Key takeaways

  • Major PwC survey highlights the pressures and priorities for global business leaders.
  • Australian CEOs plan to ramp up focus on technology.
  • Data, analytics and cyber security are priorities in 2016.


PwC’s Annual Global CEO Survey is one of our firm’s most significant studies, checking the pulse of leadership across the globe by studying over 1,400 heads of business.

Released at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the survey results perhaps carry greater significance for Australia at the start of 2016 – a year in which our nation has almost been mandated by the government to boldly formulate new ways of doing business and rethink a future beyond the resources boom.

If Australia’s prosperity rests on the next steps, what are the areas that our business leaders feel they need to address, and where do they excel?

Cyber security
is the greatest threat

Technology appears to be something of a double-edged sword in this year’s CEO survey, which canvassed the opinions of over 1,400 business leaders across the world (of those, 49 were in Australia). On the one hand, the ability to maintain secure systems poses the greatest threat to business executives. On the other, they say technology holds the key to customer engagement.

There’s no doubt that cyber security has made its presence felt at the boardroom table: 82% of Australian respondents flagged it as their biggest worry in terms of business growth. In second place (and by no means mutually exclusive) the speed of technological change also raises concerns. The third most significant threat, raised by 65% of respondents, was the availability of key skills.

will transform expectations

On the plus side, the CEO Survey reveals that Australian CEOs think technology advances will be the leading global trend for transforming customer and stakeholder expectations of business in the next few years.

Every single respondent said they’re making changes to how they use technology in order to deliver on customer expectations, with the greatest bets being placed on data and analytics.

PwC 19th Annual CEO Survey - technology return, Australia

Australia CEOs believe that data and analytics holds the key to engaging customers and stakeholders. Source: PwC’s 19th Annual Global CEO Survey, Australian analysis.


Global results show that 53% of CEOs think R&D and innovation will generate some of the greatest returns in terms of wider stakeholder engagement. In Australia, this figure drops to 24%. Source: PwC’s 19th Annual Global CEO Survey, released January 2016.

… or do you mean

Technology, as I’ve highlighted previously, is a huge focus for Australian leaders – more so here than many other parts of the world. This was clear in the results of our latest Digital IQ Survey,  it also manifests itself, for example, in the choice of CDOs appointed on these shores.

PwC 19th Annual CEO Survey - ROI innovation

Globally, 53% of CEOs think R&D and innovation will generate some of the greatest ROI. In Australia, this figure drops to 24%. Source: PwC’s 19th Annual Global CEO Survey.


Where this becomes an issue is when technology is confused with true innovation or digital transformation. And here the gulf couldn’t feel wider: while technology is seen to be the golden ticket for winning over customers and stakeholders alike, some Australian CEOs seem to miss the connection between that and innovation.

While more than half (53%) of CEOs globally believe that R&D and innovation offers some of the highest returns when it comes to engaging stakeholders – in comparison only 24% of Australian CEOs think the same. At a time when the government is fiercely pushing its innovation agenda, this doesn’t bode well.

we’re people people

There are certainly areas in which Australian CEOs are thinking ahead of the curve. There’s a strong focus here on developing capabilities by forming new or reassessing current strategic partnerships. There’s also a fierce drive to reassess workplace culture and behaviour – two thirds of leaders said they are addressing this aspect of their talent strategy.

The evolution of consumer needs is on the minds of business leaders, who recognise that their customers are increasingly driven by more than just cost and convenience, and that an organisation’s social values have the power to impact not just sales figures, but investor relations and employee acquisition or retention.

There’s also a keen awareness of the sense that trust between business, customers and stakeholders is eroding. While this was raised by 57% of Australian CEOs, they also indicate a strong willingness to address the issue, particularly by better communicating their organisation’s purpose and value to stakeholders. 

To read the full Australian analysis of CEO responses, read Redefining business success in a changing world – PwC’s 19th Annual Global CEO Survey (Australian report) here.




John Riccio

John is PwC’s Global Design & Deploy, Experience Consulting partner.

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