Who wants to be CEO?
The pressure on global business leaders has always been great. But the challenges feel particularly acute right now.
Top executives oversee companies that employ hundreds of thousands worldwide. They can no longer rely on traditional hierarchical management techniques that are increasingly ineffective. You must view technology as both a major threat and a major opportunity. And many are being pushed by employees, investors and opinion leaders to speak out and get involved on societal issues – even if it comes at a significant cost.
“Honestly, it’s a terrible job — I wouldn’t want it,” said Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University professor who studies CEOs. “The job of CEO of a large company is 100 hours a week. It consumes your life. It consumes your weekend. It’s super stressful. Of course there are huge benefits, but it’s also all-encompassing.”
Of course, the bosses of multinational companies are well paid. They are ambitious and often seek power and the thrill that power brings; No one becomes CEO by accident. And many of those who have dealt with the stress of a financial crisis, an activist attack, or a hostile takeover say they will despite everything again.
But what does modern management look like and how do business leaders master some of their toughest challenges? This week, DealBook looked at some of the toughest dilemmas companies face and how CEOs deal with them:
How should companies work with governments in times of rising populism and tense geopolitics? The narrative of the post-Cold War world was economic integration, international supply chains, and deepening trade relations. China’s economic development underpinned global growth for decades and was crucial to the West’s recovery from the 2008 financial crisis.
Tensions between Washington and Beijing are now threatening companies. The pressure for decoupling is growing and is non-partisan. However, this came after many companies had spent decades trying to make the most of China as a manufacturing hub and huge market. Last year, bilateral trade hit a record $690 billion – a sign that not everyone is willing to flee the world’s second-largest economy to please the political masters in the world’s largest.
In the immediate vicinity, executives are under intense scrutiny for their positions and business decisions on current political issues, ranging from access to abortion to transgender rights. In a country as divided and vast as the US, that means being a surefire moneymaker in one market or state can be a political and reputation-damaging nightmare in another.
All of this suggests that speaking out on behalf of business with policymakers has never been more important, but CEOs who speak out publicly risk being slammed, writes Matthew Gwyther.
Is there a way to master the climate crisis without becoming a political target? The struggle over how companies deal with the environment has turned directly into a political culture war. Shareholders, policy makers and economic imperatives are pushing companies to put sustainability at the heart of their operations. But some influential officials, like Republican governors in Florida and Texas, condemn companies that pursue such policies, gaining political points as a result. Some companies have found that saying less is best, reports Michael Skapinker.
How do you integrate properly? artificial intelligence? ChatGPT, the Microsoft-powered AI-powered chatbot, has redesigned the conversation. Declaring the company “Code Red” for its long-dominated search business, Google accelerated a major shift in its AI operations.
More broadly, the transformative potential of rapidly evolving technology is forcing CEOs in all sectors to balance the opportunities it offers with the disruptions it will inevitably cause. Kevin Delaney writes about how business leaders are trying to adopt AI while preparing their employees for what’s next.
What does the struggle to get employees back to the office reveal about the end of top-down management? The parameters of the working world after the pandemic are still up for negotiation. Some companies are forcing employees back into the office — with mixed results. What is certain is that the changeover to a new, distributed way of working will take place is here to stay because many workers are demanding it. Executives used to dictating how we work find that things are a little more complicated. The right tone and the right relationship with the employees are more important than ever, reports Stefan Stern.
Business leaders have always had to make difficult decisions. But as each of these dilemmas demonstrates, the potential consequences of getting it wrong now can be swift and brutal. And there are no fixed or obvious solutions, no matter the size of the paycheck.
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