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Exclusive Q&A: Inside Duke CFO survey, from hiring to recession to immigration

DURHAM – Professor John Graham, Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, discusses the latest findings in the Duke CFO Global Business Outlook survey in an email Q&A with WRAL TechWire Editor Rick Smith

  • It strikes me as odd that so many execs are more positive about their own companies' prospects yet their concern overall about a recession is growing. What do you do from that?

Own-firm optimism is about how their own firm will navigate their own products, customers, etc. When companies feel like they have a good plan in place, and good prospects with their customers for the next 12 months, they can have high own-firm optimism.

The recession is 1[ads1]) for the most part, next year not this year, and 2) more about the overall economy, the world economy, hard-to-predict policymakers, etc.

Survey: Finance execs see recession coming but confident about own firms, need talent

The recession is more of a threat that would slow down in general but not necessarily disrupted the company's own plans for the next 12 months.

  • Hiring / finding talent / keeping talent is again the top concern.

Trying to hire a need this year; the recession would be next year.

Also, the talent shortage is mostly about finding workers with the ideal skills – companies want to hire these skilled employees even with a pending recession

  • How big a factor is the trade war in Growing concerns about a recession next year?

The trade wars, and threats of trade wars, add significantly to uncertainty. If companies hold off on hiring or spending on this uncertainty, this can slow the economy (somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophesy)

Having said that, 90% of US GDP comes from the domestic economy, and 10% from exports . So, the concerns about a recession are not just about exports and trade wars.

  • Immigration is such a big issue but the results in your survey indicate that this is something much broader than tech companies needing skilled immigrants. The fact there are more jobs than people looking for – is that a reason why companies want changes? Please explain.

There has been a shortage of certain skill sets for 5 or more years (tech engineers, certain health care jobs like nurses, accountants, diesel mechanics, construction, etc). Companies recognize that foreign workers can fill these positions, and in fact are needed to fill these positions. However, the range of comments from execs clearly shows there is no solution to meet all concerns, from build to wall to open borders. Do you see any kind of consensus developing on the issue? Please explain

The consensus is "we need more skilled workers, we also need more seasonal workers". It's not unanimous, but there is strong support (~ 80%) for immigration reform. Note that we did not ask CFOs about immigration in general but about immigration in the context of their worker needs.

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