CEO: Economy's too shaky to gamble on more jobs

Unemployment in September stayed right where it was Friday at 9.1 percent -- stuck in the nines now for 27 of the past 29 months. The economy did gain 103,000 jobs, but that is a drop in the bucket when you consider the net job loss since the recession began is 6,649,000. CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason offers insight on why businesses aren't hiring.

David Cote heads Honeywell, a $33-billion company. As CEO, he presides over more than 130,000 employees around the world. In late summer at Honeywell's New Jersey headquarters, Cote grew concerned as the debt ceiling debate paralyzed Washington.

"In August I talked with my entire staff -- everyone of my business leaders -- and said 'Slow everything down. Slow your hiring plans. Make sure you really take a good look at all spending.'"

Honeywell makes everything from fire safety systems to airplane technology. Cote said business is holding up, but he's still being cautious.

"Are you back to hiring now or not?" Mason asked Cote.

"No we're in the same mode that we were in before."

"So you're operating under the possibility of a recession."

"Sure. There could very well be a recession. We just don't know."

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At the same time, Cote knows caution itself can paralyze the economy.

"If all of us do that, which is the prudent thing to do, then you can get exactly what you were trying to avoid," he said.

"You talk yourself into a recession," remarked Mason.

"Yeah, it happens."

The Honeywell CEO got a close-up look at the capital's bitter politics when the president appointed him to his commission on fiscal reform last year.

"You gained an insight into Washington most people don't have. What did that show you?" Mason asked.

"I said to those guys more than once," said Cote, "because we had good people on the commission. I told them, 'I don't know how you get your jobs done down here' because everything is ruled by what I call the three H's: hysteria, histrionics and hyperbole. They take what should be a logical discussion and make it ridiculous."

Cote said it's up to Washington to set the tone that will make businesses confident enough to hire again.

"We need an American competitiveness agenda and we don't have it. We just argue."

Cote sees the economy headed for slow growth, not a recession. But he said he can't afford to be wrong.

CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley asked Mason what would take David Cote and others to start hiring again.

"Cote says -- and I've heard other businesses say this -- that if Congress could agree on a clear plan for dealing with the debt, that would go a long way to restoring confidence," said Mason. "But unless business is booming, nobody wants to take the risk of hiring."

  • Anthony Mason

    CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"

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