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CEOs Wish for 50-Hour Day as Business Makes Comeback in Davos

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi
PepsiCo Chief Executive Officer Indra Nooyi. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Indra Nooyi, chief executive officer of PepsiCo Inc., wishes “days had 50 hours” to squeeze in a marathon of meetings at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Her view was echoed by company executives from around the world as managers turned back to business amid rising optimism. Seeing the worst of the financial and economic decline behind them, corporate and political leaders at the 41st annual conference in the Swiss ski resort shifted their focus from crisis management to growth, managers said.

“I bumped into a couple of CEOs of rather large companies, and they told me: ‘You know, I haven’t attended a single session, I have one meeting after another,’” Anatoly Chubais, CEO of Moscow-based Russian Nanotechnologies Corp., said this week. “We’re in that stage of climbing out of the crisis, and new deals that go with that are being generated.”

Confidence among CEOs has rebounded to pre-crisis levels, according to a survey of 1,201 managers in 69 countries by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC, released on the eve of the World Economic Forum.

For executives who attended the gathering, which concludes today, that meant a renewed focus on client meetings and networking. JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon, 54, made time to meet with Russian billionaire and United Co. Rusal head Oleg Deripaska. Domenico Siniscalco, who leads Morgan Stanley in Italy and is the country’s former finance minister, said he had about 35 meetings in Davos this year compared with 15 last year.

‘Optimistic Outlook’

“I leave Davos with a much more optimistic outlook than I had when I arrived,” Siniscalco, 56, said in an interview. Asia was “very bullish,” Americans were optimistic and the Europeans appear to have found a “structural solution” for the sovereign-debt crisis, he said.

The global economic recovery is strengthening as the U.S. shows new signs of momentum after emerging markets led the initial rebound from the worst recession since World War II. The International Monetary Fund on Jan. 25 raised its forecast for global growth this year to 4.4 percent from 4.2 percent in October.

That growth, and accompanying gains in global stocks, allowed Davos participants to declare the conference the most optimistic in at least four years.

“There’s a feeling that the economy is doing better, so we are back to business as usual,” Alan Salzman, head of Silicon Valley investment firm VantagePoint Venture Partners, said, warning against a “return to complacency.”

‘Leave Exhausted’

PepsiCo’s Nooyi, 55, had meetings with corporate executives, world leaders and non-governmental organizations. “It’s one place you can meet everybody in a very, very short period of time,” she told Erik Schatzker on Bloomberg Television. “You leave exhausted.”

Mexican President Felipe Calderon, promoting investment in his country at a press conference Jan. 28, announced two deals in Davos: Iberdrola SA, Spain’s biggest utility, plans to spend $365 million to build a cogeneration power plant and wind park in Mexico, and Canada’s Magna International Inc. will invest $100 million to build a factory to produce auto parts.

The contracts reflect optimism among manufacturing, automotive and chemicals industries, which plan to add the most jobs to meet rising demand, according to PwC’s survey. “The big management challenge was to change from crisis management to growth management,” said Juergen Geissinger, head of German roller-bearings maker Schaeffler Group, which may add about 5,000 workers this year.

‘Mood Has Changed’

To be sure, risks to economic growth remain, including inflation in developing nations, deficits in Europe and the U.S. and geopolitical tensions in Tunisia and Egypt. Still, optimism outweighed such concerns for many of the 2,500 executives, policy makers and academics.

“It’s quite obvious the mood has changed,” said Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg. “That is a major point to take home from this conference -- that the world at least economically is in better shape.”

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