It’s quite fashionable these days to complain about CEOs as if they are a sub-species of human that is on par with mice and other rodents. There are some good reasons for this trend. The fall-out from irresponsible CEOs of companies like Lehman Brothers is still affecting us, after all. The CEO of Papa John’s recently came under fire for noting that he’d have to terminate a lot of jobs as a result of Obamacare even though he gave a small fortune away when he donated free pizzas to the NFL. The Hostess debacle has also not done a lot for the “CEO Brand” of person.
Despite all of these negative stories, when I came upon a Harvard Business Review blog post admonishing CEOs to “Stop Complaining About Uncertainty,” I immediately did a double take. The basic premise of the post is that CEOs in other countries are experiencing a lot of success with their start-ups, and they don’t have the powerful U.S. economy behind them to back them up. American CEOs should suck it up and enjoy the fact that they live in such a powerful country. Fiscal Cliff, Shmiscal Cliff, the author seems to say.
The “stop your bellyaching” category of tough love has never been something I’ve liked, but in this particular case, the author presents what appears to be complete ignorance about what is actually happening in the world. He might have benefitted from reading a survey Industry Week recently published summarizing top concerns of CEOs in the world of manufacturing.
Factually, the looming fiscal cliff is just a corner of a large iceberg of interrelated problems. While one CEO may not be as worried about the fiscal cliff, the CEOs who run his customers’ companies may have everything on lock-down. That can hurt his own business no matter how optimistic he is. Instability also extends beyond the fiscal cliff. Many manufacturers are going to have to factor in the new medical device tax beginning in January 2013, which is part of the Affordable Care Act plan. They are as yet unsure how that will affect their bottom line, but as a new expense never before experienced, it will almost certainly be a challenge.
Beyond these obstacles, as the survey from Industry Week neatly demonstrates, CEOs are experiencing uncertainty and instability in terms of natural resources they need to make their products, at least in the world of manufacturing. The expenses tied to purchasing those resources and then transporting them continue to increase, and as the geo-political climate continues to become more unstable, the accessibility and pricing of these goods also becomes less reliable and less cost-effective.
If a CEO struggles with navigating these new and more complex times, he or she will be faced with cutting jobs, a very real and heart-wrenching business decision that many CEOs dread. Indeed, a CEO may have to face bankruptcy or a complete closure of the company. To tell a CEO who is having nightmares about those kinds of scenarios to “stop complaining” betrays a simple lack of understanding regarding what is truly happening in the world right now, at least amongst manufacturers.
What is your take? Do you agree with the author of the post or do you feel there is more going on than some “bellyaching?” I’d love to hear your thoughts!