Navigating complexity with resilience
While CEOs in India and globally are seeing an increase in the growth prospects of the global economy, their perception of risk has undergone a profound transformation. The perpetually shifting geopolitical landscape, coupled with the dynamic interplay of trade dynamics and global relations, has intricately woven a multifaceted tapestry of challenges. This requires a new level of unwavering resilience in reevaluating and reassessing strategic imperatives be it adoption of generative AI, talent management and high stakeholder expectations in addressing environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.
CEOs in India are facing challenges and obstacles to growth on multiple fronts – from geopolitical uncertainty and politicisation to increased stakeholder expectations in the ESG space and the adoption of generative AI. Even though leaders in India, are having to deal with macroeconomic and geopolitical challenges right now, they are fairly positive on the growth prospects of the global economy as well as their organisation, which is very reassuring. There’s general optimism, that we can, in time, gradually return to long-term sustainable growth.
Today, the opportunity to move towards a fair, equitable and successful planet is huge and leaders should look to make the most of it.
The key to success would hinge on steadfast focus on seeing the bigger picture, strategic planning, and determination to tackle the challenges in the short-term with agility.
Chief Executive Officer
KPMG in India
Growth persists and remains resilient to rebound
The confidence of CEOs in India in terms of growth prospects for the global economy over the next three years has considerably increased to 69 per cent in 2023 from 57 per cent in 2022, demonstrating optimism and a strong resilience towards a long-term growth trajectory. The level of confidence of CEOs in India in their own company’s growth prospects has remained mostly unchanged from the past year, contrary to the declining confidence of CEOs globally, indicating their resilience in weathering the storms of uncertainty.
Even though CEOs in India see a slight decline in growth prospects for the country in 2023 from 2022 levels, they exhibit enough resilience to recover in the short-term.
Confidence levels in growth prospects
Risks to growth in the coming three years
CEOs in India have witnessed a noteworthy change in their perception of risks affecting their organisation’s growth. Geopolitics and political uncertainty and environmental/climate change top the list of most pressing concerns for CEOs in India today. Emerging/disruptive technology, return to territorialism and supply chain (the last two not seen in the top five risks in 2023) were considered as the top risks to growth by CEOs in India in 2022.
YOY change in top five risks to growth for CEOs in India
Managing geopolitics and political uncertainty
CEOs in India and globally now see geopolitics and political uncertainty as the foremost threat to their business growth, with 14 per cent of CEOs in India compared to 18 per cent globally, considering it as the biggest threat. Furthermore, 55 per cent of CEOs in India compared to 63 per cent globally, believe that geopolitical conflicts could have a negative impact on their organisation's prosperity over the next three years.
As geopolitical uncertainties, take centrestage in 2023, CEOs in India are looking at prioritising and understanding this complex landscape, so as to develop a strategic approach to mitigate potential risks. They believe that incorporating a comprehensive geopolitical risk assessment into their overall business plan, would be crucial for success.
Disruptive technologies like generative AI present unparalleled business opportunities, but it also presents CEOs with substantial unknowns and business risks. Navigating this uncharted territory may feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Therefore, it is critical to separate valuable insights from the noise and even more essential for leaders to develop an effective strategic business approach to generative AI, that is tailored to their unique organisation and use cases, so as to fully capitalise on the opportunity it presents
Partner and Head, Clients and Markets
KPMG in India
Emerging / disruptive technology considered as top growth risk
Emerging/disruptive technology has emerged as a primary risk and one of the greatest threats to organisational growth for CEOs in India as well as globally. In the quest to mitigate these risks and challenges, CEOs in India continue to prioritise digital transformation – with 21 per cent CEOs in India compared to 22 per cent CEOs globally agreeing to have taken strides in advancing digitisation and connectivity across the business, as their top operational priority to achieve their growth objectives over the next three years.
Focused investments in generative AI
Since the introduction of AI chatbots in 2022, there has been increased interest in generative AI among investors, researchers, and developers. As organisations look to harness the potential of AI, generative AI has become increasingly important due to a growing demand for customised content and advancements in AI algorithms.
CEOs in India and globally are prioritising investments in generative AI as a key competitive advantage for the future, with 66 per cent of CEOs in India compared to and 70 per cent of CEOs globally considering it as a top investment priority for their organisation.
Implementation of generative AI yields significant benefits for CEOs in India including job creation (20 per cent), while CEOs globally see increased profitability (22 per cent), as the top benefit. Despite ongoing economic uncertainty, generative AI remains a crucial investment for CEOs both in India and globally who are looking to stay ahead of the curve.
