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CEOs Reveal the Anxieties Keeping Them Up at Night: Week Ahead

There’s more than one thing keeping CEOs from getting a good night’s sleep these days.

Chief executives from around the global cited the coronavirus pandemic as their biggest source of anxiety-riddled sleepless nights, pointing to concerns over how Covid-19 is influencing their supply chains and other critical operations.

According to a new The Conference Board survey, Chinese CEOs listed the pandemic as their third-biggest headache, breaking from their peers in the U.S., Japan, Germany and Europe who fingered the contagion as their chief concern. The poll of over 900 CEOs and more than 600 other C-suite leaders conducted between Nov. 7-Dec. 10 also found that worries over vaccines coming to market were the No. 2 problem for American chiefs and No. 3 for their global counterparts, for whom unease over a risk of recession came in second. All harbor misgivings about the rapid evolution in consumer buying habits, on top of political instability that puts supply chains in jeopardy.

And given how quickly consumers are adopting new behaviors, C-suite leaders are understandably fretting over the speed at which their organizations and operations must digitize—or devolve into obsolescence. Indeed, global and U.S. chiefs cited digital transformation as the most ulcer-inducing issue going on inside their four walls. They’re also thinking about how they can better innovate, which is the top priority for Chinese executives. CEOs in the U.S., for their part, are more worried about shrinking their costs, streamlining processes and enhancing business through M&A and divesting assets, their third through fifth concerns, respectively. Global chiefs, however, stay up at night thinking about how they need to amend their business models; lowering costs and streamlining processes round out their lists.

Business travel is unlikely to return to its pre-Covid state, according to global CEOs, while stateside chiefs believe companies will need less office space going forward. All CEOs said acceleration of automation is either the second or third most likely long-term impact.

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“Looking beyond reduced business travel, altered landscape of commercial office space, and increased automation of tasks, CEOs believe the need to address the resilience of global supply chains will be one of the most likely long-term legacies of Covid-19,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, global research chair at The Conference Board.

“During the pandemic, many policymakers and companies learned that a heavily optimized supply chain often lacked the agility to substitute alternate sources of supply,” Ozyildirim added. “While concerns about global trade disruptions diminished recently, the global pandemic has exposed new vulnerabilities in supply chains.”

Those vulnerabilities could be exposed yet again. The Centers for Disease Control reported Friday that global coronavirus deaths have crested 2 million, and are expected to climb as the new highly transmissible U.K. variant “has the potential to increase the U.S. pandemic trajectory in the coming months.” The trajectory is showing “rapid growth” in early 2021, with the U.K. strain seen becoming the predominant variant in the U.S. in March.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the variant as moving at “frustrating and alarming” speed, prompting him to impose a third national lockdown on Jan. 4. The strain, identified last month, is now active in 50 countries, including the U.S., the United Nations said Tuesday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state is adding capacity at hospitals, noting that “the infection rate is going up quickly” and that once hospitals reach capacity, the economy shuts down.

On the other side of the country, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Thursday that he would back the county’s public health department if it recommends shutting down gyms  and indoor malls, which are currently open at 20 percent capacity.