PwC CEO Pulse Survey reveals new long-term reality for businesses

23 September, 2020

  • Recovery now expected to take more than a year, which Irish C-suite foresaw back in June, earlier than global counterparts
  • It's all about digitisation: 23% of Irish CEOs ranked development of digital products as their single highest business priority
  • People are the priority: Business leaders are seeing the value in making their operations even more employee-centric with Irish CEOs taking a lead on prioritising flexibility
  • Ireland's leaders seen the future as green: 63% believe climate change mitigation will maintain its momentum, while global CEOs are at 47%
A close-up photo of a mature man wearing a headset with a mic while working his working on a laptop.

PwC has released the findings of their latest CEO Pulse Survey. This ongoing research, from 67 countries including Ireland, has gleaned the views of nearly 700 business leaders for how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their business and what are their main priorities for the months and years ahead.

Speaking about the survey findings, Feargal O'Rourke, PwC Ireland Managing Partner, said "Many businesses continue to face some of the greatest challenges they have ever had to. Our survey highlights that some of the changes brought about by the pandemic are here for the long term and many businesses are dealing with the challenges head on".

"Business leaders now need to rethink how they operate in the future. They may need to rethink everything. What's critical now is that they use the important knowledge they've gained about their organisations effectively to balance short-term recovery, with long term rethinking of their strategy. They need to establish a flexible business and workplace plan, invest in digital tools and take their commitment to agility and innovation to the next level. And with a no-deal Brexit looking increasingly likely, businesses also need to continue to plan for all Brexit eventualities".

Recovery to take more than a year: Global pessimism, but local realism

In June, over a quarter of Irish finance leaders (CFOs) told us that they believed it would take more than a year for their businesses to recover from the pandemic, longer than for any other country in the world. According to this latest CEO Pulse survey, business leaders are downbeat about global economic growth with global CEOs being slightly more cautious when it comes to future revenue growth. Six out of ten (60%) Irish business leaders are of the view that global economic growth will decline in the next 12 months (Global: 65%), but still a third (34%) expect global economic growth to improve (Global; 30%). At the same time, 60% of Irish participants are 'somewhat confident' about their organisations' prospects for revenue growth in the year ahead albeit global businesses are slightly more cautious (45%).

It's all about digitisation: business operations and digital products are highest on the CEO agenda

The survey highlights that Irish business leaders, like their international peers, are responding head on to the shifting trends as a result of COVID-19 and are adjusting their business models. Irish CEOs, like their global counterparts, are focused on making their organisations more digital and virtual. A quarter (23%) ranked digitising their core business operations and processes as their highest-priority business model change following COVID-19. A further one in five (20%) said that their number one priority is to focus on adding digital products and services.

The survey also highlights a whole new business landscape is emerging. Two-thirds (67%) of Irish CEOs believe that shifts towards remote collaboration and automation will have a lasting impact on their business models as a result of the pandemic – although more global CEOs think so (76% and 78% respectively). With Brexit high on the agenda and Ireland's high dependency on exports and imports, 63% of Irish respondents believe shifts in supply chain safety are here to stay (Global: 58%). Significantly, more Irish respondents are of the view that climate change mitigation (63%) is a lasting trend (Global: 47%).

Ciarán Kelly Advisory Leader at PwC Ireland said, "The survey findings illustrate the ways in which CEOs are adapting to a new reality. In the early days of the pandemic, many business leaders quickly realised that the digital capabilities of their organisation would determine its ability to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. This awareness has helped speed the adoption of digitisation initiatives, among both employees and customers. With new business models emerging from the crisis, the rapid adoption of next-generation technologies together with the new approaches will set a precedent for organisations to navigate future cycles of challenge and prosperity".

People are priority: Clear value in making businesses more employee-centric with Ireland taking a lead on flexibility 

The survey reveals that amongst the enduring changes, people are the priority. An overwhelming 97% of Irish CEOs confirmed their intention to protect employee health and safety would be a lasting result; 70% said that conducting well-being initiatives will remain in place for the foreseeable future. Nearly half (47%) stated that maximising employee retention will shape their future business models – ahead of global peers (36%).

It is not surprising, therefore, that Irish CEOs believe that their actions to combat the pandemic will serve them with greater positive impact on their long-term reputation. For example, nearly half (48%) said that protecting employee health and safety will have the single greatest positive impact on their organisation's long-term reputation (Global: 41%).

CEOs also plan to develop a more flexible and employee-oriented workforce. Nearly a quarter (23%) ranked remote working as their highest-priority business model change – higher than global counterparts (15%). 13% ranked expanding employee health and safety and well-being programmes as their single top priority.

Ciara Fallon Director of PwC Ireland People and Organisation added, "As well as being the right thing to do, employers who focus on creating a safe workplace—whether in the office or offsite—will earn trust, build loyalty and enhance their organisation's reputation. Any thoughtful and purposeful efforts to improve safety in the current context have the power to act as a true differentiator, in terms of both the employee and customer experience.

The survey also highlights that the shift to more flexible ways of working has many benefits, but not without practical implications for how companies approach benefits such as employee well-being support and development. CEOs know that how they treat employees goes to the heart of what they represent and feeds their reputation. And we could see this emerge as a new distinctive platform for companies—building their brand and reputation on how they attend to employee safety and well-being—in a way that it may have been taken for granted before".

A third of respondents said that they had decreased leadership financial compensation (Ireland:33%; Global: 32%) as part of their long-term business model changes. One in ten (10%) say their highest priority is to become more lean and automated by decreasing headcount or replacing humans (Global: 14%).

What's next for Ireland?

As part of the survey, CEOs were asked what's on their agenda for the future.

Given Ireland's dependency on the import and export of goods and manufacturing equipment, it is no surprise to see that 63% of CEOs are hoping that the maintenance of supply chain continuity and dependability is a priority.

In line with Ireland's shift toward the environmental agenda, 63% of leaders locally believe that ongoing mitigation of climate change is going to be a shift that will maintain the momentum that it gained during the last six months. Only 47% of those polled internationally shared that point of view, with one-quarter stating the trend towards climate change mitigation will be a short-term phenomenon.

In Ireland, there is less of an appetite compared to international leaders to create low density workplaces – only half (50%) of respondents said it would endure, compared to 61% in the rest of the world. At the same time, a similar proportion (47%) also see any move towards deurbanisation as temporary (Global: 38%).

Half (50%) of Irish CEOs believe that State intervention is a temporary feature (Global: 57%). At the same time, one in four (43%) believe that Government support will be sustained – significantly more than international peers (30%). The survey reveals that over one in ten (13%) declined Government supports for their businesses during the pandemic (Global: 20%).

About the survey

PwC surveyed 699 CEOs online in 67 countries or regions including Ireland (30 participants) during summer 2020. The 699 CEOs come from a mix of regions including Western Europe (42% of respondents); North America (7%); Middle East (3%). Ireland had 30 Irish CEOs participating. The surveyed CEOs are leaders of private businesses and public companies, of small firms and US$1 billion-plus enterprises, and they represent a diverse cross-section of industries, countries and regions.

Interviews available on request; contact Johanna Dehaene.


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Contact us

Ciarán Kelly

Partner, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 6408

Johanna Dehaene

Corporate Communications, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 6547

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