Chief Worries

What are the world’s top executives most concerned about in 2020?

For the second year in a row, their No. 1 external fear is the risk of a recession, according to a new survey released in January. And their top internal concern is being able to attract and retain talent in a tight labor market.

Those hot-button issues were revealed in an annual survey conducted by the New York-based member think tank The Conference Board, which questioned about 750 chief executive officers and about 800 other executives in primarily four regions — Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States.

“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. “However, given a slightly better outlook for the global economy and an easing of trade tensions, we anticipate that a drumbeat of negative sentiment — which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy — can be avoided and that we will see more confidence about business prospects in 2020.”

Meanwhile, the challenge to attract and retain talent requires companies to be more intentional and strategic — “knowing not only what qualities and skills to recruit for, but also how to recruit more efficiently and effectively,” said Rebecca Lea Ray, executive vice president of human capital at The Conference Board.

Other top concerns on the executives’ list included trade uncertainty, political instability and more intense competition from disruptive technologies.

For more information about The Conference Board and its annual survey, visit

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