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20 years inside the mind of the CEO… What’s next?

For the last two decades, PwC has asked business leaders everywhere about the trends reshaping business and society. As we mark the 20th year of our annual CEO survey, we’ve observed just how much the world has changed.

Demographic shifts, rapid urbanisation, a realignment of global economic and business activity, and a scarcity of resources, are among the megatrends affecting the world that we have been studying for the past 20 years. These are the shifts that have affected the CEO’s mindset. Since we began our survey, globalisation and technology have jointly enabled a massive increase in trade and financial flows and global online traffic.

This level of interconnectivity has raised engagement with stakeholders and forced society to think about how information is accessed and consumed. Increased transparency demands a new way of communicating, a higher level of accountability, an elevated approach to leadership, and indeed, a deeper focus on trust, purpose and the inherent human connection that has brought us closer together. But great convergence has come with the potential for great divergence. In last year’s survey, most CEOs foresaw a world divided by multiple beliefs and frameworks. 2016 brought into sharp focus the tangible ways in which these differences play out. Surprising voting results put pressure on established blocs, and today, the global systems which support trade are creaking at the seams. Recent events have also revealed the extent of public discontent over the gap in skills, jobs and income inequality, among a host of local issues that have stemmed from globalisation and technology.

Despite greater interconnectivity, and often as a result of it, sections of the populace feel unheard and under-represented in the decision-making process. There is a growing disconnect from leadership, leading to mistrust and cynicism of traditional bodies, both in public and private sectors. But there is still much to be optimistic about. The pattern of growth in the world is shifting. Indeed, optimism in CEOs remains high relative to the environment. They are focused on growth, leading to greater innovation. Demand remains strong in many emerging markets – and is likely to stay that way for some time to come. This is especially true in Asia, where populations are growing, disposable incomes are rising and urbanisation will likely continue.

Our 20th CEO survey explores what executives in 2017 think about three imperatives: managing man and machine to create a workforce that’s fit for the digital age; preserving organisational trust in a world of increasingly virtual interactions; and making globalisation work for everyone by ensuring the benefits are distributed more fairly.


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