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The KPMG 2021 CEO Outlook finds CEOs focused on being plugged-in, people-first and purpose-led to grow their organizations.

The survey draws on perspectives of 1,325 CEOs across 11 major markets as they look to play a central part in rebuilding the economy and society. As they manage the impact of COVID-19, they’re optimistic about the economic recovery and continue to put an emphasis on leading with purpose. At the same time, critical societal issues — particularly climate change and inequality — are major challenges.

It is promising to see renewed confidence and optimism after such a turbulent period of uncertainty. CEOs today recognize the need to lead by example and serve as drivers of positive change, and it is clear they are more than willing to embrace the challenges ahead.




Datuk Johan Idris,
Managing Partner
KPMG in Malaysia




1. The road to renewal

CEOs are optimistic and confident—more so than they have been in the past year and a half.

Since the past year, CEOs have been on the offensive to protect the health and well-being of their employees, make big decisions amid uncertainty, adapt their leadership approach in a virtual environment and prepare for the post-pandemic era.

In our Pulse survey earlier this year, 59 percent of CEOs in Asia Pacific (ASPAC) only foresaw a return to normal business operations in 2022, with 35 percent saying that their business had changed forever.

As the world starts paving the way towards recovery, the perspectives and confidence of CEOs have shifted with a little over half (59 percent) of CEOs in ASPAC confident about the growth prospects of the global economy over the next 3 years. 

CEOs who are confident in the growth prospects of the global economy:

KPMG!

Year 2020

22 %

Asia Pacific


KPMG!

Year 2020

32 %

Global


KPMG!

Year 2021

59 %

Asia Pacific


KPMG!

Year 2021

60 %

Global


(Source: KPMG 2020 CEO Outlook: COVID-19 Special Edition - Asia Pacific highlights)

Supply chains top the list of risks

Since the past year, supply chain risks have been steadily climbing up the ranks as the top risk for CEOs. This time, CEOs in ASPAC identified supply chain risk as their top risk followed by cyber security and emerging/ disruptive technology risks.

This is unsurprising as 66 percent of CEOs in ASPAC stated their supply chains have been under increasing stress over the past 18 months. 

2. Trusted purpose

Now, more than ever, people care about what the organizations they support stand for.

Corporate purpose has transformed into a business imperative. CEOs feel they need to create long-term value for all stakeholders, including customers, employees, investors and communities.

Last year, CEOs around the world responded to the COVID-19 crisis by putting even more focus on Purpose and that remains unchanged in this year’s survey.

CEO

Making ESG count

The survey also shows that a significant number (70 percent) of ASPAC CEOs are seeing increasing demand from stakeholders for increased reporting and transparency on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issue. However, 42 percent stated that a key challenge when communicating their ESG performance to stakeholders is the struggle to create a compelling ESG story.

Making progress on ESG issues will require connected action from both businesses and government, and 80 percent of CEOs in ASPAC agree that large corporations have the resources to help governments find solutions to pressing global challenges while 81 percent agree that government stimulus is required to turbo charge climate investments being made by the business community.

3. Digital agility

CEOs recognize the need for continued flexibility as people return to work.

CEOs recognize that the future of work is about more than where people are based. Interestingly, only 18 percent of ASPAC CEOs now say they are planning to downsize, or have already downsized, their organization’s physical footprint. Last year, 75 percent had stated their intention to downsize their space.

However, CEOs are focused on enabling flexible operations. Though 34 percent say that they will have majority of employees working remotely at least two days a week, 41 percent are looking to invest in shared office spaces and 38 percent will look to hire talent that works predominantly remotely

People are still top of mind for CEOs, as 57 percent will be focusing on a culture and policies that foster a better work-life balance for employees and 49 percent state investing in digital training, development and upskilling to ensure employees’ skills remain future-focused a key success factor to ensure employees are engaged, motivated and productive in a world where hybrid work is increasingly common. 

Methodology

The KPMG 2021 CEO Outlook provides an in-depth 3-year outlook from 1,325 global leaders of major organizations on enterprise and economic growth.

This latest research is part of the KPMG CEO Outlook series, which offers a unique perspective on the mindset shift of global CEOs over the lifetime of the COVID-19 pandemic and looking forward to post-pandemic recovery. As well as this survey, which took place in July and early August, we also conducted a CEO Outlook pulse survey of 500 chief executives in February and March of this year. This allows us to examine how CEO thinking has evolved over the course of 2021.

The July/August 2021 survey included leaders from Malaysia and 11 key markets (Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Spain, the UK and the US) and 11 key industry sectors.