Introduction from Dennis Nally, chairman, PricewaterhouseCoopers International Ltd.:
As they look forward to the year ahead, CEOs are less confident about prospects for the global economy than they were in 2015. The same is true overall when they consider their own company’s prospects for growth. Many CEOs do still see opportunities, but they are looking to play things safe.
The United States and China are far and away the most important markets that CEOs identify as offering the best prospects for growth, with Germany and the United Kingdom some way behind. That said, CEOs also see potential in India’s bullish business attitude and in Brazil despite its current political and economic struggles.
Potential new opportunities in Mexico and the UAE have also made CEOs pay attention in the last year. CEOs continue to highlight overregulation as their biggest concern. But even as issues like an increased tax burden and governments’ response to fiscal deficits and debt burdens loom large, geopolitical uncertainty (exacerbated by regional conflicts and increased terrorism attacks) is a top concern for nearly three-quarters of CEOs.
More disorienting still for CEOs is their growing feeling that our globalised economic and social fabric is fraying as divergent political, business, societal and cultural movements take hold. This is driven by digital technologies that have enabled people all over the world to be more connected, better informed, and as a result, increasingly empowered and emboldened.
It’s not lost on CEOs that a great many of these technologically empowered citizens are also their customers or potential customers. While they are better connected than ever before, they must also navigate a world that is being dramatically shaped by other megatrends such as increasing urbanisation, climate change and rapid demographic and social shifts.
Faced with these changes, CEOs tell us that customers will increasingly judge companies based on how they help greater society and how they live up to their own values. Notably, nearly a quarter of CEOs said their company has changed its sense of purpose in the last three years to take into account the broader impact it has on society.
To successfully address the expectations of a super-connected and technologically smart society, companies are looking to technology (of course) for answers. Internet-enabled technologies continue to help companies innovate by creating more relevant products and user experiences for customers, while "digital native" talent is now deemed essential for future business growth.
Yet for all the technological breakthroughs in areas like customer insight and marketing, companies still struggle to create a business proposition that both drives growth and creates value for greater society.
How to lead in complicated times? That’s the question all CEOs are seeking to answer at a time of prolonged and continuing uncertainty. This could be because, in a digitally driven world where theoretically every part of business can be measured, CEOs haven’t yet mastered how to measure the long-term success that comes from being a trusted company and good corporate citizen.
Over time, technology, once again, will no doubt help CEOs effectively measure how better products and services, combined with a transparent relationship with customers, employees and greater society can future-proof their companies in this uncertain world. But they have to know what success looks like in the first place.
I’d like to thank the more than 1,400 company leaders from 83 countries who have taken the time to share their insights with us. Their active and candid participation is the single greatest factor in the success of PwC’s Annual Global CEO Survey, now in its 19th year. We greatly appreciate our respondents’ willingness to free up their valuable time to make this survey as comprehensive and accurate as possible. We’re especially grateful to the 33 CEOs who sat down with us to hold deeper and more detailed conversations. You’ll see their comments throughout this report.