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Investors, boards support CEO action on global challenges, says EY

More than two-thirds (67%) of the world’s largest company CEOs say that they are likely to take public stands on politically charged issues related to global challenges, according to the EY CEO Imperative Study 2019. The survey of 200 CEOs, 100 senior institutional investors and 100 independent board members also finds that 76% of board directors and 79% of investors say they are likely to support a CEO taking a stand.

In addition, according to 57% of CEOs, 63% of board directors and 54% of investors believe it is in the best interest of large companies for CEOs to take a more active role on global challenges. The majority of CEOs (57%) see more opportunity than risk in taking action on global challenges and close to half of board directors (49%) and investors (42%) support this view.

Calls for the move to inclusive and long-term growth are also starting to impact investment decisions as 60% of investors report supporting long-term investing to address global challenges, even when near-term performance may be diminished. Crucially, 83% of investors say that corporate stance/actions on global challenges will become a more important factor in decision-making over the next five years.

CEOs around the world report that national and corporate cybersecurity, job losses from technological change and income inequality are the top three global challenges threatening business growth and the global economy over the next five to ten years. Additionally, board directors (58%), institutional investors (54%) and CEOs (51%) all believe to a great/very great extent that corporate action is needed to solve the top global challenges.

CEOs increasingly report that they are taking actions to address global challenges with the top actions reported being:

  • 60% of CEOs say they have aligned their corporate purpose
  • 47% of CEOs have established partnerships with governments or NGOs
  • 45% have adopted a corporate reporting framework incorporating non-traditional concepts of value, and have participated in industry or cross-industry coalitions

However, boards and investors prioritize actions that drive internal transformation, indicating some misalignment between CEOs and these groups. The top two actions boards and investors want to see:

  • Integration of the global challenges into corporate strategies (59% of boards and 50% of investors rank this as their top priority for CEOs)
  • Linking of internal governance, performance measures and rewards to global challenges (with 47% of boards of 43% of investors ranking as another top priority)

C-suite changes ahead

Only one-third of respondents (34%) believe the C-suite model is well-suited to the demands and opportunities of the next decade. However, CEOs and boards have been changing the face of the management model, with top positions added over the last five years including chief innovation officer, chief digital officer and chief strategy officer.

Additions and changes to the C-suite are still being planned, with 72% of CEOs expecting to add positions or change roles on the C-suite and 82% of boards reporting the same. The top five new C-suite capabilities critical to company’s continued growth according to CEOs are: digital transformation (55%); innovation (53%); artificial intelligence (43%); data science (33%); and behavioral science (25%). 

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