What 1400 CEOs are worrying about

As fears of recession and a more complex trade environment continue to grow, CEOs across the globe are focusing on the top challenges they can directly impact.

Reports by Gartner and The Conference Board look at global concerns, while KPMG’s report focuses on the concerns of UK CEOs.

Recession and trade, disruption and talent

The Conference Board’s poll of 800 global CEOs found that recession was now the top external concern of CEOs in almost every region, with trade uncertainty following shortly after.

Internally, CEOs had 3 areas of concern:

1. Attracting and retaining top talent

  • More emphasis on building lasting company culture
  • Making the organisation attractive
  • Constantly measure and improve people metrics in attrition, diversity and engagement

2. Creating new business models because of disruptive technologies

  • Emphasise solution-selling
  • Short-term priorities balanced with long term success
  • New thinking and innovation

3. Developing next generation leaders

  • Investment in succession planning
  • Investment in continuous development and future-proofing new roles
  • Creating an environment of new learning and education in a digital landscape

Expanding growth, investing in tech, developing people

Gartner’s 2019 CEO and Senior Business Executive Survey surveyed 473 business leaders, and their findings support The Conference Board’s poll. The top areas of concern were

1. Growth

  • 53% of respondents identified a need to find new ways to grow in the face of increasingly challenging business conditions
  • The top 2 ways to grow were though increasing their geographic reach and expanding their digital business

2. Technology

  • 47% of respondents identified investing in technology to increase productivity as a top priority
  • 23% identified cost management through technology enablement as a top priority

3. Workforce

  • 31% identified improving digital skills across their corporate workforce
  • 21% identified workforce development, retention and attraction as a top priority

Resilience, transformation & reinvention

As part of their 2019 Global CEO outlook, KMPG spoke to 150 UK CEOs. Their focus was on tech disruption, creating new business ecosystems and building a stronger culture of innovation.

1. Seeking resilience in a disrupted age

  • UK CEOs have very high confidence (87%) in the UK economy…
  • But only 43% are confident about the prospects of the global economy – significantly more pessimistic than the global average
  • Emerging/disruptive tech is seen as the greatest risk to UK businesses
  • 59% of UK businesses see themselves as a disruptor in their sector – up 15% from 2018

2. Leading in uncertain times & driving digital transformation

  • New routes to growth: 42% now have strategic alliances – the highest globally
  • 77% want to build an innovation culture from within, yet only 57% feel that culture is in place
  • 87% are actively transforming their leadership teams

3. Change from within: organisation-wide digital reinvention

  • 55% of CEOs plan to upskill more than half their workforce
  • 17% of organisations now use AI, up from 3% last year
  • 65% agree their organisation is well-prepared for a cyber attack


Whilst some differences exist across these the UK and US surveys, 3 inter-related themes emerge:

1. Growth in the face of disruption and uncertainty, through increased digitalisation of the business and building partnerships that increase geographic reach

2. Developing greater technical skills and improved technology in the workforce, to combat cyber attacks, support digital growth plans and drive productivity growth

3. Transforming leadership, through enhanced digital skills, agile ways of working and more robust succession development

KPMG reported that 62% of CEOs felt they would have a tenure of only 5 years. For businesses to capture growth and continue to succeed, it’s urgent that CEOs take action.

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