World CEOs optimistic and anxious

PwC’s 21st CEO Survey: The world’s CEOs look to the future with optimism and anxiety

Despite record levels of short-term optimism in the global economy, CEOs worldwide report heightened levels of anxiety regarding the business, economic, and, particularly, the societal threats confronting their organisations.

Global vs. Organisational Growth: Carpe Diem

Despite highly publicised handwringing over geopolitical uncertainty, corporate misbehaviour, and the job-killing potential of artificial intelligence, PwC’s 21st CEO Survey reveals surprising faith and optimism among chief executives in the economic and business environment worldwide, at least over the next 12 months.

This year saw the highest-ever jump to the highest-ever level of CEO optimism regarding global growth prospects over the next 12 months.

For the first time since we began asking the question in 2012, the majority of CEOs surveyed believe global economic growth will ‘improve’. In fact, the percentage of CEOs predicting ‘improved’ growth doubled from last year. This record level of optimism holds fast across every region from North America (defined as the US and Canada for this survey) and Latin America to Western Europe, Central & Eastern Europe (CEE), Africa, the Middle East, and Asia-Pacific

Threats: What Keeps CEOs Up at Night Differs By Region

This anxiety shows up clearly in CEOs’ assessment of the threats to their organisation’s growth prospects. ‘Extreme concern’ levels climb across almost all the main threats we measure.

An interesting exception is over-regulation, which stayed flat at 42%. That’s not to say that overregulation is no longer a top concern – in fact, it is the top concern globally, and in the top five across every region surveyed. It’s just that it’s always been a top concern – in fact the top ‘extreme concern’ since we began asking the question in 2008.

Now others are rising to the fore, such as terrorism – which vaulted from No. 12 to No. 2 overall – and geopolitical uncertainty, which is a top-five threat in every region except Asia-Pacific, where it ranks sixth.

In regions where emerging economies are dominant – Latin America, Central & Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa – ‘social instability’ is a consistent top 10 ‘extreme concern’.

‘Protectionism’, on the other hand – which makes the top 10 in North America, Western Europe, and Asia-Pacific – does
not register as an overriding concern in these regions.

Looking across the top 10 threat lists of all seven regions, ‘geopolitical uncertainty’, ‘over-regulation’, and ‘increasing tax burden’ are the three that appear on every region’s radar.

‘Availability of key skills’ and ‘speed of technological change’ appear on every list except those of Latin America and Africa, respectively.

Perhaps the most ominous finding is terrorism’s rise in the rankings; it is a top five ‘extreme concern’ in every region save Africa.

Terrorism is more perception than real – it gets a lot of publicity but in most of the world it is very limited in reality.

Global vs. Local Prosperity: Navigating a Fractured World

CEOs continue to recognise the promise of globalisation and feel that promise has been realised to a large extent in select areas such as ‘enabling universal connectivity’ and ‘easing the movement of capital, people, goods, and information’. However, globalisation – which we define as the process by which the world is becoming increasingly integrated – has not been as effective in other respects.

When asked if globalisation has helped ‘close the gap between the rich and the poor’, nearly 40% of CEOs respond ‘not at all’.

Globalisation means there are more opportunities for some people to get richer, but it’s not the gap that’s the problem, it’s how the poorest people are managing, and whether things are improving for them or not.

30% gave the same bleak assessment of globalisation’s impact on ‘averting climate change and resource scarcity’.

More than one in four CEOs say that globalisation has not helped improve the ‘integrity and effectiveness of global tax systems’…at all.

Globalisation has made it more difficult to have effective and fair tax systems.

A Message from PwC Global Chairman Bob Moritz:
Re-Aligning Global Economic Growth with Local Social Progress

This year’s study also sheds light on a broader trend: the developing misalignment between global economic growth on the one hand and social progress on the other.

For decades they moved in tandem. Market-based economies have prospered, and so have their citizens.

The three principal drivers of change – globalisation, technological advances, and financial focus (meaning a view of value based primarily on GDP and shareholder value) – have fuelled a virtuous cycle that has lifted billions out of poverty, prolonged life expectancy worldwide, and facilitated a rich exchange of knowledge and talent that has spurred unprecedented productivity and innovation.

However, the past decade has also seen a growing gap between the beneficiaries of this prosperity, as these same market
forces – globalisation, technological advances, and financial focus – increase transparency and enhance instantaneous,
global communication. Now the ‘haves’, even in advanced economies, are feeling like ‘have nots’.

The result has become glaringly evident in the bitter and divisive politics of our times.

Too many people in too many parts of the world feel they are being left behind by a system that no longer promises them and their children a better life.

This is a growing problem in New Zealand, and the Government has made a commitment to do something about it. But it also needs companies to play a part.

What role can CEOs play to help arrest this growing divide?

First, adopt new measures of prosperity that look beyond economic growth to social progress.

Financial performance is an essential element underpinning any market economy, but it cannot be the only measure of success in a globalised economy. Other, broader measures, reflecting target outcomes in societal terms, must also be considered.

The New Zealand Government is looking at adding more of a social consideration to our economic aims. See Budget update – fairness and prosperity.

Second, foster a beneficial place for technology in our society.

Artificial intelligence expands technology’s potential for both good and ill. There is the clear risk that it may displace more and more of the human workforce and contribute further to social isolation and the disruption of communities.

But this need not be the whole truth. Emerging technologies can also help meet human needs in new and
profound ways (e.g., telemedicine, distance learning) and will create new industries and unforeseen types of new jobs – jobs that will be more creative and fulfilling.

Third, educate for the future.

Our educational systems need to equip and empower a global workforce with the right skills to succeed, and the support of private enterprise is vital to that effort.

Fourth, commit to a purpose.

These trends all highlight the heightened expectations of the societies and communities in which businesses operate. That’s why every business needs a clear purpose – one that goes beyond financial goals to incorporate a broader set of shared values and behavioural expectations.

Purpose defines ‘who’ a business is and why it exists; values and behaviours define a culture. These act as vital guideposts and benchmarks for every important decision. From environmental footprints to social impacts
to investor demands, businesses are scrutinised by an ever-wider array of stakeholders.

As well as CEOs and businesses needing to have a social conscience, in general better society = better business.





  1. PartisanZ

     /  February 2, 2018

    Any NewSpeak translators on here …?

  2. NOEL

     /  February 2, 2018

    CEO’s? Are they the people who negotiate “golden parachutes” in their contracts?

  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  February 2, 2018

    Strange commentary in that article: When asked if globalisation has helped ‘close the gap between the rich and the poor’, nearly 40% of CEOs respond ‘not at all’.

    Bizarre, since billions of people have been lifted out of extreme poverty via globalisation. Even more bizarre that the 60% who recognise this are ignored.

    30% gave the same bleak assessment of globalisation’s impact on ‘averting climate change and resource scarcity’.

    70% who disagree are ignored?

    the past decade has also seen a growing gap between the beneficiaries of this prosperity

    Except it hasn’t. The gap grew in the 1990’s and has been stable since.

    I think the analysis is poor and reads like a lobby for more consulting work rather than an honest appraisal.

  4. Blazer

     /  February 2, 2018

    the only thing that keeps C.E.O’s.. up… at night….is ..hookers!