What are the top CEO challenges?

by Shweta Verma    Jul 18, 2013

ceo challenges

The fluctuating economic environment, political instability and business uncertainty have all created numerous challenges for business leaders across organizations. CEOs today not only have to deal with internal business issues but are also grappling with external threats from multiple fronts.

“It’s never been a more difficult time to be a CEO,” says Stephen Miles, Founder and chief executive of The Miles Group, which advises top CEOs. “Corporate leaders are facing some of the most challenging times of their careers. Companies’ unprecedented exposure on the regulatory and reputational fronts requires that CEOs get in and manage a lot of this themselves, in addition to providing inspiring leadership in the face of so much uncertainty.”

3 Major Concerns: Skills, Infrastructure, Economic Policies

According to PwC’s annual CEO survey, while global CEOs seem more concerned about increasing tax burden and skills availability, CEOs in India have to deal with additional issues related to infrastructure, protectionist economic policies and corruption at every level.

The survey states that the top three business-related concerns of Indian CEOs are: availability of skills (81%), inadequacy of basic infrastructure (75%) and increasing tax burden (75%).The top challenges related to economic and political environment include: protectionist tendencies of national governments (77%), bribery and corruption (74%) and exchange rate volatility (74%).

CEO worries about corruption and taxes have only increased in the last few years. While calculating the administrative burden of complying with taxes in India, the World Bank Group ranks India at 147 out of 183 countries on the ease of paying taxes. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranks India at 94 out of 176 countries - certainly a dismal situation to be in.

Another global survey report titled ‘The Conference Board CEO Challenge 2013’ identifies the top 5 CEO challenges as: human capital, operational excellence, innovation, customer relationships, political & economic risks.  

Emerging Tech Challenges

Besides the business challenges mentioned above, CEOs also have to deal with many challenges on the technology front. Emerging new technologies like social media, mobility, big data etc. are making a huge impact on business. This not only requires CEOs to hone up their skills in these areas, but also demands a complete reorientation of the process of planning and decision making.

“Understanding the complete disruption that technology is causing across all dimensions of business is an absolute requirement for CEOs. 2013 will demand even greater immersion in the threats and opportunities that technology is presenting to their business models and leadership,” says Stephen Miles.

He also asserts that social media, big data, mobile device dominance and cloud are only part of the story. “Innovations are really about a whole new way of thinking and operating and organizing companies in order to reach consumers and other stakeholders.”

Management Approach

With the risk landscape changing so rapidly, CEOs need to be far more agile and adaptable in their management approach. They need to constantly work around the challenges, while at the same time ensuring long term business growth for their companies.

The PWC survey also shows that Indian CEOs are negotiating the challenges and creating value by focusing on the following three areas 

- Targeting specific pockets of business opportunities 

- Concentrating on understanding customer needs & innovating around them 

- Improving operational effectiveness smartly, cutting costs without cutting value.

No matter what their business agenda requires them to do, modern day CEOs have to constantly focus on combating the threats that are coming from all directions.  Today’s highly competitive market environment requires business leaders to be extremely smart in their strategizing and planning, else they would find it tough to survive.