2019 U.S. CEO Outlook (Agile or Irrelevant: Redefining Resilience)

2019 U.S. CEO Outlook


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Building a resilient organization

U.S. CEOs face a choice: agility or irrelevance. A majority of the 400 U.S. CEOs we surveyed for this year’s CEO Outlook told us that being too slow can lead to obsolescence, a marked increase from those who thought so last year. What has changed? The answer is clear: The speed of change is only getting faster.

How best to build a resilient company? As CEOs are embarking on aggressive, mostly inorganic growth, they need to bear in mind that resilience means being able to change at the right speed—and in such a way that the company endures. And that means building a resilient company on the foundation of innovation, and not simply doing things faster. It is crucial for resilience to comprehensively encompass all relevant areas of the organization: its technology and its people, equally.

In this year’s CEO Outlook, CEOs and KPMG LLP leaders share their perspectives on the best way to build resilience. It is a process that often takes recalibrating timelines and expectations, understanding the opportunities and potential pitfalls of technologies, and making choices between what to disrupt and what to protect. The wrong choice in any of these areas can lead to irrelevance. We hope that you will find this report useful as you build resilient organizations.

"As CEOs are embarking on aggressive, mostly inorganic growth, they need to bear in mind that resilience means being able to change at the right speed—and in such a way that the company endures.”

Key findings

Resilient growth: Positive outlook and tempered optimism

U.S. CEOs are more positive about the economic outlook for the next three years than all CEOs in the global survey. They are, however, cognizant of the potential threats to globalization that may hamper their growth outlooks. A majority (81 percent) plan to pursue inorganic growth, favoring strategic alliances and M&A.

Redefining resilience: The disruption dilemma

Fewer CEOs than last year (73 percent compared with 86 percent in 2018) claim that rather than waiting to be disrupted by competitors, their organizations are actively disrupting the sectors in which they operate. At the same time, 76 percent agree that their growth relies on their ability to challenge and disrupt any business norm.

Redefining resilience: Agile or irrelevant

Agility has emerged as a critical capability. Sixty-eight percent of U.S. CEOs believe that it is a do-or-die for business—that being too slow can lead to obsolescence. Agility requires maturity in innovation processes: Sixty-three percent agree that over the next three years they need to improve their innovation processes and execution.

Technology resilience: Realistic timeframes and more acceptance of AI

Technology is a big part of today’s CEOs’ agendas, with 89 percent feeling personally responsible for leading technology strategies in their organizations. Artificial intelligence (AI) has an impact on the organization and on CEOs’ decision making. CEOs have become more realistic about the scope, timeframes and returns on AI implementation, but at the same time are becoming more enthusiastic about AI-driven decisions.

Technology resilience: The beginning of an integrated approach in cyber security

U.S. CEOs view cyber risk very much as part of technology risk. In fact, 44 percent of those who consider emerging or disruptive technologies as the greatest threat to their organization’s growth classify cyber security risk as its cause. Another 16 percent point to cyber security risk itself as their organization’s top threat. This helps align cyber with enterprise risk, which is a good sign given that fewer U.S. CEOs feel prepared for a cyberattack.

Workforce resilience: Balancing act in the tug of talent and technology

Talent and technology are both key to growth, and in the times of the Fourth Industrial Revolution there can be a push and pull between investing in one or the other. When asked to make a point-blank choice between investing in technology or people, more than two-thirds of executives chose technology. But that does not mean that CEOs are neglecting their workforces. Modernizing the workforce is the top strategy to help ensure that organizations are future-ready (35 percent).

Customer resilience: Values-driven understanding

Seventy-seven percent of U.S. CEOs believe that they could further improve their understanding of their customers. That understanding also involves customer values, as 81 percent feel it is their personal responsibility to ensure that their organization’s ESG policies reflect the values of their customers.

To explore these and other valuable insights revealed in this year’s survey, download the full report.


The information contained herein is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavor to provide accurate and timely information, there can be no guarantee that such information is accurate as of the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future. No one should act on such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the particular situation.

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