This Is What the World’s CEOs Are Most Worried About Heading Into 2020

As CEOs around the world lead their companies into a new year and a new decade, there is one looming worry that is most on their minds.

According to a new survey by think tank The Conference Board, a possible recession ranks as the top external concern — for the second year in a row — of global business chiefs and other C-suite executives. For U.S. CEOs, in particular, fears of a recession jumped to the top of their list of worries, surpassing cybersecurity (which was their biggest concern in 2019 but fell to sixth for 2020).

“The ongoing concerns about recession risk among business leaders reflect the slowing economy of the past year and the uncertainties about the outcome of the trade disputes and other policy concerns,” said Bart van Ark, chief economist at The Conference Board.

Not surprisingly, uncertainty surrounding international trade ranks second among the concerns for global leaders, especially those in Latin America and Europe. Yet in spite of U.S. President Donald Trump’s aggressive and much-criticized trade war against foreign competitors such as China, American CEOs ranked global trade as only their third-biggest concern, tied with global political instability.

Heightened competition took the third-place spot for global leaders, and the second among U.S. CEOs. Other external worries keeping company chiefs up at night include a tight labor market; increasingly demanding customers; cybersecurity; declining trust in political and policy institutions; and the impact of climate change on their businesses.

Within the walls of their own companies, global CEOs were nearly unanimous when it comes their No. 1 internal stressor: attracting and retaining top talent. Only Japan ranked it lower, at No. 2.

A number of the other top internal concerns related to keeping up with the fast pace of change in today’s marketplace and embracing the future. Creating new business models because of disruptive technologies is their second-biggest worry, followed by creating a more innovative company culture and developing next-generation leaders. Other issues weighing on their minds include cost-reduction efforts, data analytics and cash flow volatility.

Women leaders continue to be concerned with issues of equal pay, ranking it as their sixth top priority, while men ranked it only 15th.

Want more?

CEOs Are Exiting Their Posts in Record Numbers

Retail Ranks Ahead of Other Sectors In Terms of Female CEOs — But Representation Is Still Far Off

Survey of Global CEOs Reveals ‘Record Jump in Pessimism’ About the Economy

Access exclusive content