Talent and supply chain risks along with cybersecurity challenges are among the top threats to business growth amid the COVID-19 crisis, according to a study of CEOs

The priorities and concerns of the CEOs of some of the world’s most influential companies have changed in a matter of few months, said KPMG in a report focusing on the evolving priorities of business leaders in 2020.

The KPMG 2020 CEO Outlook: Covid-19 special edition initially surveyed 1,300 CEOs around the world in early 2020, before the full impact of lockdowns was felt. Then, in July and August, the firm conducted a follow-up survey of 315 CEOs, including the CEOs of the companies, to gauge how opinion had changed.

Highlighting the change in priorities, Nader Haffar, Chairman and CEO of KPMG Lower Gulf (the UAE and Oman), said: “As the pandemic unfolded, we saw many leaders re-thinking their organizations’ purpose, while ensuring employees’ wellbeing and doubling down on digitalization efforts. Aligned with accelerated digital transformation, a key priority is ensuring that talent pipeline can meet new demands. Corporate purpose is being redefined so organisations can contribute solutions to the many difficulties the world faces.”

The Covid-19 crisis has served to redefine leadership and reorient CEOs’ priorities. The KPMG report outlines CEO concerns – including talent and geopolitical risk. In January, CEOs ranked talent risk behind 11 other risks to growth. However, since the start of the pandemic, talent has risen to be named as the most significant, perceived threat to their business, ahead of supply chain and environmental risk.

In the survey conducted after the onset of the pandemic, the UAE-based CEOs indicated their sense of purpose has helped them better understand what they need to do to meet the needs of their stakeholders.

Mohamed Alabbar, founder of Emaar Properties, retains faith in people’s innate altruism. “During today’s harsh and violent attack on humanity, the only hope is humanity. People will and always have overcome difficulties. From a business perspective, we have to go back to basics. We must be closer to our customers, take care of our people, and manage our debt and cash. For me, it comes down to attracting and retaining the best talent in the world,” the report said quoting Alabbar.

Eight in ten (79 percent) CEOs around the world felt a stronger emotional connection to their organization’s purpose since the crisis began, it sid This may be because four in ten (39 percent) have had their health, or the health of one of their family, affected by Covid-19, and over half (55 percent) changed their strategic response to the pandemic as a result. 

A majority of global CEOs are now engaging more with local communities where their work is based – a sign the pandemic has shifted priorities inward, it said, adding that numerous companies played a significant role in their country’s response to the pandemic - from developing products and services for front-line workers to financial contributions. 

At the beginning of the year, the KPMG survey found CEOs were increasingly prepared to personally lead the way in tackling society’s major challenges: around two-thirds (63 percent) said the public is looking to businesses to fill the void on societal challenges.

At the same time, 76 percent of global CEOs, with a comparable sentiment among their UAE-based counterparts, said they had a personal responsibility to be a ‘leader for change on societal issues’. This development has propelled environmental and social goals (ESG) to the top of the agenda for chief executives.

While the Covid-19 crisis slowed down global economic growth, the CEOs are more confident in growth prospects over the coming three years, according to the report. In part, this stems from greater control over levers that determine this, such as digital acceleration.

Many CEOs around the world are betting on digital transformation to make their companies more operationally resilient, agile and customer-focused and ready to handle the rising cybersecurity risks. A majority (80 percent) of leaders have seen the digital transformation of their businesses accelerating during the pandemic, from customer experience, business model innovation and workforce, to the operating model.

(Writing by Syed Atique Naqvi; editing by Seban Scaria)


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© ZAWYA 2020