Chief financial officers in the United States are feeling wildly optimistic about the country’s economic prospects, guardedly optimistic about their company’s prospects, and not very optimistic at all—in fact, for the most part, downright pessimistic—about the prospects for their own career advancement.
Those are among the findings of the latest Duke University/CFO Magazine Global Business Outlook survey, which drew responses from nearly 1,000 senior finance executives worldwide. The quarterly survey, last conducted in December 2016, has been conducted for 83 quarters—making it the longest-running economic survey of its kind.
To put the findings in historical perspective, CFO optimism about the U.S. economy was off the charts. For the previous five quarters, the Duke University/CFO Optimism Index hovered around the long-term average of 60, as measured on a 100-point scale. This time, it weighed in at 66.5, up from 60 the preceding quarter and its highest level in more than a decade. As applied to executives’ own companies, the optimism index registered a slight uptick to 67.4 from 65.3. Overall, the proportion of CFOs becoming more optimistic outweighed those becoming more pessimistic by 4 to 1.
But the overall mood shifted when respondents assessed their own likelihood of rising to become a CEO in the next five years. Around the globe, only about one in five CFOs believes that he or she will be promoted to chief executive officer in the next handful of years. Among U.S. CFOs, about 20% give themselves a greater than 40% chance of being a CEO within five years (see Figure 1). Among respondents from Africa, the number is slightly higher—27%—while just 15% of European and Canadian CFOs see the keys to a posh CEO washroom in their future.