CEO Outlook 2016: 15 CEOs Open Up About Next Year’s Growth Prospects

1 Cheryl Bachelder

CHERYL BACHELDER, CEO, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

HEADQUARTERED IN ATLANTA, THE CHICKEN-BASED, FAST-FOOD FRANCHISOR POSTED SYSTEM-WIDE REVENUES OF $2.7 BILLION LAST YEAR.

We are in a strong position, with 2015 being our seventh consecutive year of same-store sales growth. We’ve been building a couple hundred restaurants a year, a top number in our sector; and we are expanding globally with new franchisees in Chile, Peru and elsewhere. We’ve been in other places for a long time through our strong franchises including Central America, Singapore and Turkey.

Growth in the U.S. economy may be modest in 2016, a bit choppy, and certainly influenced by the global economy. I’m encouraged by the fact that gas prices are low and consumer confidence is
high. But interest rates will influence what happens in the U.S., and so will global questions. I’m hoping that 2016 is a mild year of modest growth and that we avoid recession.

My primary concern is about creating conditions for small business to thrive in this country. Right now, the lifeblood of our economy is at risk.


1 Steve Kase

STEVE KASE, CEO, Ask Products

BASED IN AURORA, ILLINOIS, THE COMPANY IS A $10-MILLION MAKER OF ELECTRICAL CONNECTORS AND OTHER COMPONENTS FOR TELECOM AND OTHER INDUSTRIES.

Heavy-truck and utility markets will be strong, with things like retro-fitting of coal boilers. And obviously, the petroleum-related markets have come way, way back.

It’ll be much like every year since 2011. You have a few good months and things take off; then there’s a make-up month. I’m not sure what to think. We’ll stay at this level next year, though two years from now that’s a little less likely. The rest of the world is so spooked that it will continue to send shivers through the American economy from time to time; but largely the U.S. economy is strong, and unemployment is down.

If you’re not nervous reading forecasts of commodity-metals prices though, you’re not listening. Because of China, the worldwide demand is down significantly. But I’m still concerned about
unexpected news: It just freezes everyone in their purchasing patterns for a while.


1 Margaret Keane

MARGARET KEANE, CEO, Synchrony Financial

SPUN OFF FROM GENERAL ELECTRIC IN 2014, THE COMPANY IS A $13-BILLION LEADER IN CONSUMER FINANCE, HEADQUARTERED IN STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT.

We will have to fight harder to get consumers to shop and use our credit cards. They want to shop, and an area that will be especially positive is things related to the home, such as furniture and flooring. That has held very well and will continue to hold.

The consumer is getting stronger. Wage compression has muted expectations a bit, but I feel good about where the consumer is positioned in our industry. I also believe that moving on interest rates is a positive sign for the economy—you can’t stay at zero forever. Movement says there is positive momentum in the economy.

I am concerned about the whole payment space in general. There’s still a big question about how quickly mobile wallets will take hold, but there is a lot of momentum there. And we want to make sure we’re staying extraordinarily relevant in the digital and mobile space.


1 Gary Kovacs

GARY KOVACS, CEO, AVG Technologies

HEADQUARTERED IN SAN FRANCISCO, THIS PROVIDER OF ONLINE SECURITY SERVICES REPORTED 2014 REVENUES OF $374 MILLION.

The world is wrestling with how to secure the online environment. In the coming year or two, the industry will really sort out the winners and losers and what consumers and businesses expect when they think about security.

Over the next couple of years, consumers and [small- to medium-sized businesses] will start to really think about their identities online, and privacy and passwords, and doing nothing won’t be an option for them anymore.

I’m more optimistic now than I was a year ago about the coming economy, partly because election years are usually fairly buoyant for the U.S. About half our business is in Europe, and our general forecast is for continued weakness for the euro zone versus the U.S., but stabilizing.

One concern is that security threats are so broad and varied, stemming from foreign governments to a lot of underground elements, that even though we think we have the right path, we need
to be on our toes.


