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Ugen Moodley - Growing pains - a healthy balance of optimism and pragmatism

Ugen Moodley, Managing Director - KPMG, KwaZulu-Natal

Earlier this year KPMG performed our fourth annual Global CEO Outlook where we reached out to 1,300 CEOs of large companies from around the world to get their views of the highest-priority opportunities and most daunting challenges they and their businesses face.

In 2017, we found CEOs excited about the future: they saw technology-driven change as a significant opportunity to disrupt their sector. That optimism has continued in 2018, with business leaders showing great faith in the economic environment, both nationally and globally. However, as the year has progressed that optimism has been tempered by caution and realism, with a clear recognition that, in order to grow their businesses, they need to respond to an ever-expanding spectrum of complex challenges and 'growing pains'. While the CEOs surveyed still predicted that their businesses will grow in 2018, forecasts and actuals are lower than last year and a majority say they need to hit growth targets before they start hiring new people.

Reviewing the results and the insights from these senior executives, you can't help but be struck by the sheer volume and depth of the issues CEOs are facing and how they are personally focusing their efforts as leaders to face them. It's not surprising in the current environment to see geopolitical issues rising up the CEO radar.

Geopolitics has officially hit the boardroom. 'A return to territorialism' is the number one threat to growth.

Technology continues to command considerable attention -- as an enabler, a disruptor and, with the threat of cyberattacks, a very significant risk.

So much so that 49 percent say that becoming the victim of a cyber-attack is a case of 'when', not 'if'. Data privacy is also understandably high on the CEO agenda. And even with the increased reliance on datadriven models and analytics to make decisions, the CEOs we have spoken with are still relying on the value of their experience and intuition in making the difficult strategic calls for the future of their organisations.

Generational shifts are also high on the agenda with over a third (38 percent) saying they need to reposition their business to meet the needs of Millennials. The focus is on realistic growth.

There is optimism tempered by pragmatism. Most are optimistic about the macroeconomic outlook, with 90 percent confident in their company's growth prospects while 67 percent are confident in the growth prospects for the global economy. This is coupled with a healthy dose of pragmatism with 55 percent predicting cautious revenue growth of less than 2 percent. Sadly 52 percent say they will need to hit growth targets before hiring new skills.

Being a leader in this period of such profound disruption and opportunity poses immense personal and professional challenges. Leaders around the world are more open to new thinking, learning new skills and challenging convention than ever before. Driving growth will require leaders to combine equal amounts of resourcefulness and realism.

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