2021 CEO Study: Find your essential
How to thrive in a post-pandemic reality

2021 CEO Study: Find your essential

How to thrive in a post-pandemic reality

How to thrive in a post-pandemic reality



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This is a moment to take stock in an entirely new way.

Whether COVID-19 impacts subside from here or persist, 2020 served as a dramatic inflection point. Never before has the entire planet reconfigured its behavior simultaneously, participating in lockdowns, quarantines, and enforced social distancing. For businesses and governments, the implications have been extreme, with assumptions and plans radically altered. From Asia to the Americas, the status quo evaporated both within and across industries. The future is murkier than ever—yet presents both new opportunities and new risks.

To better understand this singular moment, the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) launched its most extensive Chief Executive Officer (CEO) research project ever. Building on almost 20 years of C-suite Studies, the IBV gathered insights from more than 3,000 CEOs and the most senior public sector leaders across the economy and around the world, supplementing its own deep expertise with that of Oxford Economics, a leader in global forecasting and quantitative analysis. In addition, IBV hand selected two dozen CEOs for extensive, exclusive interviews, that delve into the mindsets, themes, and challenges that top leaders are grappling with right now.

2021 CEO Study: Find your essential
How to thrive in a post-pandemic reality


Bookmark this page  

This is a moment to take stock in an entirely new way.

Whether COVID-19 impacts subside from here or persist, 2020 served as a dramatic inflection point. Never before has the entire planet reconfigured its behavior simultaneously, participating in lockdowns, quarantines, and enforced social distancing. For businesses and governments, the implications have been extreme, with assumptions and plans radically altered. From Asia to the Americas, the status quo evaporated both within and across industries. The future is murkier than ever—yet presents both new opportunities and new risks.

To better understand this singular moment, the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) launched its most extensive Chief Executive Officer (CEO) research project ever. Building on almost 20 years of C-suite Studies, the IBV gathered insights from more than 3,000 CEOs and the most senior public sector leaders across the economy and around the world, supplementing its own deep expertise with that of Oxford Economics, a leader in global forecasting and quantitative analysis. In addition, IBV hand selected two dozen CEOs for extensive, exclusive interviews, that delve into the mindsets, themes, and challenges that top leaders are grappling with right now.

2021 CEO Study: Find your essential
How to thrive in a post-pandemic reality

“Strip away distractions, then invest all of your energy and resources in only the things that will make you most successful.”

— Jeff McElfresh, CEO, AT&T Communications

What we've learned is extraordinary.

We discovered eye-opening surprises that reflect just how unprecedented the next era will be, with new priorities and new areas of focus. From emerging expectations around remote work to accelerated technological adoption, leading practices of yesterday and requirements of tomorrow are far from aligned.

The central, overarching question of this new era: what will it take to be essential—to your customers, your employees, your community, and your investors? The CEOs we spoke with almost uniformly emphasized that focusing on the sharpest edge of their businesses, what differentiates their organizations and delivers the most value, has become the overarching imperative.

Out of the chaos has come clarity: get rid of diversions and indulgences, root out “tradition for tradition’s sake,” and exploit distinctive advantages. This applies externally, in products and services, as well as internally. Who is essential to your organization, and what is essential to the operation of your business?

Explore key insights from global CEOs

01

Essential priorities

See key results from the entire pool of 3,000
CEOs surveyed.

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