Major Issues for Business Today, per the CEOs

INFLATION.  Then there’s inflation.  Businesses are working out their hiring and staffing issues, supply chains are improving, M&A is flat but expected to revive. Lots of investment cash is on the sidelines looking for a place to rest (maximum yield not the main driver).  There are unresolved issues about white-collar back-to-work (see below), but also there’s inflation….

So sayeth the Presidents of three very large, important local companies presenting this morning at the highly informative breakfast meeting at Sheraton Boston of the New England Chapter, National Association of Corporate Directors.  (Disclosure: I am an active member on its Advisory Board.)

At Vertex, Wayfair and American Tower, there seem no global crises in business prospects according to their CEOs.  Each has survived the pandemic: Vertex is in the biotech field (need one say more?), American Tower broadcasts our growing (and 5G) digital communications around the world, and Wayfair sells home goods into what has been a volatile but stabilizing electronic marketplace.  None of these folks are on the ropes.

As to time in the office, each organization has its own culture and own needs, but seems that in the executive arena there is a clear sense of need for people to be in the office some of the time (3 days a week seems the number at this point) and lack of clarity if they need to be the same days, overlap, etc.  Also, CEO Dr. Reshma Kewalramani of Vertex had kind words for dreaded Zoom, as you actually get to know people you would not necessarily deal with, learn something of them personally, and become more empathetic and kind.  None of the CEOs seemed troubled by how return-to-office is sorting out, noting that some people never were “not coming in”– workers in labs, workers in warehouses shipping goods, etc.

All were concerned about inflation as a headwind for the general economy, with no specific identified breakdown being anticipated but a general sense that the Fed needs to keep tightening. Chairing the meeting was NACD-New England President Cathy Minehan, formerly with the Fed; according to Cathy, the Fed should have started raising rates sooner!


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