Well, I’ll start with the one I’ve been wrestling with for the past many years; and I’m sure it must be quite obvious to you all by now. I, uhh, am growing bald... Alright, I guess I’ve lost almost all of it by now. Imagine what a ‘challenge’ I’ve had to grapple with to start off 2008! But I suspected that the majority of CEOs globally also suffered the same ‘challenge’! I wasn’t way off, as my subsequent investigations revealed that 66% of global CEOs are ‘challenged’ by some or the other kind of hair loss. And there, amusingly so, began my quest to understand the top challenges that CEOs will face this year!
I stopped at the favourite global watering hole, namely the NYSE CEO Report 2008, to find out the top five! 240 of the world’s top business leaders in more than 24 countries, when asked ‘which internal factors will affect revenue growth the most?’, gave the following list in order of priority: Management team; New technology; Strength of company brand; Strategic partnerships; Customer loyalty! Interestingly, even last year (in the NYSE CEO Report 2007), CEOs had confirmed that the same top five factors affected revenues the most. Coming back to the 2008 report, when asked a similar question with respect to what affects profit growth the most, CEOs cited the following critical factors: Operational efficiency; Management team; Compliance costs; New technology; New product development! Surprise surprise, even last year, the factors were ditto the same! The latest report quotes the statistics that 74% of today’s CEOs definitively agree “Management teams have more impact on revenue growth than they did three years ago!”
I stopped again, and this time at the superbly compiled 2007 Technology Fast 500 CEO Survey by Deloitte and Touche! With respect to ‘what factors drive growth’, the CEOs were unanimous in ranking ‘High-quality employees’ at a smashing number one. Sound business strategy, strong leadership, unique products and right timing in the market place came in at the next four positions. When questioned on ‘key operational challenges’ facing them, ‘finding, hiring and retaining qualified employees’ again came in at a super #1. And for the question of what were the ‘key personal challenges’ facing CEOs, the answers were again unanimous: ‘Developing leaders and delegating responsibility’ was number 1! Just to satisfy my suspicion, I stole a quick look at Deloitte and Touche’s 2001 CEO survey. For the question, ‘What is the single biggest challenge in managing your company’s rapid growth?’, the answer bulldozing in at number 1 was ‘Finding, hiring and retaining qualified employees.’ And when questioned, ‘What is your biggest obstacle as you continue growing your business?’, the factor of ‘Qualified workforce shortages’ was again at, you guessed it right, number 1.
If you thought that ‘global surveys’ were different from what the Asian CEOs were thinking, rest assured! The world renowned Conference Board, which surveyed 769 global CEOs from 40 countries in their report, CEO Challenge 2007: Top 10 Challenges, showed that for Asian CEOs, in the top ten challenges list, ‘Finding qualified managerial talent’ is completely and resoundingly at number 1; a fact confirmed by the brilliant 2007 report by The Economist, titled CEO Briefing: Corporate Priorities..., which proved that for emerging markets, ‘Lack of available talent’ represented the ‘greatest barrier’ for growth! Over the years 2003 till 2006, in four exhaustive and incisive studies done by the top HR consultants, the Ken Blanchard Companies, over 2000 respondents confirmed ‘developing leadership bench strength’ as the issue number one!
“People before strategy,” is what the world’s most successful CEO Jack Welch believes in, “My main job was developing talent. I was a gardener providing water and other nourishment to our top 750 people. Of course, I had to pull out some weeds too!” Steve Jobs fanatically believed that his “people are the moving force” behind Apple’s products; “My job is to create a space for them,” he famously quoted! I could go on and on but the fact is that ‘retaining passionate and talented people’ – and not fighting competition or worrying about products, technology or markets – is the number one issue today’s CEOs should focus on! If you have to make that one choice, be the Jack and the Steve of today, passionately, fanatically! Indefatigably, the truth is that the top five global challenges across continents, across sectors, across corporations that CEOs of today face are people, people, people, people and... hair!
I still haven’t found a workable solution around it guys :-(