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Last year, CEOs were put to the test as they were forced to adapt their business operations to evolving market forces beyond their control and anticipate how the new reality would unfold. One year on and over one-third (35%) of CEOs surveyed in Asia Pacific consider their business model changed forever. 

According to the 2021 KPMG CEO Outlook Pulse Survey, 31% of CEOs worldwide anticipate that a return to ‘normal’ will happen later this year. Interestingly, only 6% of CEOs in Asia Pacific predict a return to ‘normal’ by this year with a significant majority (59%) envisioning it will only happen sometime in 2022.

Amidst this somber outlook, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is providing leaders with a much-needed dose of optimism. However, perhaps wearied from the continued upheaval, CEOs want to be confident that their workforce is protected against this virus before making major business decisions.

CEOs surveyed in Asia Pacific revealed:

  •  71% are relying on a successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout – where at least half of the population is vaccinated – before asking their staff to return to offices.
  • 59% indicated concern about their employees’ access to a COVID-19 vaccine.
  •  35% considered misinformation on the safety of the vaccine their most pressing concern regarding vaccine distribution.
  • A significant majority (92%) intend to ask employees to report when they have been vaccinated, which may help organizations consider measures to protect their workforce.
  • 68% want to see government encouragement or enablement as a prompt to return to a normal course of business.

Now that vaccines are made available, there is tremendous pressure for CEOs to plan and execute visionary strategies that will navigate their business away from choppy seas and realize growth plans that had been put on hold. But this becomes a complex exercise when CEOs are forced to scenario plan for certain key markets that may experience vaccine shortages which could impact their operations, supply chains and people, leading to uneven economic recovery.

Never before has there been such reliance on good leadership. Agility and ability to adapt become the bare minimum in order to survive this pandemic – this new reality is not for the faint hearted.

I strongly believe that purpose-driven leadership is the key, and our survey revealed that most CEOs realize this importance. A majority (95%) reported that their purpose has helped them understand what they need to do to meet the needs of their employees, communities, customers, partners and investors. Nearly all (99 percent) are looking to upweight their focus towards the social component of their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) programs.

While the world as we know it may never return to the way it was before COVID-19, it is clear that we must continue to adapt and stay ahead of the waves of change. This pandemic represents an opportunity to define a better reality for everyone. As CEOs, we must make the courageous decision to rethink how we work, live and interact with one another, and reshape a resilient future together, for better.