2023 volume 33 issue 4

2023 Global CEO Outlook: The Challenge of Charting a Course Through Complexity


Keith Leung, KPMG
Rob Brouwer, KPMG

Today, business leaders face many challenges on multiple fronts – from geopolitical uncertainties to increased stakeholder expectations in ESG and the adoption of generative artificial intelligence (AI). Despite the ongoing challenges, mid-term global confidence remains robust as there is consensus that business leaders can, in time, return to a path of international and sustainable long-term growth. Drawing on the perspectives of 1,325 global CEOs across 11 markets, KPMG’s 2023 Global CEO Outlook survey, conducted prior to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, provides insight into their three-year outlook on the business landscape.

Economic Outlook

Despite the apparent challenges, global economic confidence over the next three years remains broadly unchanged year over year and continues to surpass prepandemic levels. While approximately 73% (versus 71% from the prior year) of global CEOs remain confident in long-term growth trajectories, a noteworthy observation from the survey suggests that CEOs’ confidence in their own company’s growth prospects is at a three-year low, falling to 77% in 2023 from 85% at the beginning of 2020.

This is accompanied by a significant shift in what CEOs view as the most significant risks to their business. CEOs now rank geopolitics and political uncertainty as the greatest risk to the growth of their business, whereas this risk was only ranked seventh a year ago. In a geopolitically fragmented world, CEOs often become de facto political players. The approach of these leaders should elevate politics on the boardroom agenda and continuously work to mitigate related risks.

Beyond geopolitical risks, CEOs also rank operational issues and emerging and disruptive technologies as top risks to growth over the next three years.

Adoption of Disruptive Technology

AI is radically transforming more and more aspects of everyday life, businesses and society. Tools like ChatGPT have prompted business leaders to assess and explore the seemingly endless potential of artificial intelligence, with 70% of business leaders investing heavily in generative AI as their competitive edge in the future. Furthermore, 52% of this group expect to realize a return on their investment within a three- to five-year timeframe, particularly in the form of increased profitability.

Despite the perceived benefits of generative AI, global CEOs also recognize that emerging technologies can present significant risks – 57% of business leaders cite ethical challenges as the top concern when it comes to the implementation of AI, followed closely by a lack of regulation. Due to the lack of existing regulations and scrutiny of AI, organizations are ill-equipped to develop policies and practices to regulate the use of generative AI.

CEOs are also grappling with how AI technologies have heightened cybersecurity risks. Although AI can help detect cyberattacks, 82% of CEOs believe it could also bring about new dangers by providing new attack strategies for adversaries. Even with all the attention that has been placed on cybersecurity in the past few years, more than a quarter (27%) of CEOs are still not prepared for a possible cyberattack (up from 24% last year), while more than half (53%) say they are.

The Evolution of the Workplace

One of the most significant socioeconomic trends brought on by the pandemic is hybrid work. Notably, global CEOs are generally keen on the traditional ways of working, with 64% anticipating a full return to the office within three years and 87% tying employees’ efforts to return to the office with favourable opportunities and additional compensation. In contrast, younger generations of workers say they prefer a hybrid working environment. To ensure talent is nurtured and retained, business leaders must strive to balance business needs and employee value propositions as return-to-office mandates are implemented.

Part of the employee value proposition is the implementation of an organization’s inclusion, diversity and equity (ID&E) strategies. Sixty-six percent of global CEOs believe that progress on diversity and inclusion has moved too slowly in the business world, and a strong majority (72%) say that achieving diversity in workplaces requires implementing a change across the senior leadership level.

Growing ESG Expectations

Global CEOs continue to place emphasis on the importance of environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives in their businesses. According to the survey, 69% of global CEOs have fully embedded ESG in their business as a means to create value. It is also interesting to note that 35% of CEOs say they have changed the language they use to refer to ESG both internally and externally, reflecting a shift in the dialogue about ESG and signalling a trend toward prioritizing the areas that make the most sense for their organizations.

While global CEOs believe they are still a few years away from seeing a return on ESG investments, they recognize its importance for their customers and brand. Nearly a quarter (24%) believe that, over the next three years, ESG will have the greatest impact on their customer relationships, and a further 16% believe it will help build their brand reputation.

Despite ESG being top-of-mind for many business leaders, 68% of business leaders have indicated that their current ESG progress needs to be more robust to withstand potential scrutiny from stakeholders and shareholders. Some business leaders cited challenges in balancing ESG goals with the profit expectations of shareholders.


The KPMG Global CEO survey captures the top-of-mind issues for many CEOs today. The survey also reveals that these issues change rapidly, with new risk factors identified by many CEOs. Investor relations professionals play an essential role in helping their organizations communicate to shareholders and other constituencies how they address and navigate these complex issues.

Keith Leung, CPA, CA is a Senior Manager, Accounting Advisory Services, and Rob Brouwer, FCPA, CPA is Canadian Managing Partner, Clients and Markets, for KPMG LLP in Canada.

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