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CEOs Cite Top Concerns for 2018

Cybersecurity, disruptive technologies and shrinking labor pools are top concerns for CEOs at some of the largest corporations.
January 8, 2018

NEW YORK – The Wall Street Journal reports that corporate leaders consider cybersecurity threats, disruptive technologies and stiffer competition for talent to be some of their most pressing issues this year.

“I don’t think there’s any such thing as an easy year for CEOs anymore,” Jim M. Loree of Stanley Black & Decker Inc. told the news source.

The growing pressures coincide with a massive changing of the guard in the corner office, creating one of the largest legions of new leaders in years to tackle those tough tasks.

Per Liberum Research, 919 chief executives resigned, retired or got fired at publicly traded North American companies, the highest number in at least a decade, during 2017. And those departures have carried over into 2018: Last week, Rent-A-Center Inc. founder Mark Speese stepped down.

“The expectations that boards have of CEOs is that they can do everything,” Hugh Shields, co-founder and principal at Shields Meneley Partners LLC, told the Journal. “In some cases, they are looking for a unicorn.”

Loree and several other chief executives cited the threat of data breaches as a critical risk. “These bad actors keep getting smarter and more aggressive,” he told the Journal, adding, “It’s an ongoing war.” 

Another challenge is anticipating how emerging technologies open new markets or upend their industries, notes the news source. Julio Portalatin, president and CEO of Mercer Consulting, commented that he’s focusing on unforeseen, nimble rivals that could use automation and artificial intelligence to poach customers. “It’s the [rivals] I don’t know about that I’m concerned about,” he said.

Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder and co-CEO of Atlassian Corp., told the Journal that new technologies are disrupting the war for top talent, noting that some financial-services giants have more software engineers than bankers and traders on their payrolls.

Meanwhile, the decrease in U.S. corporate-tax rates may lead to workforce expansion. For example, at Polaris Industries Inc., the company expects to hire nearly 100 engineers worldwide in 2018, and most will work in the United States, notes CEO Scott Wine. “With the additional money from tax reform, we can invest a bit more in our best [research] programs,” he told the Journal.

Despite workplace misconduct charges against numerous executives in 2017, most CEOs told the Journal that they don’t believe sexual harassment will be a top concern for their companies in 2018.​