1 Eileen McDonnell

EILEEN MCDONNELL, CEO, Penn Mutual Insurance

BASED IN HORSHAM TOWNSHIP, PENNSYLVANIA, THE LIFE-INSURANCE PROVIDER REPORTED $1.5 BILLION IN 2014 REVENUE FROM INSURANCE OPERATIONS.

We see great opportunity for continued momentum, outpacing the industry for the seventh consecutive year. As others have sought out global opportunities, we have remained a domestic player. We’re keenly focused on the demographic shifts in the U.S., including the fact that we are staring at the first generation that is going to be primarily responsible for funding their own retirement.

There continues to be opportunity in the U.S. economy. Growth will be slow and there will be some knock-ons driven by the global impacts of China and other economies. The life insurance industry overall continues to recover from 2008.

We’re concerned that the advisor population in our industry is pushing an average of 50 years old, while the census age of the average worker is 37. So the industry has a huge gap of who we
employ in the advisor ranks; therefore we’re getting ahead of the curve in attracting millennial talent.


1 Jody Greenstone Miller

JODY GREENSTONE MILLER, CEO, Business Talent Group

BASED IN NEW YORK CITY, THIS ENTERPRISE IS A $25 MILLION LEADER IN HELPING COMPANIES HARNESS CONTRACTORS AND CONTINGENT EMPLOYMENT.

We see increasing interest at even higher levels of Corporate America in different ways to get work done, so I think our industry will continue to see small growth. I think our company will continue to see strong growth, and we’re looking to partner in a deeper way with our clients.

I think the economy will be more of the same: steady progress, but not anything that’s going to blow anybody away. I don’t think it will be negative in any serious way, but there will be a lot of volatility.

There’s a lot of change in China, and Europe is a mixed bag. But I’m not foreseeing anything dramatic one way or another.

The legal framework in the U.S. around employment law really concerns me. There is enormous uncertainty and confusion around that; and with presidential politics getting into the issue; it’s even less likely to have resolution anytime soon.


1 Jim Peck

JIM PECK, CEO, TransUnion

HEADQUARTERED IN CHICAGO, THE $1.3 BILLION COMPANY PROVIDES CREDIT INFORMATION AND SERVICES AND FILED FOR AN IPO IN 2015.

We are positioned to grow in the U.S. and internationally, given the investments we’ve made in our technology, allowing us to put new solutions in the market for financial institutions, healthcare, insurance and government.

In the U.S. and internationally, things will go up and down; TransUnion is very well positioned regardless. People make decisions about how they do business in any economy. And if times are
tough, people manage their assets more carefully.

Some emerging markets are particularly promising, such as India, where the prime minister is trying to build the middle class—and in virtually every economy that requires a good credit-reporting system. We own the largest credit bureau in India.

I do worry about talent. Our effectiveness is really all about our people. We need to maintain and attract people who understand the technologies but also those who understand our customer
base and are deeply passionate about those verticals.


1 Asher Raphael

ASHER RAPHAEL, Co-CEO, Power Home Remodeling Group

HEADQUARTERED IN CHESTER, PENNSYLVANIA, THE COMPANY IS AMERICA’S SECOND-LARGEST EXTERIOR HOME REMODELER AND POSTED ABOUT $310 MILLION IN 2014 REVENUES.

The recession was a real shock to the entire nation, but confidence is coming back. We don’t anticipate huge growth, but consistent growth like we’ve seen the last two or three years will continue.

The building and home-remodeling industry nationwide will continue to have slow, consistent increases. There is a direct correlation between increased home values and people feeling
comfortable reinvesting in their homes, coupled with increased access to capital.

Our biggest growth years have come during recessions, but we’re expecting really big things now because the industry is on the rise. We’ve also been focused on leadership development. Our
five-year growth plan is to open in 15 more markets. As the economy is coming back, there are some pretty big labor shortages, and some raw materials, such as glass, are difficult to come by. Making sure everything is coming back on all cylinders is the tricky part.