Posts

85% of consumer business leaders prioritising sustainable growth

Mike Manby, partner and consumer growth leader: “The rate of change and disruption is making companies rethink what it means to be a consumer business, not just in the short term but also over the next ten years. Whilst much of the past year has been about survival, consumer business leaders are turning their focus to profit and sustainable growth in the year ahead. This is despite the challenges of pressured profits and significant cost reduction programmes in place. Whilst these ambitions mean leaders face the perennial conundrum of how to do more with less, it also sets out a new blueprint for business.

“Whilst we have seen distress, many consumer businesses across the board have also shown immense resilience in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most notable has been the shift to online platforms, with innovative online experiences created for consumers to continuing engaging with their favourite brands. It’s encouraging to see so many consumer businesses seeing the switch to online as impetus for further innovation, and no longer a future risk.”

David Sharman, partner and value creation services lead at Deloitte: “With revenues and profits in decline, and uncertainty surrounding the economic recovery from COVID-19, business leaders must make difficult choices.

“Survival cannot become the default mindset for consumer businesses. Indeed, when we asked business leaders to identify their strategic priorities over the year ahead growth was their primary concern. At the same time, 81% have made reducing costs a priority, meaning that the pursuit of growth will need to be balanced by financial discipline, and clear targets around return on investment. Consumer businesses must find a way to do more with less, or at the very least with the same amount of investment to ensure that growth is profitable.”

Key findings:

  • CEO and CFOs of consumer businesses identify priorities for the next 12 months as profitable and sustainable growth (85%), developing existing products and services (70%), and introducing new products and services (52%).
  • Over the same period, however, profits are expected to fall as a result of both COVID-19 (41%), and Brexit (50%).
  • Cost reduction programmes are also anticipated to ramp up in 2021 due to the pandemic (73%), and ongoing impact of Brexit (44%).
  • In the short term, the highest risks to business growth are identified as COVID-19 (78%) and the state of the UK economy (59%). Over the next five years, this is superseded by competition from challenger brands and new entrants (57%) and disruptive business models (54%). However, the biggest threat to growth over the decade is identified as climate change (50%).
  • 65% of leaders do not see the switch to online as a risk in future, as their response to COVID-19 pandemic has strengthened the online presence of consumer businesses.

Post-Covid changes are permanent and there are more to come

The need for business leaders and policy makers to fundamentally rethink the way they plan, invest and operate in the future is underlined in a new survey of 699 global CEOs released by PwC.

The survey shows the majority of CEOs believe that COVID-19 pandemic driven shifts towards remote collaboration (78%), automation (76%) and fewer people working from offices (61%), are here to stay. Overall, 61% say their business model will be more digital in the future – a change accelerated by the pandemic.

Responses show digital infrastructure, flexible working and employee well-being will top their boardroom agendas as they reconfigure business operations to secure growth in the next 12 months and beyond. Fifty-eight percent of CEOs say ensuring supply chain safety will remain a focus, driving technology investments to enable tracking of products from production to delivery, and to ensure their suppliers and partners are resilient during crises.

“Business leaders need to simultaneously keep their company running today and fundamentally rethink their strategy for tomorrow, so they come out of the pandemic ready to reconfigure their business to thrive in a very different world. And they need to do that, thinking not just about the COVID-19 acceleration of change in society and the rising expectations of their broader stakeholders, but also the other issues that are going to fundamentally reshape the future of business – from climate change to populism,” says Bob Moritz, Global Chairman, PricewaterhouseCoopers International Limited.

In a challenge to decades of increased globalisation, almost two in five (39%) of CEOs believe there will be a permanent shift towards onshoring and insourcing, and a similar share expect an enduring increase in nationalism.

Kristin Rivera, Global Leader, Forensics & Crisis, PwC US, comments: “The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded CEOs of the importance of building resilience into their operating model. Firms that were able to quickly adopt digital working practices or switch their supply chains were better able to withstand the shock. CEOs now need to simultaneously contend with the unfolding pandemic and to rethink how they operate in the future. Not every innovation developed in a crisis is right for the long term, but there is much to learn.”

