CEO Confidence on the Rise; Importance of ESG Growing Survey Reveals

Thursday, July 13th, 2023

The latest Marcum-Hofstra University CEO Survey provides compelling insight into the evolving mindset of middle-market CEOs across a range of industries, revealing a broadly optimistic view of the business landscape and the importance of companies supporting social and political causes.

The survey, which continues to track CEO sentiment over time, revealed a noticeable uptick in optimism. Compared to April, 12.4% of respondents rated their outlook as "very positive," up from 9.8%. More than a third - 39.6% - placed themselves in the high range of optimism, an increase from 37.6%.

The largest gains in optimism came in the construction, professional services, and technology sectors. However, the healthcare and retail sectors saw a dip in CEO optimism, indicating the nuanced industry dynamics at play in the current business environment.

In a world where social activism increasingly intersects with business, 71.6% of CEOs felt it was important for companies to actively support political or social causes. About a third – 33.6% - said that embracing environmental, social and governance causes is a central focus in their business planning and actions.

Nearly a quarter of CEOs said supporting social and political causes actively contributed to achieving their business outcomes, and 45.6% said they believe it is the right thing to do regardless of the impact on their bottom line.

"The embrace of environmental, social and governance (ESG) is, quite literally, a generational change driven by young people who make decisions about what they buy and where they work based on a company's ethical impact," said Janet Lenaghan, dean of the Frank G. Zarb School of Business. "We focus on ESG at Zarb in many ways and across all disciplines – in the curriculum, with experiential learning opportunities like our student-managed sustainability fund, and through an interdisciplinary graduate dual-degree program."

The Marcum-Hofstra CEO Survey is a periodic gauge of mid-market CEOs' outlook and priorities for the next 12 months. The survey polls the leaders of companies with revenues ranging from $5 million to $1 billion-plus. This latest survey was conducted the week of June 19, 2023, and polled 250 mid-market CEOs.

Despite the improved economic sentiment, the shadow of a recession continues to linger among CEOs. The latest data shows a substantial drop in CEOs who say they are 'very concerned' about recession, from 46.5% in November 2022 to 26.4% now, but 74.0% retain some concern. Moreover, 61.6% admit these concerns impact their staffing plans, with 17.6% already curtailing hiring and 9.6% laying off staff. Conversely, CEOs expressing no recession concern have increased from 6.3% to 15.6%, indicating a shifting economic landscape.

"Our latest CEO survey shows that optimism is on the rise, but it's clear that these leaders are keenly aware of the challenges ahead," said Jeffrey Weiner, Chairman & CEO of Marcum. "From managing economic uncertainties and grappling with talent shortages to mitigating the impact of rising operational costs, CEOs will need adaptability and grit in this fluid business landscape."

The survey is developed, conducted, and analyzed by Zarb School MBA students, led by Dr. Andrew Forman, associate professor of international business and marketing, in partnership with Marcum.

"The Marcum-Hofstra CEO survey provides students with the basis to consider whether it is prudent and beneficial for companies to focus resources and attention on the broader issues confronting their communities and society at large," Dr. Forman said. "While many CEOs felt it was important for the companies to support political and social causes, their motives vary. This provides a springboard for students to think critically about how broader concerns affect corporate decision-making."