Professor John Graham

What’s the Business Forecast?

Want to know where the economy is heading and what to expect for hiring and spending? Ask the people who control the money.

For almost two decades, Duke's Fuqua School of Business has surveyed chief financial officers as part of the Global Business Outlook survey. The survey gathers responses from senior financial executives at national and global companies to gauge levels of optimism and to identify trends in corporate business plans, like spending and growth, based on current topical events, such as immigration reform or currency crises.

The global reach of the survey has significantly expanded in recent years, now spanning North America, Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Europe.  

"Each year, the economy becomes more intertwined globally," said survey director and finance professor John Graham, "To understand the business climate in any one country, you really need to know what is happening all over the world. The CFO survey provides this information by taking the pulse of business all around the globe."  

"We're a global business school," said Kevin Anselmo, Director of Public Relations at Fuqua, "so it's great to have global research to show."

Both Fuqua and Duke alumni have been an important part in helping to grow the survey, which is one of the largest of its kind with more than 1,000 CFO responses. 

"Our alumni have been vital to the research," Graham said. "We have tapped them to get participation from those in senior financial roles, and to spread the word about the survey within their networks even if they aren't a CFO or financial executive."

Graham encourages alumni, particularly those abroad or with useful connections, to contact him to find out how they can get involved.

"We look to alumni to help spread the word," Graham said. "Conducting the survey takes a lot of work, but it is unique research."

One of the reasons the survey is so unique is its ability to predict the future of corporate policy, spending and employment, payout policies, dividends, and other relevant corporate decisions for the upcoming quarter and year. In most cases, the survey is a quarter ahead of other economic indicators. 

"The information we ascertain from these surveys is relevant not only to CFOs' current regions," Graham said, "but also to the regions they do business with and the global business climate as a whole. It's not quite a crystal ball, but it gives a very good sense of the business outlook."

"This ability to predict the future is what sets the survey apart from many other sources of data," said Campbell Harvey, J. Paul Sticht Professor of International Business and a founding director of the survey. "Government statistics and most other studies focus on the past, while the Global Business Outlook predicts the future. It's not quite a crystal ball, but it gives a very good sense of where the economy is heading."  

The Duke/CFO Magazine Global Business Outlook Survey is a valuable source of content for the classroom as well. Fuqua students view the material in a context that marries theory and practice, and the survey has been cited in top textbooks. Graham even notes that his daughter, attending another business school, discussed the survey in a recent class. 

This survey isn't just making an impact in academia. 
"We regularly have people from the Federal Reserve and other central banks taking note and citing the survey," Anselmo said. 

While the impact in Washington is important, the media attention and reach into important global financial organizations promotes the Fuqua brand. 

"It's really getting Fuqua out there," Graham said. "As we recruit students and try to develop relationships with business executives from other countries, we can point to this as an authentic connection and interest in their regions. It's building our reputation as a business school of relevance as we create the bridge between academic theory and what is happening in the world."

Check out the results from the most recent survey.

If you would like to participate in the survey or have recommendations for respondents, contact Professor John Graham