Technology is at a true inflection point. AI is the arrowhead that is driving real and tangible impact. In fact, 66 per cent of CEOs in India and 70 per cent of CEOs globally are naming it as a top investment priority. The question every leader is asking themselves right now is this: How can my organization seize the full potential of AI, while safeguarding the business, data, and employees? A customer-centric approach coupled with an ‘AI-first’ strategy will ultimately lead to AI success and the first step is to focus on strategic goals with a growth mindset. It’s time to ‘Reimagine’, ‘Reorient’ and ‘Redeploy’ AI strategy at every level of the organization to help people become more productive, more creative, and more innovative.
CVP & President
Microsoft India, and South Asia
Generative AI – a double edged sword
With the increasing adoption of generative AI among organisations, it is essential to recognise the potential security risks that come with this technology. Cybercriminals could exploit generative AI to launch highly convincing phishing attacks and breach systems, making it crucial for organisations to bolster their defences against these emerging threats.
While CEOs in India and globally recognise the potential benefits of generative AI in detecting cyber-attacks, they also acknowledge the potential risks associated with its use. 77 per cent of CEOs in India compared to 82 per cent CEOs globally view generative AI as a double-edged sword, as it can both enhance cybersecurity efforts and create new vulnerabilities for adversaries to exploit. Despite these concerns, a higher number of CEOs in India at 61 per cent compared to 52 per cent CEOs globally feel confident in their organisation's preparedness for potential cyber-attacks.
Comparison of CEOs in India and globally on preparedness for cyberattacks
Increasing cyber threat and sophistication of attacks are primary reasons for organisations feeling underprepared for a cyber-attack, with 25 per cent CEOs in India compared to 27 per cent CEOs globally mentioning this as a reason for their unpreparedness.
CEOs surveyed in India have indicated that they envision the working environment to be in office in the near future. However, there is enough evidence to suggest that a one-size-fits-all approach, could be potentially unfavourable. Focusing and engaging with employees will be key. It’s crucial that leaders take a long-term view, which encompasses being empathetic so as to build and maintain relationships, thereby retaining talent
Partner and Head, People and Change
KPMG in India
The debate over hybrid working and the return-to-office persists
The challenging global environment this year, highlights pressure on CEOs across the spectrum, to make critical decisions, which will influence their strategies for supporting and attracting talent in the coming three years.
CEOs in India and globally continue to opt for pre-pandemic ways of working, with a majority predicting that a full return to office is only three years away. 54 per cent of CEOs in India compared to 64 per cent CEOs globally envision the working environment for employees to be an in-office model in three years. This is despite a conflicting debate, about hybrid working that has great support, especially among millennials.
To usher in a ‘return to normal,’ so as to revert to pre-pandemic ways of working, 89 per cent CEOs in India compared to 87 per cent CEOs globally are likely to reward employees who try to come to office with raises, promotions, and favorable assignments. This trend indicates a growing willingness among both India and global CEOs, to incentivise office attendance, to ensure a smooth transition back to traditional work models in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Leaders should have a long-term perspective that incorporates employee value proposition and considers the concerns and wants of employees, as firms continue to roll out their return-to-office plans, in order to ensure that talent is nurtured and maintained.
Probability of CEOs in India to reward employees working from office
A lot has been said about how AI will reconfigure everything. How AI changes things is anybody's guess, but as of today, the first area where we are using it is to improve the low-hanging fruit, like augmenting the capabilities of our customer support executives.
Another aspect about which we have changed our minds is working from home. We realised that while it may work for some companies and some specific processes, it doesn't work everywhere. In our context, working from home led to a breakdown of communication, the formation of silos, and a loss of overall context across the business. At least for the core team, we've now moved to a hybrid arrangement, and the results are already showing.
Founder & CEO
Inclusion, diversity, and equity (IDE) gathering pace, but slowly
Despite widespread consensus on the importance of inclusion, diversity, and equity (IDE), concerns over the rate of advancement persist. 52 per cent of CEOs in India compared to 66 per cent CEOs globally agree that the progress on diversity and inclusion has moved slowly in the business world.
Moving forward, it would be imperative to normalise IDE within organisations and any plans need to be intentional and focused, on what is possible within their market. What is encouraging is a sizable majority of 62 per cent of CEOs in India compared to 72 per cent CEOs globally, believe that diversity in workplaces would be something that requires implementing a change across leadership at the senior level.
Despite global political and economic headwinds, the survey findings reflect a rising and increased sense of focus from CEOs in India on ESG. They are more than willing to participate and play a role in driving the transition to more sustainable operations, which is very encouraging. With persistent economic uncertainty and geopolitical pressures ahead, CEOs in India would be tested, but the data reflects that a majority of them are on board and recognise that E, S, and G are no longer just nice to have, to build successful and sustainable businesses, but extremely integral to long-term financial success.
