the question: what are the other 49 percent doing, if they're not concentrating more on customers?)

Among those CEOs who are concentrating on reaching out more to customers, they are looking for new ways to stimulate demand and foster customer loyalty, PwC reports, such as "capitalizing on digital marketing platforms and involving customers in product/service development."

In terms of growth potential, China leads the list of countries CEOs plan to invest in, followed by the U.S. and Brazil. Here are the the leading target countries (which excludes the countries in which respondents are based):

  1. China        31%
  2. U.S.           23%
  3. Brazil         15%
  4. Germany   12%
  5. India          10%
  6. Russia        8%
  7. Indonesia   7%
  8. U.K.            6%
  9. Japan         5%
  10. Canada      5%

(Photo: US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook.)

— By on January 24, 2013, 12:20 AM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure