PwC’s 27th Annual Global CEO Survey — CEE Edition

Thriving in an age of continuous reinvention

PwC's 27th Annual Global CEO Survey
  • Report
  • 20 Minute Read
  • 28 Feb 2024

The CEE edition of PwC’s 27th Annual Global CEO Survey shows that more CEOs in our region are seeing an urgent need for transformation—and shows heartening signs that confidence is returning. 

“The CEE results of our survey suggest to me that business leaders in our region are aware of a need to respond to rapid change, but take a measured and practical approach to leading their organisations. CEOs in CEE show an ability to remain steadfast in uncertain geopolitical times and in the face of megatrends such as climate change and technological disruption—even with respect to the promises and threats of generative AI. The survey report offers actionable insights for business leaders and we have worked to lay out a clear path forward for transformation and future-proofing in our reinvention playbook.”

- Adam Krasoń, CEO, PwC CEE

The reinvention imperative: CEOs in CEE increasingly see transformation as vital to the survival of their businesses

While 45% of CEOs globally believe their company will not be viable in ten years’s time if it stays on its current path, this figure is even more stark in CEE. Almost half (48%) of CEOs in CEE don’t see their companies surviving the coming decade under their current business model. 

This represents a slight increase in the proportion of CEOs in CEE who see the necessity to transform compared to the 2023 survey.

Question: If your company continues running on its current path, for how long do you think your business will be economically viable?

“I strongly believe that the banking industry has to transform since traditional business models are not going to be economically viable in the long run. Experience shows, however, that many banks are struggling with this. Transformation should be about fundamental changes, those that impact customer experience, as well as those related to operational and financial performance. Banks’ approach to the labour market should also reflect such changes, since Gen Z have different values and workplace expectations, which are driven by technological savvy and agility. On the other hand, banking is a highly regulated industry. Often it is the regulatory and compliance requirements that can cause delays in new initiatives out of an abundance of caution, but also due to limits such requirements may pose on available resources and other constraints. This segment should be addressed carefully through better planning and dialogue with the regulator, which then can bring about improvements.”

- Slavica Pavlovic, President of the Executive Board at Eurobank Direktna banka, Serbia

CEE business leaders see technological change as the biggest driver of how they will do things differently in the next three years

Technological change is predicted to be the main driver of transformation in the way companies create, deliver and capture value in the next three years by CEOs in CEE. Business leaders in CEE are 20% more likely to predict technological change impacting their operations in the next three years than it did during the previous five years. While technological change is seen by CEOs as the most important driver of new approaches in the next three years both globally (56%) and in CEE (57%), it is notable just how much more important it is seen to be in CEE for the next three years compared with how it was viewed over the last five years. 

In the last five years, the most important driver of operational transformation in CEE was supply chain instability—which was only the fifth most important driver globally over the same period. While it is still viewed by CEE business leaders as a prominent driver of business model change, it is the only one of the top five CEE drivers that has decreased in importance. Although the importance of supply chain instability as a driver for CEOs has decreased in relation to other drivers, it still remains more significant in CEE than globally looking to the next three years.   

Other important transformation drivers—changes in customer preferences, government regulations and competitor actions—have all risen in importance in projections for the next three years compared to the last five years. All these drivers have risen by margins of around ten percent, meaning the views of CEOs in CEE are now broadly in line with their global peers. 

Question: Please indicate the extent to which the following factors have driven/will drive changes to the way your company creates, delivers and captures value in the last five years/next three years.
(Showing only ‘to a large extent’ and ‘to a very large extent’ responses)

The regulatory environment is seen as the main inhibitor of reinvention for CEOs in CEE and globally

Government regulation, as well as being a prominent driver of different ways of doing business, is also viewed as the most significant barrier to transformation. While this view of regulation is shared by CEOs both in CEE and globally, supply chain instability is perceived by Central and Eastern European business leaders as a bigger issue by a 12% margin. This can likely be attributed to regional geopolitical issues, in particular Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

It is notable that in CEE the two biggest perceived inhibitors of transformation, government regulation (65%) and supply chain instability (58%), are both outside CEOs’ direct sphere of influence. While internal factors, such as competing operational priorities, lack of workforce skills, limited financial resources and lack of technological capabilities, are all seen as important by over 40% of CEOs in CEE, external factors are seen as even greater inhibitors to transformation in the region. 

An important question posed by the survey findings is on regulation. Whilst Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine is a key factor inhibiting supply chain instability regionally, what does having almost two-thirds of CEOs in CEE citing the regulatory environment as a key barrier to change tell us? Do CEOs in CEE believe that their organisations are over-regulated, or is it a sign that regulatory frameworks—which in many instances are intended to drive behavioural change, —are seen as being not fit for purpose by business leaders in the CEE region and globally? 

