The worst of the financial crisis may be over and the recovery,
weak as it has been, still on track. But corporate executives
continue to find themselves in an ominous setting.
Uncertainties abound both in the U.S. and abroad over
everything from consumer demand to government regulation and
policy. This makes for a landscape that is both less stark than
that of 2008 and 2009 and more ambiguous. In crunch mode
executives did well to hunker down, focus on the short-term and
work on controlling costs. Managements now, however, must
engage in longer-term strategizinga tall order when the
outlook holds so many what-ifs.
Conference Board CEO Jonathan Spector believes todays
conditions may present even larger and more difficult
challenges than the financial crisis did.
During the crisis the decision-making framework
needed to operate was somewhat clearer, given the incredible
sense of urgency, Spector says. Now the environment
is more complicated because we have the prospect of a very
sustained period thats not quite a crisis. Its less
clear what the obvious path is.
Gregory Hayes, chief financial officer at Hartford,
Connecticutbased conglomerate United Technologies
Corp., is one top executive who has found that to be true.
I never want to live through 2009 again, says
Hayes, whose company makes products ranging from elevators and
refrigeration units to airplane engines and
fire-protection systems. But when you have this
sluggish growth, this uncertain environment, its hard to
know where you should invest, or how much you should invest.
Its certainly more challenging now.
Hayes is one of the U.S. corporate leaders who are handling
that difficulty best, according to the buy- and sell-side
analysts who voted for Institutional Investors 2012 All-America
Executive Team, our exclusive ranking of the nations
best CEOs, CFOs, and investor relations professionals and
Spector says that what distinguishes the best companies in
todays climate is that theyre not so spooked by the
unknown that they hesitate to grab good opportunities when they
see them. The executives recognized in the 2012 ranking are
quick not only to distinguish good prospects from bad but to
capitalize on the first and abandon the second. Hayes and his
fellow All-Americans are making significant acquisitions
or other investments even as they continue to rationalize their
product lines, supply chains, manufacturing operations and
balance sheets. These executives are undaunted by uncertainty.
Instead, they are managing their companies more intelligently
in the face of it, with nuance and flexibility unseen in a long
while. The best companies are adjusting, Spector
says. Theyre not sitting on their hands.