Fortune 500 CEO survey: Companies are getting some nice surprises on profits and revenue

May 21, 2021, 9:30 AM UTC

CEOs of the Fortune 500 say 2021 is turning out to be a better year, in terms of both revenues and profits, than they would have predicted before the pandemic.

In Fortune’s annual survey of the 500 top leaders, timed for the release of the new Fortune 500 list June 2, 53% of the CEOs responding said their companies’ revenue was “significantly stronger than I expected during the pandemic,” and 51% said their profits were significantly stronger. Only 17% said revenue was weaker than they had expected before the pandemic, and only 14% said profits were weaker than they had expected.

The CEOs overwhelmingly see the U.S. as having the best investment opportunities for the next year, with 83% choosing it as their top venue for investment, and only 12% choosing China. And they are decidedly mixed on the prospects for their China businesses. Some 23% of the CEOs said they “are reducing our exposure to the Chinese market because of concern about political and reputational risk,” while 28% said they “are increasing our exposure to the Chinese market because of business opportunity.” Another 31% said they are not involved with the Chinese market in a significant way.

The biggest risk

In a question provided by Zurich North American Insurance, the CEOs were asked to rank their top concerns about managing risk. Cybersecurity risk was chosen as the top concern by two-thirds of the CEOs, far exceeding the 17% who chose “political instability” as their top concern or the 12% who chose “lack of resiliency” in the face of climate change, pandemics, and other threats.

The survey was conducted on the Survey Monkey platform and sent directly by email to all 500 CEOs, with a response rate of 14%. Some other results:

Office space: 51% said that in the future they will need “a little less office space than we had in 2019,” while 22% said they will need “a lot less office space than we had in 2019.” Only 7% envisioned needing more office space.

The race to net-zero: 36% said they have published a climate plan to achieve zero emissions by 2050 or sooner, and 44% said they are “considering” such a plan. Only 12% said they “have no plans to adopt a 2050 ‘net zero’ plan.”

Vaccinations: Only 10% say they will require vaccinations for workers returning to the office, with some exceptions for medical reasons; 59% said they won’t require vaccinations, and 31% are undecided.

How remote to go: Only 3% say they believe remote work of 4 days a week or more is “optimal” for their company. The majority—53%—believe a hybrid approach, with 2 or 3 days in the office and 2 or 3 days at home, is optimal. And 39% of CEOs believe 4 days a week or more in the office is optimal.

No to crypto: 93% say they have no plans to use cryptocurrency either as a form of payment or as an asset on their balance sheet in the next two years.

A version of this article appears in the June/July 2021 issue of Fortune with the headline, “The CEO outlook: Upbeat in the C-suite.”

Fortune 500 CEO Poll conducted May 3-14.  Risk question provided by survey sponsor, Zurich North America Insurance.

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