Question: To what extent, if at all, are the following factors inhibiting your company from changing the way it creates, delivers and captures value?
(Showing only ‘to a moderate extent,’ ‘to a large extent’ and ‘to a very large extent’ responses)

There are clear signs of economic confidence returning—particularly in CEE

CEOs in CEE are more optimistic about global economic growth than their global peers. Five percent more regional CEOs expect to see improved economic growth in 2024 compared to global averages—and a lower proportion expect the economy to shrink. The figure of 43% is approaching three times that of the number predicting economic growth in last year’s survey. Also, the percentage of CEOs in CEE foreseeing economic decline fell sharply—by 34% in comparison with the previous year.  

This optimism should be tempered, however, by CEOs in CEE having slightly lower expectations for the growth of their own revenue than in the previous year. 

Question: How do you believe economic growth (i.e., gross domestic product) will change, if at all, over the next 12 months in the global economy? (net values)

The largest proportions of both groups predict the economy will “slightly improve” or “slightly decline.” That said, CEOs in CEE are over 10% more likely to predict the economy will “improve slightly” and marginally less likely to see the economy as “declining slightly”. 

Question: How do you believe economic growth (i.e., gross domestic product) will change, if at all, over the next 12 months in the global economy?

While confidence in the wider economy appears to be returning, CEOs in CEE are somewhat less confident of their own company’s revenue growth over the next 12 months and three years than they were in last year’s survey. CEOs in CEE are slightly more optimistic of revenue growth in the coming year than their global peers, but marginally less over the next three years. 

Question: How confident are you about your company’s prospects for revenue growth over the next 12 months/next three years?
(Showing only ‘very confident’ and ‘extremely confident’ responses)

Inflation and geopolitical conflict remain the key threats in the CEE region—but less so than last year

When asked about exposure to key threats in the next year, inflation looms largest for both CEE and global CEOs, but is a higher concern in CEE. Although less than last year’s 55%, still 40% of CEOs in CEE feel extremely exposed to inflation, compared to just about a quarter globally. Additionally, reflecting Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, geopolitical conflict is seen as the second biggest threat by CEOs in CEE, but only fourth at the global level (32% versus 18%).

Question: How exposed do you believe your company will be to the following key threats in the next 12 months?
(Showing only ‘highly exposed’ and ‘extremely exposed’ responses)

CEOs in CEE are taking action on energy efficiency

Climate change is one of the megatrends pressing business leaders to transform their companies. Although only a small number of CEOs in CEE report they have completed climate actions, a higher proportion of them have work in progress or planned—and often even more than global averages. 

The biggest focus for business leaders in CEE and globally is energy efficiency. CEOs in the region report slightly more actions aimed in this area than global averages—15% versus 10% for completed actions and 71% versus 65% for work in progress.

“ZSE/VSE is assisting in Slovakia’s energy transition towards carbon neutrality. Our grid companies have invested heavily in their distribution grids over the years, enhancing capacity and thus enabling connections of more and more distributed renewable energy storage, such as photovoltaics (PV). We continuously strive to upgrade our grids to further automate and digitalise them to increase their efficiency. On the supply side, we provide our customers with a broad range of products and services enabling them to successfully achieve their bespoke energy transition. This includes green electricity tariffs, rooftop and industrial PV, (virtual) batteries, energy-efficient heating/cooling solutions and e-mobility infrastructure, such as (ultra)fast chargers and wall boxes. We simultaneously work on reducing our own carbon footprint, for instance, through ecological corridor management, the conversion of our car fleet to electric and equipping our buildings with PV modules. We transparently show progress through our annual sustainability report.”

- Markus Kaune, Chairman of the Board of Directors and CEO, ZSE Group, Slovakia

Question: Below is a list of actions companies may undertake related to climate change. Which of the following best describes your company’s level of progress on each of these actions?

While many CEOs in CEE are taking action on energy efficiency, around one-third of them don't have specific plans for actions on climate adaptation, transition or nature. This can be attributed to a range of factors. CEOs in the CEE region don’t see climate change as one of the principal threats to their business this year. For them, it is less than half as important, for example, as geopolitical conflict or macroeconomic volatility.

However, business leaders in CEE put a lot of focus on energy efficiency actions, which they might perceive not only through the lens of responding to climate change. They can associate these actions with immediate business benefits—such as cost savings. Also, technological change, government regulations and energy security objectives (including independence from Russia’s supplies) are driving the energy efficiency agenda.

“We are facing complex, multidimensional challenges in the energy sector. No matter how the world will evolve in terms of markets and value chains, it is critical to put the available technologies at the service of decarbonisation and we need to trust the regulators to support the progress and the private sector to invest where needed. While countries may consider different technologies for achieving net-zero, investment in the transition and maintaining industrial competitiveness at the same time remains challenging.”

- Sławomir Żygowski, Country Executive for Poland, GE Vernova

CEOs in CEE believe that AI will change their businesses—but are unsure about how and to what extent

A majority (59%) of CEOs in CEE believe that generative AI will significantly change the way their company creates, delivers and captures value over the next three years. While this is over 10% below the global average, it still indicates clearly how CEE business leaders see the direction of travel on AI. 

