Economic outlook and business confidence | KPMG South Africa
Share with your friends

Key findings on the South African 2017 CEO Outlook

Key findings on the South African 2017 CEO Outlook

Economic outlook and business confidence


Also on

CEO Outlook 2017

The Chief Disruptor: In a time of growing uncertainty, we find CEOs disrupting or challenging their own role in order to better lead the business.

  • Almost seven in 10 (68%) respondents say they have taken steps to disrupt their role in the last 12 months.
  • A similar proportion say they are more open to new influences and collaborations than at any other point in their career.
  • Only 26% believe their emotional intelligence is as important as their technical skills.
  • Of three personas identified during this research, the largest group is the “positive disruptor” – CEOs who remain committed to innovation and challenging the status quo despite the changing economic landscape.

Geopolitics; the new uncertainty: It is an opportune time for CEOs to rethink what they stand for. In the space of a year, the world has become a more complicated place – economically, geopolitically and technologically. 

  • In 2017, two in three CEOs (70%) feel confident about global economic growth during the next 3 years. CEOs are also notably less confident in their own industry’s prospects for growth.
  • 34% of South African CEOs believe the uncertainty of the political landscape has had a greater impact on their business than they have seen for many years. However, 88% are ramping up their scenario planning to plot a course through uncertain waters. And 92% say they are recruiting new skills/specialists into their management team to better understand geopolitical risk.
  • Many CEOs, particularly in the US, believe the new US Administration will have a positive effect on their organization’s growth (52 vs 86%), yet those outside the US are more circumspect about the likely impact on global growth (33% vs 52% saying positive effect).
  • CEOs in SA are sceptical about their dealings with the UK ahead of Brexit, with less than half (40%) saying it would have a positive effect on their organisation’s growth. 

Business growth: CEOs are cautiously optimistic about their own businesses, but some are toning down their prospects for the years ahead. A renewal on their core strengths is the focus.

  • CEOs expect the global economy to have the single biggest impact on their company’s growth in the coming years. There has been a drop in the number of CEOs that are confident in their business’ 3-year prospects (from 72% in 2016 to 60% today). 
  • To achieve growth, half of South African CEOs are prioritising Africa for new market growth, while 76% are not yet interested in overseas markets.

Talent: Talent management is coming into focus as an important area of investment over the next 3 years.

  • In keeping with the tone of cautious optimism on growth, CEOs are scaling down their ambitions for headcount growth. 76% expect their number of employees to increase by more than 5% in the near future.
  • However, CEOs identified recruitment as their top area of investment over the next 3 years, with 82% saying they plan to provide incremental investment funds for recruitment over this same period.
  • CEOs say the third largest barrier to strategy implementation is lack of skills/knowledge (26%).

Innovation remains a key ambition: As well as disrupting their own roles, CEOs are focused on driving positive disruption in the market.    

  • Today’s CEOs are still driven by the prospect of innovation, disruption and changing things for the better.
  • 86% say their business is aiming to be the disruptor, rather than the disrupted, in their sector. More than six in 10 (68%) see disruption as an opportunity, not a threat.

The technology solution: Achieving disruption relies on the implementation of new and emerging technology. Complexity and talent gaps present key obstacles.

  • Implementing disruptive tech is a top three strategic priority for CEOs, yet CEOs expect their level of investment in most emerging tech to decrease in the next 3 years, which sets up a strategic paradox.
  • Some CEOs may be feeling more confident about their business’ core
    technology architecture than they are about its digital capabilities. Most (82%) admit that their organisation likely isn’t disrupting business models as much as it should.
  • The biggest tech-related challenges involve overcoming complexity and finding the right talent to implement new solutions.

Digital labour/cognitive: 

  • CEOs say that emerging cognitive technology would lead to increasing headcount in all parts of their business over the next 3 years. This is especially evident in HR (72%) and middle management (60%), but senior management numbers are also predicted to rise (54% say an increase is planned).
  • Perhaps not surprisingly, integrating cognitive tech was second only to attracting new talent as the biggest tech-related challenge to the organisation. 

Deepening customer relationships: Understanding the market is a work in progress.

  • CEOs’ biggest customer challenges are around targeting and building the business among customer and demographic groups in their home markets.
  • CEOs are largely confident that they understand their customers, with the majority (80%) believing that they are effective at sensing market signals.
  • Another 80% of CEOs noted that they are able to confidently articulate how they create value for their customers. 

Innovating with cyber: CEOs are finding the positives associated with cyber security. Getting it right will be an essential part of protecting the business’ reputation in the years ahead.

  • Almost 10 in 10 (96%) CEOs see investment in cyber security as an opportunity to find new revenue streams and innovate, rather than as an overhead cost.
  • In South Africa, Cyber risk is still giving a lot of CEOs (40%) sleepless nights, with Emerging Technology Risks being the second risk (34%).

Building trust for the long term: A shift in priorities.

  • 16% believe that public trust in business will decline over the next 3 years. At the same time, 86% believe that building greater trust among external stakeholders and customers is among their top three priorities.
  • Almost 10 in 10 CEOs (94%) say their organisation is placing greater importance on trust, values and culture in order to sustain its long-term future.


© 2019 KPMG Services (Pty) Limited, a South Africa private company and a member firm of the KPMG network of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International, a Swiss cooperative. All rights reserved.

KPMG International Cooperative (“KPMG International”) is a Swiss entity.  Member firms of the KPMG network of independent firms are affiliated with KPMG International. KPMG International provides no client services. No member firm has any authority to obligate or bind KPMG International or any other member firm vis-à-vis third parties, nor does KPMG International have any such authority to obligate or bind any member firm.

Connect with us


Request for proposal