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CEOs pessimistic, and somewhat Eurosceptic Back  
Eighty-eight per cent of chief executives of Ireland’s leading companies believe the economy will deteriorate in 2002, with 25 per cent expecting the deterioration to be significant.

While those surveyed are largely prepared for introduction of the Euro - almost half of the respondents say they are completely prepared at present - they are not so positive about the impact the European Union will have on Irish business. 18 per cent say EU enlargement will have a negative impact on their business, and 46 per cent aren’t sure.

This is according to a survey carried out by Deloitte & Touche in association with Enterprise Ireland for the Forum of Chief Executives. The results were revealed at the Forum of Chief Executives at which Ireland’s senior managers and directors discussed, ‘Driving profitable growth’. Speakers at the Forum included many of Ireland’s top CEOs.

Hugh Friel, chief executive officer designate of the Kerry Group outlined the acquisition strategy of the Kerry Group who have no M&A team. They keep a very close eye on their competitors and identify targets themselves by offers for sale, divisional management and banks’ M&A houses. Valuation of companies is all done in-house, but due diligence is outsourced to Deloitee & Touche and Mercer.

Also speaking was Dan Flinter CEO of Enterprise Ireland. In present market conditions he proposed that ‘intensification of revenue generation’ is the way forward,

Case studies were given by Aine Mizzoni, CEO of E-Learning, and Martin McVicar, managing director of Combilift. The survey found confidence in the economy has fallen significantly from 65 per cent last year, to just 41 per cent this year, and only one per cent of participants believe the economy will improve significantly in 2002.

After a period of huge growth, when the worry was inflation and interest rates, Irish chief executives believe there are turbulent times ahead for the economy in 2002. But they also believe the slowdown will do much to dampen what was a rapidly overheating economy. Despite expectation that the economy is set to deteriorate, 57 per cent of chief executives expect their sales to increase in 2002. However this is not as healthy a figure as last year when 88 per cent of respondents said they expected their sales to rise. Those surveyed say their biggest opportunities will come from within Europe, 43 per cent say that the Euro area represents the greatest opening for them, while 18 per cent mention Eastern Europe. And while the slowdown in the Irish economy is the biggest threat to Irish businesses (34 per cent), 29 per cent of those surveyed said the US economic slowdown would impact their operation.

After the much-reported skills shortage of the last 18 months, according to this year’s CEO Forum survey, human resource issues are no longer a major concern. The number of chief executives agreeing with the statement, ‘Finding and retaining staff will be my number one priority in the coming year’ fell from 90 per cent to just 30 per cent in 2002.

Earlier surveys have indicated that Irish businesses were already taking their first, tentative steps into eBusiness. This year’s survey confirms that a number of companies are transforming all or part of their businesses into eBusinesses. EBusiness now generates revenue for some 51 per cent of responding companies, and 67 per cent of Irish businesses claim to make purchases or obtain supplies over the Internet.

190 companies participated in the survey, with the typical respondent being a CEO in an Irish-based company with a turnover in the euro 6-25 million range, employing 50-250 people.

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