After two years of cutting costs, senior finance executives at mid-size companies now report that supporting growth is their new top priority – and they are planning to capitalize on the capabilities and disciplines that served their companies well during the recession to achieve it.
These are among the findings from a new American Express/CFO Research report on mid-size companies, "Winning Strategies in the Emerging Recovery," that is being released at this week's 18th annual CFO Rising Conference. The report surveyed 231 senior finance executives at mid-size companies in the United States.
Growth Becomes the Focus as Recovery Takes Hold
Finance executives at mid-size companies have transitioned to a new growth-oriented stance from their previous emphasis on cost control. Nearly two in three respondents (63%) reported that their primary focus would be on identifying new growth opportunities during the next two years – in contrast with 29% that cited this was the primary focus during the past two years.
- Just 15% of respondents expect their companies to focus primarily on controlling costs over the next two years – compared with over half (54%) who reported that their companies' primary objective over the past two years was to control costs and maintain profitability.
As mid-size companies look to identify growth opportunities, two in five finance executives (41%) see increasing sales to new customers in existing product lines as their companies' most viable avenue for growth.
- 25% cite innovation, or introducing new product and service lines, as their companies' most likely means of achieving growth.
- 23% see international expansion as "very important" to their companies' ability to thrive in the recovery.
Despite their growing optimism, finance executives of mid-sized companies still see some barriers to growth.
- More than half of respondents (53%) view uncertain economic conditions as an obstacle.
- 47% believe fierce competition and resulting price pressure will be problematic.
- 35% view increasing government regulation as a barrier.
Strategies for Dealing with Recession Create Foundation for Recovery
The resilience of mid-size companies and their ability to grow hinges on whether they can take advantage of skills they established and refined during the recession.
Two in three finance executives (67%) believe that a conservative financial approach is likely to contribute to their success in the recovery. They expect elements of this approach that had served as survival techniques during the recession – i.e., a strong balance sheet, lean cost structure, low working capital, and high levels of liquidity – can now become competitive advantages by supporting growth opportunities.
Mid-size companies also honed their customer relationship skills during the recession. Three in four finance executives (74%) said satisfying customer expectations for quality, price, and service contributed to their efforts to weather the downturn.
Now, respondents most often see satisfying customer expectations as a major contributor to success in the recovery (48%), followed by:
- Maintaining a lean cost structure and boosting efficiency – 47%
- Expanding the business into new products and services and/or new markets – 37%
"While careful financial management is a necessity for mid-size companies in today's recovering economy, customer satisfaction also looms large," said Darryl Brown, Executive Vice President, U.S. Commercial Card, American Express. "Cultivating strong customer relationships is a smart investment in long-term growth for mid-size companies fighting to compete and win in a challenging environment."
For the full American Express/CFO Research report, visit www.GetTheInsideEdge.com.
About the Survey
CFO Research Services surveyed 231 senior finance executives at mid-size companies across a wide range of industries in the United States. Company revenues ranged from $10 million to $500 million. The research program, conducted through an online survey of senior financial executives, was completed in December 2010.
About CFO Research Services
CFO Research Services is the sponsored research group of CFO Publishing LLC, which produces CFO magazine, CFO.com, and CFO Conferences. For more than 25 years, CFO Publishing has been a trusted source of insight into the issues that matter most to finance professionals.
About American Express Corporate Payment Solutions
American Express Corporate Payment Solutions provides the Corporate Card, Corporate Purchasing Solutions, and other expense management services to mid-size companies and large corporations worldwide. In the U.S., American Express is a leading issuer of commercial cards, serving more than 70% of the Fortune 500, as well as tens of thousands of mid-size companies. American Express offers a wide range of products and services specifically tailored to mid-size companies. For example, American Express and American Airlines offer the American Express® / Business ExtrAA® Corporate and Platinum Cards, which offer significant savings and rewards for both companies and cardmembers. American Express Savings at Work gives mid-size companies access to pre-negotiated discounts on business spending with top brands in travel, dining and business services. In addition, Concur Breeze is a cost-effective, easy-to-use online expense reporting service that automates and streamlines the submission, review and approval of all business expenses. For more information, visit americanexpress.com/corporate.