Tomorrow’s leaders today

20th CEO Survey

This year’s landmark 20th CEO Survey canvassed the views of over 1,300 CEOs about the impact of globalisation and technological change on the business world, and what the future may hold. But what about the leaders of tomorrow – what are they thinking, and what do they believe business should do to make a positive difference?

For the second year running, we ran a parallel survey with over 200 leaders from AIESEC, a leading international student organisation. The respondents were all under the age of 30, and came from over 100 countries. We look at the two groups side by side, exploring where these young leaders are aligned with the CEOs, and where they differ.

For starters, last year 60% of AIESEC young leaders believed economic growth would improve over the following 12 months, compared with only 27% of CEOs. Those numbers are almost identical this year, at 61% and 29% respectively. The confidence of tomorrow’s CEOs remains undaunted, perhaps demonstrating the resilience and positive outlook characteristic of this generation?

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Putting the human back into HR – in a global world

There’s a broad belief from CEOs and AIESEC’s young leaders that automation and other technologies are going to cause job losses over the next five years. Looking more deeply at the issues around HR and talent, it appears young leaders have less faith in organisations’ people and talent strategies than CEOs. 87% of CEOs believe organisations are promoting talent diversity and inclusiveness while only 63% of AIESEC young leaders agreed. And only 57% agree that organisations are changing their people strategies to reflect the skills and employment structures needed for the future, compared to 78% of CEOs.

“To develop leaders, companies need to give people the space to try and the responsibility to solve their own problems in order to be more innovative and have higher emotional intelligence. If companies want more innovation and for their talent to take ownership for their work, the communication structure of the company cannot be a reflection of the hierarchy structure: everyone must be free to input.” - AIESEC respondent

What’s more, only half of young leaders believe organisations are seeking out the best talent regardless of demographics or geography, or using technology to improve their people’s wellbeing. This is particularly pertinent as the AIESEC young leaders appear to have fully embraced globalisation with more than half now living outside the country they were born in, and 88% planning to work outside their home country in the future. But recent geopolitical events strongly suggest that we’re moving towards more of a protectionist culture, and young leaders believe this will create challenges for CEOs. They believe CEOs will need to consider many and various solutions, from working with start-ups to gain new perspectives, to empowering employees to develop new ideas, to adapting what companies do to the specific needs of individual markets.

It’s worth taking a look at PwC’s Young Worker’s Index, which explores how governments and businesses can play a key part in unlocking the potential in young people, and empowering them to take ownership of their own futures.

“In my opinion, the main areas governments need to find a common ground on are tax regulation, climate change, and people mobility. These three areas need to be tackled to ensure the long-term development of humanity as well as tackling the root cause of many social upheavals we see in a lot of countries today. Our public leaders need to advocate for global solutions even if they might have short-term negative effects on the country. What we lack are popular promoters of globalisation.” - AIESEC respondent

Young leaders simply don’t think that the HR systems and processes in place in organisations are fit for purpose. They are the generation on the receiving end of HR policies and processes (certainly more so than current CEOs), so organisations probably need to sit up, take notice, and start walking the talk. Also, CEOs need to think even more about promoting talent diversity and inclusiveness, and fully embrace the concept of a global workforce.

Nowhere to run: The disruptive power of technology

“I think that technology will completely revolutionise the world in the next 20 years. 20 years ago, we barely had mobile phones or internet connectivity in our homes. Now we have access to unlimited information and connections with people in every corner of the globe from a small device in our pockets. I don't think we can begin to even imagine what the world will look like in 20 years.” - AIESEC respondent


49% of AIESEC young leaders believe that technology, as a major disruptor, will completely reshape competition across industries, compared to only 27% of CEOs interviewed. In addition, almost a third of AIESEC members believe that automation and other technologies will – to some extent (60%) or a large extent (30%) – cause job losses in their country over the next five years. Perhaps this generation is simply more in touch with the power and influence of technology than an older generation of CEOs. They’ve been brought up on it, and are therefore perhaps better equipped to deal with the disruption it’s going to cause. Should CEOs be paying more attention and investing more in dealing with this threat?

As might be expected 90% of young leaders are active on social media channels. The same cannot be said for CEOs - only 43% said they were active. This may explain why young leaders are more attuned to the potential risks social media pose to stakeholder trust levels. CEOs do acknowledge that social media usage can affect stakeholder trust levels, but it wasn’t in their top list of concerns.

