KPMG’s Bill Thomas on Bringing Optimism Back Into the Boardroom

Originally published at home.kpmg by Bill Thomas, KPMG International’s Global Chairman and CEO. KPMG ranked No. 16 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021.

 

It’s been roughly 18 months since the WHO declared a global pandemic, and KPMG has returned with its third survey to gauge how leadership strategies and concerns have shifted during these demanding times. And if one word could summarize our report, it’s optimism.

CEOs are incredibly confident in the growth prospects of their company and the global economy in general. Leaders expect aggressive growth and are in expansion mode, looking to expand their businesses and organizations in any way that they can. They’re hiring, exploring tie-ups, and feel a strong connection to their organization’s purpose.

It’s a remarkable and reassuring shift, especially when compared to where we were last September when KPMG released its first major survey of how CEOs were leading through this crisis. One year ago, leaders were looking to accelerate their company’s digital transformation while working to ensure their talent pipelines could meet new, extraordinary demands. Although they were generally confident about their company’s ability to manage through the crisis (depending on the sector), the general global economic outlook was grim—an unsurprising view during the heights of the pandemic.

But today—only one fiscal year later—our report points to a remarkable and even reassuring shift:

  • 87% are confident about their organization’s growth prospects
  • 60% are confident about global economic growth compared to 32% a year ago

After spending many months designing and executing a pandemic-specific management playbook, businesses are ready to capture market opportunities with aggressive growth strategies. For example, talent risk—the how and where people were going to work—was the primary concern of 2020. Now, talent is inextricably linked to growth. Only 21 percent of the leaders we interviewed plan to downsize their physical footprint, down from 69 percent in 2020, and work-from-home plans are being offered as incentives, not as necessities, to attract and retain talent to meet expansion plans.

The shift in mindset can also be seen in leadership concerns. Operational matters, like supply chain resilience, cyber security, and regulatory matters, have crept back to the top of CEO priorities. Although the pandemic is still influencing many of these issues, COVID-19 is no longer dominating decision-making—freeing leadership to concentrate on important housekeeping items alongside their growth strategies.

A major lesson from the pandemic has been that we all need to work together to solve big problems, and importantly, ESG is front and center in most business plans. It’s an encouraging sign, and one I am particularly pleased to see. With everything that has changed and will change, ESG could have been left behind, but our results show that companies are ready to work closely with governments to make good on their ESG commitments and are prepared to be held accountable for delivering on them.

We may not be back to business-as-usual just yet—especially with the threat of new variants and what that may mean for growth. But like the many CEOs we interviewed, I share their optimism, not only for business but in what we can achieve by working together. There’s a lot of opportunity for business growth, and also to build a far more resilient economy and create solutions that benefit society.

Hopefully, today’s optimism in the boardroom will be the fuel that brightens our shared future.

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