KPMG conducted a global, cross-sector survey during which more than 1,300 CEOs were asked about their medium-term growth prospects and transaction plans, how they foster innovation, their approach to both digitalization and risks, and about human resources management. During an interview Stefan Pfister, CEO of KPMG Switzerland, talks about the key findings of the KPMG CEO Outlook 2016.
Despite current uncertainties, Swiss CEOs are generally surprisingly optimistic about the future: Over the next three years, they expect to see substantial corporate growth and are confident in their ability to successfully overcome strategic challenges. On the other hand, CEOs are concerned about the negative impact of economic forces, inhibited growth as a result of over-regulation, as well as the accelerated pace of technological transformation and digitalization. Nevertheless, Swiss CEOs are still much more optimistic about the future than their international colleagues. Swiss enterprises have learned how to tackle challenges, like the strong franc, for instance. Apparently, the elements of uncertainty are more pronounced abroad than they are here. This is also reflected in Swiss CEOs' greater willingness to engage in M&A activities.
The strong franc is making it more attractive to be on the lookout for acquisitions right now. Around a third of the survey's respondents indicated that they were planning a strategic acquisition during the next three years. In other words, while they have a strong interest in growing, they don't want to spread themselves too thin. 16% of Swiss CEOs view M&A deals and joint ventures as effective means of achieving expansion and corporate development. Very few of them consider geographic expansion promising.
I'm not surprised by the fact that Swiss CEOs rank the question of how to correctly deal with big data as another one of their top priorities. The same thing holds true at KPMG. Moreover, 18% of my CEO colleagues cite a focus on greater expertise in data and analytics as a strategic success factor of the future. Data protection solutions and the development of artificial intelligence aren't burning issues among top management here as they are among their colleagues abroad. Only a few CEOs listed these topics as priorities. Global corporations cite these much more frequently, a fact attributable to our highly developed service society. Customer focus plays a special role. One out of every three CEOs in Switzerland feels that the collection, measurement and analysis of customer needs is pivotal. Corporate leaders in Switzerland and abroad agree on the importance of lean corporate processes: nearly half of those surveyed cited the streamlining of internal processes as the most effective way to reach their strategic objectives.
None of the industries in Switzerland expressed any concerns regarding significant shortages of skilled workers. If skill gaps open up or skilled specialists are lacking, they will be hired away from competitors, obtained through insourcing, or generated through internal training. CEOs apparently believe in continuing bilateral agreements, the free movement of persons and quotas for third-country nationals. Yet the shortage of skilled workers is no myth. The topic still isn't off the table. We are already experiencing a few bottlenecks and these will continue to intensify in the future as well.
Swiss business leaders are relatively unconcerned about the negative consequences that automation might have on their workforces in key functional areas such as finance, marketing, sales, R&D or production. Personally, though, I expect the unemployment rate to rise. Wage levels in general will be put under pressure in order for companies to preserve their competitiveness.
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