Who would want to be a chief executive?
The pressure on global business leaders has always been intense. But the challenges feel particularly acute right now.
Top leaders oversee companies that employ hundreds of thousands worldwide. They can no longer rely on old-style hierarchical management techniques that are increasingly ineffective . They have to manage technology as both a huge threat and a huge opportunity. And many are being pushed by employees, investors and opinion makers to speak out and engage on social issues — even if it comes at a substantial cost.
“It’s frankly a horrible job — I wouldn’t want it,” Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University professor who studies C.E.O.s, once said. “Being a C.E.O. of a big company is a hundred-hour-a-week job. It consumes your life. It consumes your weekend. It’s super stressful. Sure, there are enormous perks, but it’s also all encompassing.”
Of course, the bosses of multinational companies are well-paid. They are ambitious and often seek the power and thrills that come with being in power; no one becomes a chief executive by accident. And many of those who have had to deal with the stress of a financial crisis, an activist attack or a hostile takeover say they would do it again despite it all.
But what does modern-day management look like, and how are business leaders confronting some of their thorniest challenges? This week, DealBook delved into some of the toughest dilemmas facing businesses and how C.E.O.s are navigating them:
How should business engage with governments in an age of rising populism and tense geopolitics? The narrative of the post-Cold War world was economic integration, international supply chains and deepening trade ties. China’s economic development underpinned global growth for decades and was fundamental in helping the west recover after the 2008 financial crisis.
Now, tensions between Washington and Beijing are putting companies in a bind. The pressure to decouple is growing and bipartisan. But it has come after many businesses spent decades trying to get the most out of China as a manufacturing center as well as a huge market. Last year, bilateral trade hit a record $690 billion— a sign that not everyone is ready to flee the world’s second-largest economy to please the political masters in the biggest one.
Closer to home, executives are under intense scrutiny for the positions and commercial decisions they take on hot-button political issues, ranging from access to abortion to transgender rights. In a country as divided and vast as the U.S., that means a surefire money spinner in one market or state may be a political and reputational nightmare in another.
All of this suggests it has never been more important to make the case for business to policymakers, but C.E.O.s who speak out publicly should expect to be clobbered, Matthew Gwyther writes.
Is there a way to navigate the climate crisis without becoming a political target? The fight over companies’ approach to the environment has run straight into a political culture war. Shareholders, policymakers and commercial imperatives are pushing companies to put sustainability at the heart of their operations. But some powerful officials, such as the Republican governors in Florida and Texas, are bashing companies that pursue such policies and are winning political points by doing so. Some companies have found that saying less is best, Michael Skapinker reports.
What is the right way to integrate artificial intelligence? ChatGPT, the A.I.-powered chatbot backed by Microsoft, has reshaped the conversation. Google declared it a “Code Red” for its long-dominant search business, and accelerated a big shift in its A.I. operations.
More broadly, the transformative potential of the rapidly advancing technology is forcing C.E.O.s in every sector to balance the opportunity it presents with the disruption it will inevitably cause. Kevin Delaney writes about how business leaders are trying to introduce A.I. while preparing their employees for what comes next.
What does the fight to get employees back to the office reveal about the end of top-down management? The parameters of the post-pandemic world of work are still up for negotiation. Some companies are forcing employees back to the office, with mixed results. What is certain is that the shift to a new, dispersed way of operating is here to stay because a lot of workers are demanding it. Executives used to being able to dictate the way we work are finding that it is all a bit more complicated. Establishing the right tone and relationship with employees is more essential than ever, Stefan Stern reports.
Business leaders have always had to make difficult decisions. But as each of these dilemmas shows, the potential consequences of getting one wrong now can be swift and brutal. And there are no fixed or obvious solutions, however big the paycheck.
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