CEOs are naturally cautious on their own revenue growth prospects in the year ahead (45% somewhat confident, 15% very confident). 65% are predicting a decline in global growth. Concern about the global economy is highest in Africa, Central & Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Business leaders also believe the pandemic increased the importance of responding to a wider range of stakeholder issues, particularly employees. Employee support measures included health and safety (92%), well-being (61%) and financial support (24%). Forty-two percent made contributions to community organisations and almost a third (32%) of business leaders reduced their own pay. Those CEOs who maximised retention (36%) and protected employee health and safety (92%) believe it will have a positive impact on their organisation’s long-term reputation.

Bhushan Sethi, Joint Global Leader, People and Organisation, PwC US, comments: “The accelerated shift to flexible working has been valuable for many companies. Whatever new models emerge, it’s clear that employee-oriented policies that invest in safety, protection and well-being could become the new differentiator for recruitment, retention and company reputation.”

The changes driven by COVID-19 add significantly to an already full agenda for CEOs. Climate change remains an influential trend for consumers and businesses alike. When asked if the shift to climate change mitigation would endure, the majority of business leaders (47%) said it would. Business leaders believe short term increases in disposables (including sanitisers, masks) and decreases in the use of the sharing economy would only be temporary.

Limited retreat from cities

While the majority of CEOs (61%) believe that there will be lower workplace density than before, they remain divided about what role cities will play in the future: 34% believe the shift towards de-urbanisation will continue; 38% believing it is temporary.

Divided about the role of government

Business leaders are not expecting extended government support, with the majority (57%) believing state intervention to be a temporary feature, despite the potential for governments to use the support to influence COVID-19 recovery and policies impacting business. Less than one in three (30%) believe government support will be sustained, despite a gloomy outlook for global and organisational growth prospects in the next 12 months. One in five respondents say they declined government backed support for their business during the pandemic.

Bob Moritz comments: “Some CEOs may feel like they’ve passed a critical test. What’s critical now is that they use the important knowledge they’ve gained about their organisations effectively for business and society. The most enduring shift in this pandemic is the reality that it can no longer be a choice between the long and the short term. We need to address both.”

Is there a link between playing sports and success in business?

What do a disproportionate number of CEOs have in common? They played sports when they were younger.

Former Whole Foods CEO Walter Robb was the captain of the Stanford Soccer Team. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan played rugby at Brown. Even Mark Zuckerberg was a high school fencing star.

But according to a series of Ernst & Young studies, it is even more common for female executives to have played a sport.

Ernst & Young surveyed 821 high-level executives and found that a whopping 90% of women played sports. Among women currently holding a C-suite position, this proportion rose to 96%.

In high school, Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, was the captain of the swim team and also played varsity lacrosse, tennis and basketball. At Princeton University she played NCAA squash and lacrosse. In her book “The Power of Many,” Whitman writes: “I liked team sports the best. When I’m pulling a business team together, I still use those basketball aphorisms I learned as a young person: ‘Let’s pass the ball around a little before game time.’ ‘Do we need man-to-man or zone defense?'”

There are a few reasons why playing sports may boost your odds of business success.

Athletics builds character

Sports keep you physically and mentally healthy, teach you important relationship skills and forge determination. These benefits often spill over into the business world.

Sporting organisations help with networking

The NCAA has a robust career center. Wall Street’s “Lacrosse Mafia” recruits All-American players at staggering rates. You can even scroll through the 42 best lacrosse players on Wall Street.

Northwestern sociologist Lauren Rivera notes that hiring rates increase the most among candidates who played “sports that have a strong presence at Ivy League schools as well as pay-to-play club sports, such as lacrosse, field hockey, tennis, squash and crew.”

Sports often reflect privilege

It may not be that playing sports causes someone to become more of a leader; instead, the truth may be that people who are already competitive and have leadership potential are drawn to sports as kids. They and their families are also often more likely to be affluent, since participation on so many teams requires significant cash outlays.

Sports consume time, energy and resources that many families cannot spare. People who are well-off are more likely to play sports, as well as become CEOs. If you can afford fencing lessons, your child’s odds of becoming a CEO are already quite good.

But why are women in the C-suite more likely to have played sports than their male counterparts?

It might be that sports encourage women to break gender norms, something that is often required for them to reach executive positions in the business world. Sports teach young women and girls skills beyond teamwork and dedication. Learning to be aggressive, competitive and tough may make them the kind of employees eager to take on more responsibility and seek promotions.

It could also be that the same families that encourage girls to be athletes encourage women to be competitive and successful at work and at everything they do.

Whatever the reason, it is becoming more and more apparent that starting on the court or field may be the best path to the boardroom, especially for women.