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Geopolitical Instability, Inflation Reported As Top External Risks For CEOs

The Fall 2023 Fortune/Deloitte CEO Survey offers insight into CEOs’ priorities, challenges, and expectations across more than 26 industries.

In the Fall 2023 Fortune/Deloitte CEO survey, the majority of surveyed CEOs (88%) expect some continued organizational growth over the next 12 months, while simultaneously citing a tempered outlook on the global economy, their industry, and their company performance. The CEOs surveyed noted that maintaining growth is one of the biggest challenges they face today. Further, regulation joined the top external business disruptors alongside geopolitical instability, inflation, other sources of financial/market instability, and labor skills shortage, which have remained the top disruptors since the February 2023 survey.

In such a complex global environment, CEOs may need to sift through uncertainty to identify ways to build resiliency and paths for value in the long term. A potential avenue for both short- and long-term growth includes Generative AI with its immediate practical value applications. Another avenue might include a focus on purpose and social impact initiatives for the ability to inspire workforces and recruit key talent.

Growth And Outlook

CEOs continue to express tempered views on growth, with an eye on economic forces in the coming year, while balancing priorities to maintain both short- and long-term growth. Sixty-nine percent of the CEOs surveyed are optimistic or very optimistic about their company performance over the next twelve months. A decrease in optimism toward company and industry performance combined with an overall increase in pessimism, particularly towards the global economy (48% of CEOs remain pessimistic about the global economy), suggests CEOs are moderating their outlook overall.

Key Disruptors

Geopolitical challenges and inflation continue to lead the list of external disruptors—both at 51%—along with other sources of financial/market instability (38%) and regulatory issues joined the top four disruptors for CEOs, at 35%, tied with labor and skills shortage. While top disruptors may inform market sentiment, surveyed CEOs report high confidence in their organizations’ ability to navigate the pressure of disruptors on their business.

Generative AI

Almost half (49%) of those surveyed are experimenting with or evaluating Generative AI—similar to the June 2023 survey results (55%). More importantly, an increasing number of CEOs indicate their organization has moved to adoption in just a few months, with a 10% increase in limited production use and 6% increase in at-scale production. Further, 79% of CEOs surveyed say accelerating innovation is one of the top use cases for implementing Generative AI, and 96% are implementing or likely to implement Generative AI to increase efficiencies. As technology rapidly matures, CEOs appear to be embracing Generative AI as a tool for the future and are exploring opportunities to both create efficiencies and open new value in their organizations.

Hybrid Work

CEOs report varying preferences for the amount of time employees work in the office and/or at client sites. When asked what the preferred number of days CEOs would like employees to work in the office and/or at client/customer site, 27% indicated that they would like employees to work in the office three days on average, while another 22% cited they preferred five days a week of in-office work.

Purpose, Climate, Sustainability, And DEI

Attracting and retaining talent continues to drive most organizations’ strategy for purpose and social impact, while sustainability measurement and reporting are key focus areas for organizations. Seventy-seven percent of respondents stated that a commitment to purpose and impact helps retain and attract talent. Further, CEOs continue to build DEI into their strategic priorities and goals and focus investment on talent-related efforts. Sixty percent of CEOs surveyed stated that DEI is built into their organization’s corporate strategy. On the sustainability font, 44% of CEOS indicated that they are engaging employees to take individual sustainability action in their lives. Additionally, 39% of CEOs are working to reduce emissions by suppliers and/or customers.

“While CEOs face growing complexity, uncertainty, and headwinds, they are seeking opportunities to build resiliency, drive new growth, and increase efficiencies through Generative AI while managing risk,” says Jason Girzadas, Chief Executive Officer, Deloitte US. “At the same time, providing a meaningful workplace experience and attracting and retaining talent are top of mind as they balance initiatives related to purpose, social impact, climate and sustainability, and DEI.”

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