The young leaders also consume a lot more digital than print media, but surprisingly less than half make most of their purchases online and only 20% are active gamers. Is this yet another inter-generational trend we see developing? Perhaps Generation Z (the post-millennials) would be more inclined to use personal technology for gaming and online purchases. PwC’s Millennials at Work research suggests that millennials are living and breathing technology. Indeed: “One of the defining characteristics of the millennial generation is their affinity with the digital world.’

With technology comes the inevitable debate about trust. Both AIESEC young leaders and CEOs agree that the basis of trust is a strong corporate purpose that’s reflected in values, culture and behaviour (92% and 93% respectively). But they differ in their view on the practical challenges that stem from it. 70% of young leaders believe breaches of data privacy and ethics will impact negatively on stakeholder trust levels in the coming five years, compared to only 55% of CEOs. Half of the AIESEC respondents believe risks from the use of social media will do the same versus only 38% of CEOs.

CEOs must sit up and take notice of these developments and ensure that their organisations are not only embracing technological change but embedding a fully digital approach to attract and keep new talent. Also, CEOs shouldn’t underestimate the power of social media and importance of data privacy and ethics as factors that can directly affect stakeholders’ trust.

The same world from different perspectives

Both audiences (91% of AIESEC young leaders and 74% of CEOs) see geopolitical uncertainty as one of the top threats, but when it comes to climate change and environmental damage these threats appear more critical to young leaders (95%) than CEOs (50%). Maybe CEOs are more focused on what’s happening inside their own organisations than young leaders, who can take stock of what’s happening in the wider environment. If the younger generation is more environmentally aware, perhaps we will see a trend towards more sustainable organisations. These findings beg the question: is there a correlation between what they see as the biggest threats and how connected they are to the outside world through social media? In other words, are they simply more, and better, informed?

In addition, 90% of AIESEC young leaders are concerned about unemployment, whereas only 45% of CEOs see this as a major threat. Again, this may be a reflection of the inevitable difference between the perspective of someone running an organisation, in a secure job, and a young person embarking on a career for the first time.  And when it comes to the speed of technological change and cyber security, an overwhelming majority of young leaders see these two risks as a threat to business growth (95% and 83% respectively), versus 70% and 61% of CEOs.

Do CEOs underestimate how much of an impact these threats might have, or does their greater experience give them a more balanced perspective? Either way, both CEOs and the younger generation can gain useful insights by understanding each other’s point of view.

A meeting of minds

Many of the conclusions we drew last year are still relevant now. Tomorrow’s leaders are optimistic but also concerned – they see the world as a riskier place than the current generation of CEOs. Tomorrow’s leaders are especially aware of the risks and potential impact of new technology, and they believe that emotional, personal and moral qualities are as important in leaders as professional skills.

But there are new conclusions to be drawn from this year’s survey, and we’ve picked out the five key findings we think are the most important:

  1. The generation gap is alive and well. CEOs, millennials and Generation Z need to be much more aware of their different – but equally valid – perspectives, and work harder to find common ground and new ways to work together.
  2. The AIESEC young leaders told us that many existing HR systems and processes are simply not fit for purpose when it comes to recruiting and retaining this pool of talent. Organisations need to understand what motivates this generation and adapt accordingly.
  3. Although nationalism and protectionism appear to be on the rise, CEOs need to ensure their organisations think, act and recruit internationally, to attract and keep the best talent. Offering people the chance to work overseas will continue to be key.
  4. It’s not just about coping with technological change: CEOs need to ensure every aspect of their organisations fully embraces and embeds the possibilities of ‘fully digital’. That includes taking social media seriously.
  5. And digital is not just about opportunities. The risks are very real too. ‘Digital natives’ can play an invaluable role here, helping organisations understand, address, and pre-empt emerging online and cyber threats.

In collaboration with AIESEC

AIESEC is the world's largest youth-led organisation developing leadership potential of young people worldwide. Founded after the Second World War with the vision of achieving Peace and Fulfillment of Humankind's potential, AIESEC places its confidence in young people to unlock a better future for the world and prevent similar conflicts. Present in over 125 countries and territories with 70.000+ members, AIESEC offers young people life-changing experiential learning experiences, volunteer and professional internships.

For more information on the partnership between PwC and AIESEC please contact Philip Sladdin, Partner Global Information.

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Philip Sladdin
Partner - Global Information
Tel: +496995852531

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