The global economy remains uncertain and volatile, which means companies must be ready to adapt quickly as elections in Germany and France will have a lasting impact, said Ulrich Spiesshofer, CEO of ABB Group, the Swiss engineering and automation company.
"For us as industrial leaders, it is very important for us to stay extremely agile," he said in an interview with TheStreet on Tuesday during CERAWeek by IHS Markit. "Brexit has a dampening effect on the European economy and what will come out of the major elections nobody knows at the moment."
The outcome of some of the European elections will have "quite a significant impact" on energy policy on the economies and market, said Spiesshofer.
While the impact of geopolitical tensions on the markets remain unknown, he remains optimistic about many regions of the world which are continuing to expand by adding infrastructure and other projects as the population increases.
The continued growth in China and India as well as Japan's "moderate growth pattern" are all positive indicators. The Middle East is "reinventing itself" as the region ramped up the use of renewable energy five years ago and presents "remarkable opportunities" as many countries are investing in infrastructure, he said. Africa demonstrates underlying opportunities with its strength in its natural resources as the continent represent one of the fastest growing populations, resulting in good market dynamics.
Spiesshofer believes that 2017 will likely emerge as a "transition year" for many regions of the world while the long-term sentiment of the U.S. is "very positive."
ABB has invested over $10 billion over the past six years in North America, strengthening its footprint. Spiesshofer is a fan of the current agenda of the Trump administration to strengthen infrastructure and characterized it as "necessary and good."
"The reshoring of jobs is something that will happen and the automation of technologies will help with competitiveness and productivity," he said.
The future of the U.S. economy appears to be positive, leading the company to increase its investment of its Auburn Hills, Mich. robotics location in February and adding more jobs.
"We are producing U.S. robots for U.S. customers," Spiesshofer said.
The rebound in the automotive sector is promising along with more downstream energy companies such as chemical producers and refineries which are increasing their projects and budgets for capital expenditure.
"I see a pattern of demand which can be very attractive," he said.
This current industrial revolution is different than the previous ones because all industries will be impacted by the opportunities and the faster pace means employees need to be ready to "unlearn and learn a new job," Spiesshofer said.
"That pace of job changes is unprecedented," he said. "The countries and companies that manage it proactively in a smart way will be the winners."
New job categories will emerge such as a machine operator becoming a service technician and company apprenticeship programs are vital to train employees and transition into their new positions.
"We need to be ready to take the people with us and then we can create prosperity," Spiesshofer said.
Automation will work in conjunction with artificial intelligence and will increase the number of jobs, not eliminate them.
"Artificial intelligence will make life more safe, convenience will go up and humans will be focused more on the creativity elements that will always stay with humans," he said. "We will have a different way of focusing on human work."
ABB reported net income of $489 million in the fourth quarter of 2016 compared to $204 million in the fourth quarter of 2015.