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CEOs are from Venus, others are from Mars…

There are many classic articles and books highlighting differences across groups in terms of perspective and their outlook on various issues. I often think I am from a different planet and others have muttered that about me. To them I say, “where you stand depends on where you sit.” Rufus Miles said that first but his maxim applies; we see things and base our judgments about issues and challenges based on our own perspective and where we sit in an organization.

From where I sit, I can breakdown respondents to our client survey into two broad categories, CEOs and everybody else. Specifically, I am looking at differences across these two groups to the question, what are your organizations biggest challenges on the next three years.

Prior to looking at the numbers, I assumed that CEOs would be concerned with long-term issues related to their organization’s survival, growth, and their own legacies. Conversely, I would have assumed all other respondents would be focused on more short-term issues, operational issues that reflect their line responsibilities. It appears the numbers support my case.

To see if respondents to our client survey answer questions differently, we coded client responses to the most important challenges they face into whether the respondent was a CEO, Owner, and President and compared their responses to everyone else. My colleague, Tab Wilkins, suggested that I take a look at this question.

When I looked at the numbers, I was struck by the differences across CEOs and others to the question we have posed to our MEP clients for several years. First, the portion of clients who cited a specific challenge differed across these groups. Second, the differences were not that stark. I expected to see a much larger difference.

Top 3 Challenges Identified: CEOs vs. Others


CEOs, for example, are about 10 percentage points more likely to cite growth as a challenge as compared to other respondents. And, CEOs are nearly three times more likely to cite financing as a challenge compared to other respondents. CEOs are more likely to cite exporting as a challenge compared to others.

On the other hand, CEOs were less likely to cite continuous improvement as a challenge compared to other respondents. And, non-CEOs were slightly more likely to report that sustainability issues were a challenge compared to CEOs. None of this implies that challenges cited by one set of respondents are more accurate than the other but rather reflects the perspective and responsibilities of different respondents across organizations. Further, the differences may also likely reflect firm size differences as well. About t two-thirds of all CEO respondents were in smaller firms (those with less than 50 employees) and issues around growth, financing, and new markets (exports) are more likely a challenge for smaller firms. Indeed, the percent of clients who cite growth, for example, as a challenge are roughly similar across CEOs and non-CEOs in smaller firms (those with less than 50 employees) and these differences are not statistically significant.


So I guess Rufus Miles was sort of right. Where you stand does depend on where you sit. It’s just not as important as I originally thought. Where you sit does indeed matter when looking at the challenges facing companies. These data do suggest that when looking at the responses to our survey that it may be important to also consider who responded and what they said were the challenges they are facing. These data also suggest that conversations with CEOs will likely involve different issues and concerns than with others. As they say, you need to know you audience.

About the author

Ken Voytek

Mr. Voytek is the Manager of the Program Evaluation and Economic Research Group and the Chief Economist with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). In his spare time, he collects baseball cards, reads obscure books and articles, and shares his bubbly personality with family, friends, and colleagues.

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At times it doesn't quite matter at all where a CEO Sits or Stands but if they have stayed awake to hear when their name is called for business travel.

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