The Conference Board

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The Conference Board

The Conference Board

Audit and Consulting

Description

The Conference Board is a 501(c)(3) non-profit business membership and research group organization. It counts over 1,000 public and private corporations and other organizations as members, encompassing 60 countries. The Conference Board convenes conferences and peer-learning groups, conducts economic and business management research, and publishes several widely tracked economic indicators.

History

The organization was founded in 1916 as the National Industrial Conference Board (NICB). At the time, tensions between labor and management in the United States were seen as potentially explosive in the wake of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 and the Ludlow Massacre in 1914. In 1915 presidents of twelve major corporations in the United States and six leading industry associations met in Yama, New York to formulate the business community's response to continued labor unrest and growing public criticism.

After additional crisis meetings, the National Industrial Conference Board was officially founded May 5, 1916, at the Hotel Gramatan in Bronxville, New York. Although many of the organizations’ founders—including former AT&T president Frederick P. Fish and General Electric executive Magnus W. Alexander, its first president—had supported the open-shop movement, by 1916 they regarded national unions such as the American Federation of Labor as permanent fixtures of the American economy, and urged negotiation and concord.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, the National War Labor Board formed by President Woodrow Wilson asked the NICB to formulate plans that would keep war industries running and strife-free. Its recommendations—based on cooperation between representatives of employers, employees, and government—were adopted in full. During and after the war, the NCIB conducted pioneering research into workers' compensation laws and the eight-hour workday, and established the U.S. Cost of Living Index. Though often mistrusted in its early years as an “employers union” funding studies against the labor movement, the non-profit NICB was also seen “as a spokesman for the so-called progressive wing of the business community produced hundreds of research reports on economic and social issues facing the United States.”

The organization today remains funded by the contributions of members, often Fortune 500 companies. By the 1930s, however, it had already lost most of its character as an industry lobby. Virgil Jordan, a writer and economist who replaced Alexander as president on the latter's death in 1932, established a Bureau of Economic Audit and Control to offer members and the public an independent source of studies on unemployment, pensions, healthcare, and related issues in the midst of the Great Depression, when many questioned the credibility of the government's economic statistics. Unions soon joined the NICB alongside corporations for access to its research, conferences, and executive network.

The organization is now considered an unbiased “trusted source for statistics and trends, second only to perhaps the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics”. After World War II, The Conference Board—the shortened name adopted in 1970—expanded to non-U.S. members for the first time. Today, it has offices in Brussels, Beijing, Mumbai, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The Conference Board of Canada was spun off as an independent non-profit in 1981.

In 1996, the US Department of Commerce selected The Conference Board to produce and distribute the US leading economic indicator series. This was the first time a US Government agency entrusts a major economic series to a private organization. Today, The Conference Board produces indicators for the US, Euro Area and eleven other countries. The composite economic indexes are designed to signal peaks and troughs in the business cycle.

In 2002, after an epidemic of business scandals, The Conference Board Commission on Public Trust and Private Enterprise is convened. Composed of a blue-ribbon panel of respected leaders from both the private and the public sectors, many of the Commission's recommendations were voluntarily adopted by leading companies and continue as best practices in corporate governance.

In 2006, The Conference Board established its China Center for Economic and Business in Beijing as a resource for senior executives with a significant strategic interest in China's fast-evolving economy through events, publications, indicators, and peer-group CEO Council sessions. In 2008, The Conference Board likewise opened its first Indian office, in Mumbai.

In 2007, The Conference Board took over publication of the Total Economy Database and two years later began release an annual Global Economic Outlook series that now encompasses annual growth projections for over 65 economies.

The Conference Board assumed control of the International Labor Comparisons (ILC) program, formerly a division of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013 due to across-the-board federal spending cuts. ILC produces internationally comparative datasets on labor conditions, productivity, income, and more using the same concepts and methodology as those previously used by BLS.

In January 2015, the Committee for Economic Development (CED) merged with The Conference Board as its US public-policy center headquartered in Washington, DC. The Conference Board celebrated 100 years of operation in 2016, followed by CED's 75th anniversary in 2017.In 2018, The Conference Board expanded its global footprint further by launching the Gulf Center for Economics and Business Research, based in Kuwait.

In 2020, amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, The Conference Board launched a dedicated online hub and resource center for helping businesses navigate its unprecedented economic, human capital, ESG, public policy and communications challenges.

The Conference Board has likewise emerged as a national voice on the role of American business in advancing U.S. racial, social, and economic equity. Since March 2020, its Building a More Civil and Just Society series has convened panels, personal interviews, and a three-day virtual conference on the intertwined challenges of racism, economic opportunity, early childhood education, healthcare access, corporate governance, and equality in the workplace. The series has featured dozens of Fortune 500 CEOs and other executives, including Ken Chenault, Ron Williams, Julie Sweet, Dan Schulman, Michael J. Dowling, Marc Morial, Jo Kirchner, and Steve Odland.

In 2021 The Conference Board launched CEO Perspectives, a twice-monthly podcast hosted by its President & CEO, Steve Odland. The conversations feature thought leaders discussing an array of topics relevant to business executives.

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