2012 CFOs to Watch

Siemens CFO Joe Kaeser argues that multinationals must work to restore confidence in the economy.

Siemens says it’s “addressing the world’s toughest questions” in its corporate brochure, an assertion that is certainly borne out by the views of Joe Kaeser, its CFO since 2006, who joined the company in 1980. As finance chiefs focus on gauging the impact of the European debt crisis on their own businesses, Kaeser believes multinational corporations have an even more fundamental role to play in restoring confidence in the economy. “Our biggest task right now is that we go out to the public and our customer base and work with them on how we can help them finance their projects—and how we can help them to gather more confidence again to invest into the opportunities of the global market,” says Kaeser, who was previously chief strategy officer.

“It is important that all over the world CFOs, CEOs and other industrial leaders go out and provide encouragement to employees as well as to the global society. Politicians and many governments in Europe—and also, I believe, in the U.S.—are just not able to provide the confidence it takes that the economy will resume again and trust is being provided. We need to take on that leadership because we can make it happen.”

As for the obstacles currently looming, Kaeser says the negative effect the European debt crisis could have on the global economy has been heavily overstated. For global companies, he points out, geographical boundaries need not apply. “Greece will always be in Greece—they cannot move to Brazil, or to China or India,” he says. “But we as a global company at any given point in time can reallocate our resources elsewhere in the world. This is a very important differentiation for any global company with a decent footprint—that they can see and access the opportunities that the whole planet brings about.”

Those are certainly opportunities that Siemens will be looking to exploit in the coming year. Kaeser says the biggest growth potential is not to be found in the BRICs—Brazil, Russia, India and China—but in the second-tier emerging markets known as the CIVETS: Columbia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa. In addition to putting local R&D resources in place, the company has introduced academies in some of those markets to train local college graduates in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills required for Siemens jobs.

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