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KPMG CEO Outlook Series: The view from the United States

KPMG CEO Outlook Series: The view from the US

A US perspective on the key themes of the CEO Outlook Survey.

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Partner, U.S. Management Consulting Leader

KPMG in the U.S.

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Views from the US

Commenting on US results from the KPMG International CEO Outlook Survey, Stephen Chase, leader of the Advisory Management Consulting practice, KPMG in the US, explains that American executives’ confidence is often a function of developments in technology – and how it is often a challenge to ensure that managers have an adaptable attitude toward adopting new technology as well as how clients can combine data and analytics with human insight to make good decisions.

Q: Why do you think US CEOs are more confident in global economic growth than their international counterparts?

Stephen Chase: There are a few but the primary reason would be the sense that we are in a generally deregulatory environment. This leads people to believe that it’s a good time to make investments, whether in business or the stock market. From mergers and acquisitions through to investments, people are more upbeat than they were 18 months ago.

Q: What impact would you expect this confidence to have on firms’ strategic and operational decision-making in the near future?

Stephen Chase: Here in the US we always seem to place great importance on the ability of technology to drive productivity and new growth opportunities. And we do indeed see a lot of our clients investing in technology such as data and analytics, cloud facilities, software, robotics, and machine learning, and moving more quickly and less warily into them than they did a few years ago. To an extent confidence is a function of those moves, though it is normally coupled with a fear of being left behind.

Q: What are some of the challenges US businesses face as they work hard to be the disruptors and not the disrupted?

Stephen Chase: One is that very quick technology cycles are the new normal. Being a fast-follower might not be good enough. And you still need to balance experimentation into the future with the demands to grow profits in the present. Getting this balance right is one of the biggest challenges facing CEOs today.   And, once those decisions are made, getting their leaders to continually change and adopt new ideas is the next challenge. Most of these programs fail not because of the technology, but because the leadership team wasn’t aligned or because of a lack of investment in change management.  

Another big challenge is around talent. Jobs are changing rapidly and evolving the skills and capabilities of the workforce becomes a critical success factor for every company.   Ensuring they embrace the change is critical as well. Too many great ideas get killed by the inertia of the company culture only to be exploited by another more nimble culture. This is an issue that clearly is on the minds of the CEOs we surveyed and they all expressed concern about having the talent and culture to succeed in the future.

Q: Only a small proportion of US businesses expect to transform into a significantly different business in the next few years. Our findings suggest they may be taking a more targeted approach to innovation, to become more agile. Is that in line with your experience?

Stephen Chase: In my experience, most businesses don’t set out to transform themselves into something else deliberately. Rather, they try to look at what they need to do to stay competitive as an ongoing process. Whatever is best today won’t be best in the future. Nor is it just big companies thinking this way. Small businesses are as well, with many of them able to adopt new technologies or business models instantly. They won’t all be successful, but it only takes one to disrupt an entire industry.  The CEOs in our study know this and it worries many of them.

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