Las Vegas - After sitting through the Innovation Power Panel Keynote at the Hilton Theater here you could be exhilarated or profoundly depressed.
Three of the nation's top CEOs gave their views on America's education system, national tax policy and the country's role in the global economy, during a panel moderated by Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) president/CEO Gary Shapiro. The participants were Xerox CEO Ursula Burns; John Chambers, Cisco CEO; and Jeffrey Immelt, GE 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 could 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 comes 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."