A businessperson boards an evening flight in their home city and lands in the morning light of another world. That sums up how many of us likely felt over the weekend as we made our way to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Annual Meeting of New Champions in Tianjin, China.
And I’m not only referring to the contrasting scenes of Tianjin’s bustling seaport and Qing Dynasty temples that greet a jet-lagged traveler. After a long flight, many executives turned on their smart phones to receive endless updates on the fallout of the Brexit referendum outcome, realizing that the world they came from also looked quite different.
While international travel seems to compound the speed, scope and scale of change occurring around us, abrupt business disruption is a daily reality for most corporate leaders. Surprising political and market events, unforeseen technology invention and shifting consumer tastes mean that CEOs now face constant uncertainty as they steer their organizations from one unexpected episode to the next.
And yet I am repeatedly impressed by the steady, unblinking confidence of those chief executives who quickly switch the conversation from, “I can’t believe the news today,” to “where’s the opportunity for us?”.
That attitude of confidence in the midst of uncertainty comes across in KPMG’s 2016 Global CEO Outlook, published this week, which captures the perspectives of nearly 1,300 top CEOs from across the globe, on the forces that are shaping their businesses. Despite obvious global volatility, these executives expressed solid, rising confidence in the growth of their own companies and the world economy over the next three years.
These executives aren’t blind to the challenges ahead either. They described the vast, unfamiliar risks confronting their companies, from cyber security threats to the urgency of harnessing data to get ahead of competitors.
In light of all this, it’s natural for an executive to rub their eyes to get their bearings, just like the traveler arriving in sprawling Tianjin. However, our survey also found widespread CEO commitment to transforming their business, as they revise their strategies, test their own disruptive technologies and grow their staff complements with diverse new talent.
It’s astounding that nearly half of the surveyed CEOs expect their companies to be transformed into a significantly different entity within the next three years. This high degree of readiness to drive change also reflects the views of CEOs I meet regularly in my own travels.
It’s also a theme that emerged during my WEF panel session on China’s Global Ambitions, which highlighted how traditional industries are exploring technology and offshore investment. How fitting that this gathering of business, academic and young leaders is described as the annual meeting of the ‘New Champions.’ The new champions are those who welcome the unknown, focus on the steps to transform their organizations, and target the emerging opportunities.
The energizing discussions at the WEF and the findings of our study remind me that, although the world can change in the span of an intercontinental flight, there’s no shortage of future-focused leaders who are ready to face the change, reposition their organizations and emerge as tomorrow’s winners.