What Executives Worry About

Keeping customers happy tops the list, a new survey finds. Plus: amid tensions with Iraq, U.N. names new finance chief.
Lisa YoonNovember 13, 2002

What keeps you up at night? If it’s the constant parade pesky sales people giving you their latest pitches, a new survey for sales executives might offer sweet relief. The survey “How Executives Buy,” released today by organizational training company The Real Learning Co., attempts to help sales executives sell by getting into the mind of CFOs and other executive buyers.

When asked what keeps them up at night, executives’ number one answer was improving customer satisfaction (73 percent). Close runners up included operational excellence (70 percent) — which in a recession means doing more with less — and hiring and retaining talent (64 percent).

The study also looks at executives’ attitudes toward salespeople. When asked what they look for most in salespeople, executives named honesty and integrity, accountability, business savvy, and an understanding of their business as the top qualities. However, before going into a meeting, the overwhelming majority of executives (82 percent) said they want salespeople to understand their company’s business drivers.

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Other executive peeves about salespeople include unannounced visits from people they don’t know: 70 percent said they only meet with people who were referred by someone they respect.

Once in the first meeting, 40 percent of executives will only give salespeople five minutes to show they understand the company and its needs. And they don’t do small talk. “Don’t ask about my family and kids,” one president of a manufacturer responded. “It shows you’re not using my time well.”

CFOs on the Move

Catherine Bertini, former head of United Nations World Food Program, was named finance chief and top management official of the United Nations Tuesday.

During her 10 years at the Rome, Italy-based WFP, Bertini was credited with modernizing administration at the humanitarian organization to improve its efficiency. Under her watch, the WFP, the world’s largest voluntarily-funded humanitarian organization, trimmed its overhead costs to eight percent — among the lowest of U.N.’s programs. In 2001, the program’s funding reached a record $1.9 billion. This year, the WFP’s executive board commended Bertini for her internal reforms at the agency.

She also traveled extensively, meeting with government leaders and people in need, as part of her mandate to assess humanitarian conditions and implement effective measures to deal with hunger.

The second woman to hold the post of undersecretary-general for management at the U.N., Bertini succeeds Joseph Connor, the former Price Waterhouse chairman, whom U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan credits with leading the organization through a serious financial crisis during the 1990s.

The organization’s bloated bureaucracy had become so severe that the U.S. refused to pay its membership dues until the U.N. addressed its problems. Connor spearheaded those management reforms under Annan. He is retiring as of December 1 after eight years on the job.

Though the job may not exactly be “CFO of the world,” it does present a scope of responsibilities befitting the top finance post of an organization representing nations around the world. Despite Connor’s achievements, Bertini’s tenure will be marked with its own financial challenges, including a constant budget shortfall and the proposed renovation of the U.N. headquarters building in New York.

Other priorities will include improving the U.N.’s communication and information technology, stepping up the organization’s efforts to attain gender-balanced workforce, and improving coordination between the U.N.’s myriad funds and programs. She will also continue revamping the U.N.’s budget processes and HR management.