Top executives in Europe and the U.S. say global political and economic risk, and government regulation are their most pressing concerns, while Asian CEOs name innovation as their top challenge, closely followed by human capital—attracting, retaining, and rewarding talent. So finds The Conference Board CEO Challenge 2012 , a global survey of business leaders, which discovered striking differences in focus and strategy between Asia’s emerging economies and the mature economies of the West. The complete findings of the annual survey were announced in a report published today.
Between September and December 2011, CEOs, presidents, and chairmen from the world’s leading companies were asked to identify the most pressing challenges they face in today’s business environment. Nearly 800 survey respondents then named their top strategies for addressing each problem, creating a dynamic picture of executive thinking across continents and industries.
Leaders in each of the three regions surveyed named a different top challenge for 2012:
— In the U.S., CEOs say government regulation is the most critical challenge they face, followed by global political and economic risk, innovation, and human capital. CEOs are viewing the growing uncertainty of the overall regulatory environment as a hindrance to long-term planning.
— European CEOs cite global political and economic risk as their primary challenge, followed by innovation and government regulation, with cost optimization and global expansion tied for fourth. Europe was the only region not to rank human capital concerns in its top five.
— Among Asian CEOs, the most critical challenge is innovation, followed closely by human capital. Global expansion and sustainability tied for third place. In a time of rapid economic development and change for the continent, Asia was the only region to rank sustainability as a top-five challenge for 2012.
Despite these differences at the top, CEO Challenge 2012 nevertheless revealed a number of broad global trends. Overall, CEOs cited innovation, human capital, global and economic risk, government regulation, and global expansion as the top five most critical challenges they face.
Across industries and geographies, innovation—of products, processes, organization designs, and business models—was never far from executives’ minds. Moreover, CEOs perceive innovation to be intimately linked to other challenges. Intriguingly, even as they continue to identify technology as the number-one driver of innovation, many leaders are exploring ways to leverage human capital to gain an innovation edge on competitors. From marketing and communications to working conditions and training, nourishing the human element of innovation appears to be gaining steam as a long-term strategy.