Forging a long-term vision amid near-term caution: the view from US Inbound CEOs

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I recently had the privilege of hosting a webcast to discuss, as part of PwC’s 2020 Global CEO Survey, the views of US Inbound CEOs: leaders of international companies with major US operations. Aside from PwC professionals who came to provide extra insights, over 1200 business managers and executives joined the webcast, participating in several polls and a Q & A.

Here are some of the top takeaways.

1. Short term concerns, long term plans

In PwC’s survey, only 23% of Inbound leaders were “very confident” that their own revenue will increase in the next 12 months. Perhaps signifying CEOs’ view that trade rules are still in flux, the top five reasons given for this caution were (in order) cyber threats, trade conflicts, speed of technological change, over-regulation and uncertain economic growth.

In our webcast, we asked the business leaders who joined what might most impact their operating model and growth strategy this year. Here were their top five answers:

Going beyond these immediate factors, Inbound CEOs are absolutely betting on the US for the long run. When asked to choose among 127 countries, 51% of Inbound CEOs in our survey chose the US as one of the three best places in the world for growth. China was second at 41%, with Germany third at 17%.

To drive that growth, Inbound CEOs’ are betting mostly on organic growth (cited by 83% of Inbound leaders, compared to just 70% of global CEOs.) They also have more aggressive plans for M&A (43% plan on it, compared to just 35% of the global sample) and are significantly more likely to plan collaboration with startups (37% vs 28% global.)

2. Facing tech challenges

In 2020, cybersecurity is top of mind for Inbound CEOs: 47% called cybersecurity threats “extremely concerning.”

One of our cybersecurity professionals, Nalneesh Gaur, shared some specific tips in the webcast, including how to build resilience, business-driven cybersecurity, and a culture of security.

More tech regulations are also coming, say our CEO Survey participants, with 78% expecting more legislation to regulate Internet content, 77% predicting the forced break up of dominant technology companies, and 46% expecting that new requirements to compensate individuals for collecting personal data.

One great way to meet these and other tech challenges is greater collaboration between industry and government as well as from company to company. The goal should be to create a technology environment that all stakeholders — inside and outside companies and governments — can trust.

3. Upskilling for a new world

Every company that thinks about the future is investing in upskilling, and Inbound companies say they are getting results. More than three quarters of Inbound CEOs call their upskilling programs “moderately” or “very” effective in talent acquisition and retention, business growth, reduced skills gap, greater innovation, a stronger corporate culture, and higher workforce productivity.

Yet only about a quarter called their programs “very” effective. What’s keeping Inbound companies from even greater success? Here’s what are the top five reasons our webcast participants gave:

4. Climate change: leading with green

Inbound companies are leaders on climate change, especially compared to the US companies they compete with. Sixty-nine percent have assessed the potential transition risks to a “greener” economy. Only 52% of US CEOs report having done the same. Sixty-five percent of Inbound CEOs, compared to only 43% of US CEOs, expect climate change initiatives to lead to significant new product and service opportunities.

It’s a great sign of how Inbound companies are thinking about the transition to a green economy, getting ahead of an inevitable trend. After returning from Davos, PwC’s chairman, Tim Ryan, said “Climate change will undoubtedly dominate the strategic plans of every company of relevance in the years to come.” 

Going forward: the no regrets strategy

What I heard in our webcast reaffirmed my confidence in the “no-regrets” strategy that I outlined in more detail in our recent report. That strategy centers on

I hope you’ll take a look at that report, with its exploration of the Global CEO survey findings from an Inbound point of view. You may also want to watch the webcast replay.

Either way, I hope you’ll join the conversation and sign up for the next in our webcast series.

Contact us

Michael Burak

Tax, Partner, PwC US

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