CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?
European corporate executives cant escape the C word. They have been grappling with the fallout from the euro zones debt problems for more than two years, watching in bewilderment as the seemingly containable problems of Greece spread across the 17-nation bloc, tipping much of the area into recession and threatening the very existence of the single currency itself. But leading companies arent dwelling on the debt crisis. Many of them exited weak businesses and clamped down on expenses well before trouble hit, as similar but earlier woes in the U.S. put them on alert. Now, having gleaned what value they could from improving margins, they are gearing up for greater top-line growth.
Everybodys focused on whats going to happen to Greece today and to Spain and Italy tomorrow, even though European businesses, on the whole particularly the larger global players are in pretty good shape, says Bart van Ark, chief economist at the Conference Board, a New Yorkbased business membership and research group. Theyve got the cost structure in order, and now theyre asking, How can we grow organically within this global economy?
The answer, for many European concerns, lies with innovation. These companies are intensifying efforts to develop new products or improve existing ones to generate growth. Consider Henkel, the German maker of consumer products ranging from laundry detergent to superglue. The company generates about one third of its sales from products launched in the past three to five years. That fresh lineup helped Henkel to post a 5.9 percent increase in organic sales, which exclude the impact of currency moves and acquisitions or divestments, to 15.6 billion ($20.7 billion) last year. ....