Facing inflation, explosive new technologies, extreme weather events and geopolitical crises on multiple fronts, almost two-thirds of CEOs in the UAE (64%) have already adapted their growth strategies over the next three years to address interrelated challenges such as global recession, climate change and artificial intelligence (AI). The majority of those who have not yet adapted their strategies are planning on doing so imminently.

These were some of the major themes that emerged this year during our annual survey of 1,325 CEOs worldwide, including more than two dozen in the UAE. Our results found that CEOs are feeling the urgency of adopting AI technology, with 56% agreeing that AI is a top investment priority. They have also embedded ESG into their businesses as a way to create value, but again, 88% don’t expect to see returns on ESG for at least three years.

The results show that CEOs are concerned with juggling the urgent versus the important, trying not to fall behind on promising new technologies while also continuing to invest in ESG strategies that are vitally important to the long-term health of their businesses, their people and the planet. It’s a tricky balance to maintain, but it’s one we’re committed to achieving together.

Economic outlook

UAE CEOs in 2023 are optimistic about increased revenue and business growth, prioritizing inorganic strategies even amid market uncertainties. They express confidence in industry growth, with concerns focused on emerging technology, environmental issues, and cybersecurity.

88 %

of local CEOs reported increased revenue in 2023

82 %

expect their businesses to grow by more than 2.5% next year

40 %

have a high M&A appetite

74 %

of CEOs in the UAE are confident about their industries’ growth

Disruptive technology

UAE CEOs prioritize AI as a significant investment for profit increase, fraud detection, and market entry. However, concerns exist regarding delayed returns, the dual impact of AI on cyber resilience, and challenges related to ethics, costs, employee adoption, and a perceived lack of regulation in the AI space.

56 %

of CEOs in the UAE agreed that AI is a top investment priority

72 %

think it will be more than five years before these investments pay off

Taking the long view on ESG

CEOs see ESG as key to building brand reputation and attracting the next generation of talent. UAE CEOs emphasize the integration of ESG into business strategies, understanding its significance for brand reputation and talent attraction, despite acknowledging that substantial returns may take several years.

64 %

of CEOs in the UAE have fully embedded ESG in their businesses as a strategy to create value

88 %

expect it will be at least three years before they see major returns on ESG investments

24 %

local CEOs were less likely than their global counterparts to prioritize environmental concerns and pursue net-zero

Doubling down on return to office

UAE CEOs are planning a significant return to the office within the next three years, with a notable emphasis on full-time in-person work, reflecting a collaborative leadership style. However, global trends indicate a shift towards hybrid working arrangements, raising questions about the evolving nature of traditional office practices.

72 %

of CEOs expect employees to return to the office full-time

40 %

of local CEOs plan to reward employees who come to the office

76 %

of local CEOs are investing more in technology than people

Exploring opportunities for growth


  • Embrace generative AI in a way that is ethical, makes the most sense for your business and keeps the needs of your employees and clients at the forefront.

  • Stay up to date with cyber-attack strategies so you and your employees do not expose the business to risk.


  • Take a long-term view when it comes to employees’ desire for hybrid or remote working to ensure that talent is nurtured and supported.

  • Set the tone at the top. Senior leadership should make IDE a stated priority, set real targets, fund initiatives and appoint management to lead programs with clear accountability.


  • Position ESG as a driver for value creation when it comes to business growth, rather than as a risk to be managed. New avenues open when ESG is considered in the growth conversation.

  • Stay attuned to shifting ESG regulations to help maintain your business' brand reputation and client relationships.

  • Focus ESG investments on areas in line with your values and those of the business.

Read the full report

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UAE CEO outlook 2023

Sustainable stewardship: juggling agility with the long view

Download PDF (4.7 MB) ⤓

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About the KPMG 2023 CEO Outlook

The 9th edition of the KPMG CEO Outlook, conducted with 1,325 CEOs, including more than two dozen in UAE, between 15 August and 15 September 2023, provides unique insight into the mindset, strategies and planning tactics of CEOs.

All respondents have annual revenues over US$500M and one-third of the companies surveyed have more than US$10B in annual revenue. The survey included leaders from 11 markets (Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Spain, UK and US) and 11 key industry sectors (asset management, automotive, banking, consumer and retail, energy, infrastructure, insurance, life sciences, manufacturing, technology, and telecommunications).

NOTE: Some figures may not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.