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CEOs Volunteer Economic Advice At CES

1/24/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

LAS VEGAS — Three of the nation’s top CEOs volunteered
their views of America’s education system,
national tax policy and the country’s role in the global
economy, during a panel held at International CES earlier
this month.

The Innovation Power Panel Keynote, moderated by
Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) president/
CEO Gary Shapiro, featured panelists Ursula Burns,
CEO of Xerox; John Chambers, CEO of Cisco; and
Jeff Immelt, GE’s CEO.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way. All three lamented
the state of America’s K-12 education system,
with Ursula Burns giving it a grade of D minus and
Chambers saying it was broken, while Immelt felt the
money spent by corporations on K-12 education was
not well spent.

The trio urged a fundamental rethinking of the American
education system, noting countries around the
world are doing a far better job.

On a more positive note, all three felt the U.S.
higher education system was still the best, but Burns
worried if state budget cuts would hurt this standing.
Chambers said his company hires many graduates of
MIT and Stanford, “but we can’t rest on our laurels.”
Immelt noted America graduates more sports therapists
than engineers and “while a good massage is a
good thing,” more engineers would be better, he said
to laughs from the crammed auditorium.

The group quickly segued to immigration policy
since all three CEOs want to attract the best and the
brightest from around the world. John Chambers said
America’s immigration policy should be a welcome
gate rather than the one now blocking entrepreneurs
from a path to citizenship.

All hoped Congress could separate this aspect of
immigration policy from the hot-button issue of protecting
the borders.

All three saw U.S. tax policy as a major hindrance
to growth — especially for global corporations such
as their own. Chambers said U.S. firms are taxed
twice if they want to repatriate money earned overseas.
“Why would I want to bring money back and
only get 70 cents on the dollar?” He noted that American
corporations have more than $1 trillion overseas
and they’d love to bring it back to invest in their U.S.
businesses. Burns said policy could make this another
stimulus plan.

The global economy was discussed further, and in
a bit of a surprise Germany was put at the top of the
list of one of the countries to watch rather than China.
All were impressed with the country’s laser focus on
exports.

Chambers, who came across as a natural cheerleader
and motivator, said that although America is at
an inflection point, “we have all the cards to win … The
next decade can be very bright.”

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