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Business leaders must grapple with geopolitical risks—and expect to take a stand

August 3, 2021, 10:07 AM UTC

Good morning. David Meyer here in Berlin, filling in for Alan.

The stakeholder-capitalism model essentially holds that companies are responsible to a wider array of players than just their shareholders. But which stakeholders, and in which order of importance?

A new piece of research from the public-relations giant Weber Shandwick suggests many companies place their home countries very high up that list. In our geopolitically exciting times, this has major implications for corporate risk.

According to the survey, 58% of multinational business executives say their home countries are “very” important stakeholders—the same proportion that say the same about their shareholders. Only customers rate higher, with 63% of respondents saying they are very important stakeholders.

National security, rated by 56% of respondents as a “very” important factor in their decision-making, was seen as more important than diversity and inclusion, the protection of human rights, and climate change. And 87% said their companies should be prepared to be more vocal about geopolitical issues in the coming half-decade.

As Weber Shandwick’s EVP of geopolitical strategy and risk, Michelle Giuda, told me, a vast majority (88%) of executives feel that both governments and the public in their home countries “expect them to take the national interest into account in their business decisions.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, this sentiment is particularly pronounced in China.

Of course, this presents business leaders with quite the tightrope to walk. A whopping 82% of survey respondents said their home country’s national security or economic interests should sometimes trump the company’s bottom line—yet exactly the same proportion said a company must do what is in its own best interest to succeed, regardless of national interests. “Whether to prioritize company versus home country interests is the central tension revealed by the research,” Giuda said.

So does this focus on national interests suggest a weakening of globalization? According to Giuda—a former United States Assistant Secretary of State—the takeaway is that globalization has become “exponentially more complex.”

“There is an entirely new risk calculus for business leaders navigating 21st century geopolitical competition,” Giuda said. “Geopolitical risk today isn’t about one-off flare ups that impact business in the short-term. While not insignificant, corporate leaders have a process and already know how to manage those issues. This is about the tectonic shifts taking place in the contest for economic and technological superiority. Now is the time to strategize and prepare.”

Separately but still on the subject of surveys, a new Deloitte poll suggests business travel will indeed pick up in the second half of this year, but won’t reach anywhere near pre-pandemic levels yet. Only a third of companies think they will match or exceed their 2019 travel spend levels by the end of this year, and little more than half think that situation will come around by the final quarter of next year. And, of course, U.S. business travel will remain largely domestic until other parts of the world lift quarantine mandates. You can read more about that here.

More news below. And do read Emma Hinchliffe’s interview with Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman, who discusses SPACs, meme stocks, and Nasdaq’s approach to cryptocurrencies.

David Meyer
@superglaze

david.meyer@fortune.com

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This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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