Question: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements about generative AI?

Far fewer CEOs in CEE take the view that generative AI will enhance their company’s ability to build trust with customers in the next 12 months—a quarter (25%) versus almost half (48%) globally. CEOs in CEE also anticipate positive near-time impacts from generative AI somewhat less enthusiastically than their peers globally.

“While generative AI holds immense potential for transforming business processes and creating value, it is important for organisations to carefully assess and understand the specific implications and challenges associated with its implementation in their respective contexts. SAP understands the future integration of generative AI in everyday life and work, and our strategy focuses on leveraging business AI and the cloud for intelligent automation and digital transformation. We aim to use AI not only for automating business processes but also for supporting strategic decisions, enhancing work efficiency, and driving environmental sustainability. As a technology partner to numerous organisations, we are actively building an AI ecosystem tailored to the needs of enterprises in the future.”

- Piotr Ferszka, CEO of SAP Polska

In terms of efficiencies in their own time at work, a majority of CEOs in CEE see increases of at least 5% in the next year, broadly in line with the global average. However, while almost half of business leaders in CEE report that generative AI will significantly find efficiencies in their employees’ time at work, this is 15% lower than the global figure of 64%.

Question: To what extent will generative AI increase or decrease the following in your company in the next 12 months?

“Sustainability and digitalisation have been the two pillars of our business model’s reinvention. In recent months, it has become inevitable that we have to add the third one, namely generative AI. The success of our transformation will depend on having the right talent and our ability to change ourselves. The relatively moderate enthusiasm about generative AI by the CEE CEOs represents an excellent opportunity for the companies, whose leaders see its full potential and don’t shy away from making transformational changes.”

- Benjamin Jošar, President of Board, Triglav Skladi, Slovenia

In general, CEOs in CEE appear to be less enthusiastic about generative AI’s implementation and transformational potential than the global average. CEE responses on AI are lukewarm—particularly in relation to building trust with stakeholders—which took companies a lot of time and hard work to build up. However, comparing CEOs' opinions on AI with employees' views, we see that CEE business leaders have a clearer vision of the opportunities this technology could bring.

“In my opinion, there is no single decisive reason for CEE business leaders being somewhat less enthusiastic about generative AI’s implementation and transformational potential than global averages. There are, however, a few pre-conditions for this impression—like a smaller market, less space for scaling up, legacy infrastructure, and more complex AI implementation needs. Last but not least, I believe this perhaps reflects a more pragmatic and conservative approach, which is characteristic of the CEE region, towards this new megatrend”

- Peter Laco, Chief Commercial Officer Enterprise, Slovak Telekom, Slovakia

CEE companies have a 30-year track record absorbing significant changes and having to quickly adopt new technology. A more neutral position about AI can be one of the expressions of their stoicism, which doesn’t necessarily mean that AI implementation won’t be part of major transformational processes in the region. 

To move forward leveraging the power of AI, CEOs in the CEE region should ask themselves a number of guiding questions. Is my company one of the companies that are ahead of the curve on AI? What steps do I need to take to harness generative AI’s transformational potential for my company? How can I support my people in navigating the change? What skills will my employees need to develop?

Your reinvention playbook

How companies can drive continuous transformation

The imperative for reinvention is growing, and business leaders around the world are increasingly seeing an urgent need for transformation. 

Old approaches are no longer appropriate in the face of challenges from megatrends like technological disruption and climate change. New ways of doing business need to be found—but reinvention shouldn’t be perceived as something vague or too complicated to be realised. Strategic planning can help include all emerging priorities, building a comprehensive vision of the goal and actions for its achievement.

From our extensive experience of working on transformation topics in our region, we see four key areas requiring attention from business leaders in supporting their organisation's transformation and future-proofing. Our reinvention playbook outlines these crucial dimensions of focus. We hope it will facilitate transformation processes to help meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world.

  1. Adopt cloud as a basis for business and technological transformation
  2. Prioritise cybersecurity to help your business remain viable in a digitalised world
  3. Embrace sustainability as a guiding principle for all business actions
  4. Use managed services to drive continuous reinvention and outperformance

Interested to learn more about driving continuous transformation?

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PwC surveyed 4,702 CEOs in 105 countries and territories from 2 October through 10 November 2023. The global and regional figures in this report are weighted proportionally to country nominal GDP to ensure that CEOs’ views are representative across all major regions. The industry- and country-level figures are based on unweighted data from the full sample of 4,702 CEOs. There were 111 CEOs from Central and Eastern Europe included in the CEE sub-sample.

Contact us

Adam Krasoń

Adam Krasoń

CEO, PwC Central and Eastern Europe

Agnieszka Gajewska

Agnieszka Gajewska

Global Government & Public Services Leader, CEE Clients & Markets Leader, PwC Central and Eastern Europe

Tel: +48 517 140 537

Jeffery McMillan

Jeffery McMillan

CEE Director of Brand, Marketing & Communications, PwC Central and Eastern Europe

Tel: +48 519 506 633

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