Agile or irrelevant

A successful CEO is an agile CEO. And a stark choice. According to Bill Thomas, Chairman KPMG International in his foreword accompanying the 2019 Global CEO Outlook “Redefining Resilience”. Please find below this foreword and the report’s key findings.


“One of the most compelling findings in this year’s Global CEO OUtlook is that over two-thirds of chief executive officers believe that agility is the new currency of business. If they fail to adapt to a constantly changing world, their business will become irrelevant. This is a stark choice.”

“The focus on agility is also redefining what we mean by resilience. In the past, it was about battening down the hatches in the face of short-term headwinds. Organizations looked to defend their positions and use scale to maintain competitive advantage.”

“The social, economic and technological headwinds we have seen emerge in recent years are no longer short term. While CEOs continue to see exciting growth opportunities, they are set against a complex, volatile and increasingly uncertain environment. To be resilient, organizations need to be comfortable disrupting their business models if they want to continue to grow. This is what we mean by being agile.”

“In our fifth annual Global CEO Outlook, we spoke to 1,300 CEOs in some of the world’s largest organizations to discuss how they are confronting long-held market orthodoxies and assumptions that govern decision-making.”

   CEOs are challenging entrenched management ideas 

“The contribution that CEOs are expected to make to the growth and development of their companies is changing. Leaders need to be agile — adjusting their actions to respond quickly to changing customer needs, shifting technology innovations and the pace of change of competing firms. They also need to keep themselves open to new ideas so that they can challenge entrenched management and organizational thinking.”

   A new playbook

“Resilience in today’s dynamic marketplace is about the ability to constantly evolve and adapt to fast-paced change. This requires CEOs to react with agility to changing customer needs and also focus effort where it will have the most significant impact.”

“There is a sense of urgency as CEOs feel they have less time to make an impact than previous generations of executives. Close to three-quarters (74 percent) placed average tenure at 5 years, saying this was shorter than when they first began their careers. Two-thirds (67 percent) said that this 5-year tenure average means there is more urgency to act with agility.”

   Evolving mindsets

“To drive innovation and change, CEOs need to be prepared to take their organizations in entirely new directions. This will require a leadership mindset where CEOs are prepared to question long-held assumptions and beliefs — challenging the status quo if this is holding back progress. This research suggests certain qualities that will be critical for generating new ideas and driving radical change.”

“First, leaders need to be closely connected to their customers, maintaining a dialogue and understanding their changing values and needs. Seventy-one percent of CEOs said that they feel it is their personal responsibility to ensure that the organization’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies reflect the values of their customers.”

“Second, CEOs need to balance data-driven insight into customer needs and requirements with their own expertise and intuition. Our research shows that 71 percent of CEOs say they have disregarded data-driven insights because they were contrary to their own experience or intuition. To get value out of increasingly sophisticated analytics, CEOs need to ensure they can trust the findings in front of them. Building a framework of checks and balances is crucial. That involves making sure algorithms are not relying on biased information and that diligent quality control measures are in place so they can make more data-based decisions with greater confidence.”

“Finally, they need to create an environment where the willingness to change is recognized as a strength, not a weakness. Close to three-quarters (74 percent) said that they had a significant misstep early in their career — such as launching a venture that ultimately proved unsuccessful — but that they were able to learn from their experiences.”

Foreword 2019 Global CEO Outlook “Redefining Resilience”. Bill Thomas, Chairman KPMG International. The full report is available via 

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