According to KPMG’s CEO Outlook 2021, the CEOs of the largest corporations in Switzerland and around the world are optimistic about the future. Although the Delta variant is slowing down the return to normalcy, executives’ confidence in the global economy has returned to pre-pandemic levels. They view cyber risks, supply chain risks and climate risks as the biggest threats to business growth.

The most recent edition of KPMG’s CEO Outlook, which draws its insights from surveys conducted among more than 1,300 CEOs around the world, reveals that 60 percent of executives are confident about the growth prospects of the global economy over the next three years. Forty-two percent felt this way at the start of the year. Only one of every ten CEOs expects growth prospects to decline.

Inorganic growth as the key to success

The prospect of a stronger global economy is prompting CEOs to invest in expansion and business transformation, with 69 percent of senior management focusing on inorganic growth strategies such as joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) as well as strategic alliances. Whereas 24 percent of CEOs at the global level indicated that mergers and acquisitions will be their most important pillar for business growth in the next three years, this view was held by merely 12 percent of executives at Swiss companies, which will be focusing more strongly on joint ventures. In fact, 24 percent of Swiss executives named joint ventures as their most important growth strategy compared with just 11 percent of CEOs worldwide.

Even though most CEOs do not consider M&As to be a key driver of their business growth, the appetite for corporate acquisitions and mergers, both in Switzerland and around the world, is still high: 87 percent of CEOs around the world indicated a desire to make acquisitions over the next three years in order to give their company’s growth and transformation a boost. In Switzerland, every CEO surveyed actually indicated that they were certain or likely to acquire companies (or shares of companies).

Supply chain harbors biggest growth risks

Global executives identified cyber security, supply chain and climate change risks (each cited by 12 percent) as the top risks jeopardizing growth. These are attributed even greater importance by CEOs in Switzerland, where nearly a quarter of executives indicated that risks in the supply chain pose the biggest threat to business growth, followed by cyber security risks (cited by 20 percent) as well as climate change and regulatory risks (16 percent each).

Supply chain risks in Switzerland do actually seem higher than the global average with 76 percent of CEOs in Switzerland indicating that their supply chain had been under more pressure over the past 18 months compared to just 56 percent globally. The countermeasure favored by CEOs in Switzerland is a regional diversification of their value chain (47 percent of responses; 30 percent globally), whereas CEOs globally are also considering moving the value creation steps into their own countries, a process known as onshoring (19 percent of responses). Onshoring does not seem to be a consideration among executives in Switzerland (0 percent of responses).

On the other hand, CEOs overwhelmingly consider the disruptive potential of new technologies as more of an opportunity than a threat (76 percent agree). This holds particularly true with respect to the CEOs of Swiss companies: 96 percent view technological disruption as an opportunity for their own company.

Greater need for information on ESG issues

Addressing social and environmental issues that extend beyond their own core business has become increasingly pivotal to companies’ success. Fifty-eight percent of CEOs worldwide rate the public’s need for information regarding ESG issues as high to very high compared with 68 percent of the CEOs of Swiss companies. While CEOs worldwide mainly feel that this development is being driven by institutional investors, CEOs in Switzerland view the regulator as the driving force. Given the growing importance of ESG, executives are highly willing to invest in in-house programs that promote more sustainable business management. Only 5 percent of respondents indicated that they are not investing any funds in programs of this nature.

Reducing office space takes a back seat

Not only has the coronavirus pandemic brought changes to companies’ opportunities and risks, but also the manner in which and location where employees add value. Contrary to last year's statements, only 21 percent of CEOs worldwide said they had reduced or want to reduce their companies’ office space (12 percent in Switzerland). This stands in stark contrast to the 2020 survey, in which 69 percent of CEOs around the globe indicated an interest in reducing their physical footprint. Accordingly, executives’ focus has shifted away from reducing office space and toward offering their employees greater flexibility to combine the advantages of both worlds: working from the office and working from home. For example, 37 percent of global executives said they had implemented or intend to implement a hybrid working model for their employees. In Switzerland, as many as 52 percent of executives said they were using or introducing this kind of hybrid model.

Methodology

In its annual CEO Outlook, KPMG examines the outlook of chief executives on a variety of topics such as growth, sustainability and digitalization. In 2021, it surveyed 1,325 CEOs of companies around the world with more than USD 500 million in revenue. Twenty-five CEOs of Swiss companies also took part in the survey.

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