National Head, ESG
KPMG in India
Accelerating ESG's impact
CEOs in India as well as globally are starting to see ESG as an essential component of their corporate strategy, that helps generate long term growth. They view the importance of ESG initiatives on their businesses, especially when questioned about ESG’s impact on building customer relationships, building brand reputation and driving financial performance.
When asked where CEOs in India see ESG strategy having the greatest impact over the next three years, building customer relationships sits at the top spot with 26 per cent. CEOs in India increasingly understand that businesses embracing ESG would best be able to drive shareholder returns, form new partnerships and alliances, strengthen employee value proposition, attract next generation of talent, build a brand reputation, and drive the financial performance.
Prioritising ESG despite the polarising discourse
Even with a year of debate surrounding the term ‘ESG, CEOs in India as well as globally, acknowledge that addressing ESG challenges remains a key component of their business operations and long-term corporate strategy. This is substantiated by the fact that as many as 54 per cent of CEOs in India, compared to 69 per cent CEOs globally, have fully embedded ESG into their business as a means to value creation.
Reflecting a shift in awareness and dialogue on ESG, 30 per cent of CEOs in India compared to 35 per cent CEOs globally, are changing the language in which they refer ‘ESG’ both internally and externally. This reflects a trend where CEOs both India and globally, are prioritising efforts where they can have the most impact and become more explicit about each component of the acronym ‘ESG’.
CEOs perspective on ESG
We welcome the current wave of focus on ESG as it provides companies an opportunity to shift to a new paradigm of creating shared value for all its stakeholders. The dramatically changing weather patterns we have been witnessing is unfortunately going to be the new normal and is the biggest wake-up call for businesses to accelerate climate action. Wipro has had a clear, unequivocal commitment to environmental sustainability since 2007 which we continuously monitor and update.. We have well-defined ESG goals addressing critical themes like climate change, water, inclusion and diversity, health and well-being, ethical AI etc. These are overseen closely by the Wipro leadership and board and are embedded across the organization.
Escalating concerns about financing and stakeholder expectations in ESG
Higher costs and difficulty in raising finance continues to be the principal downside for failing to not meet expectations of stakeholders when it comes to ESG. This is shared by 33 per cent CEOs in India, compared to 28 per cent CEOs in India in August 2022 and 25 per cent globally in both August 2023 and 2022. This heightened importance on ESG that we are seeing in India today is primarily driven by an increasing awareness among shareholders who aspire to associate with organisations that prioritise purpose over profit.
Prioritising ESG aspects for investment strategy
38 per cent of CEOs in India and a little over 35 per cent CEOs globally, are prioritising addressing environmental challenges such as achieving net zero. However, the complexity of decarbonising supply chains (28 per cent) and lack of skills and expertise to implement solutions (20 per cent) are considered the greatest barriers by CEOs in India, on their journey to achieve net zero for their organisations.
Aspects of ESG that CEOs in India are prioritising for their investment strategy
Exploring opportunities for growth
Embrace but use generative AI cautiously With generative AI being a top investment priority for organisations, it is imperative for CEOs in India to exercise caution on the use of the technology, while prioritising the best interests of clients and employees. All external and internal risks related to the use of generative AI should be cautiously evaluated, to avoid financial and reputational risk to the organisation
Prioritising cybersecurity awareness Stay up to date with cyber-attack strategies to prevent the business from being exposed to cyber risks.
Adopt a forward-looking perspective regarding employees' preference for hybrid or remote work to ensure the nurturing and support of talent. To create a vibrant workplace culture, it is essential for employers to adopt a model that is best suited for the employees and the organisation.
Establish leadership commitment Senior executives should prioritise IDE, define tangible goals, allocate resources to initiatives, and designate responsible managers to lead programmes with transparent accountability.
Stay vigilant regarding evolving ESG regulations to uphold the business' brand reputation and client connections
Present ESG as a catalyst for value generation in the context of business expansion, rather than merely a risk to mitigate. New opportunities emerges when ESG becomes an integral part of growth discussions.
About the KPMG 2023 CEO Outlook
The ninth edition of KPMG CEO Outlook, conducted with 1,325 CEOs of which 125 were from India, between 15 August and 15 September 2023, provides unique insights into the mindset, strategies, and planning tactics of CEOs.
All respondents have annual revenues of over USD500 million and one-third of the companies surveyed have more than USD10 billion in annual revenue. The survey included leaders from eleven markets (Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Spain, UK, and US) and eleven 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.