This year, we interviewed 722 private company CEOs as part of our annual CEO survey, representing some 56% of all participants. Clearly coming through are the themes we see and hear on a daily basis – private companies and their CEOs value their relative autonomy, enabling a greater choice around transparency of culture, internal policies, strategies, external reporting and other areas of their business. Operating in a world of growing complexity and wide-ranging risks, private-company CEOs are freer to operate with a degree of agility, flexibility, and pragmatism than many of their counterparts at public companies. However, cyber threats, global market uncertainty and a shortage of digital talent are still key concerns for private-company CEOs. Despite these concerns, CEOs are optimistic about the future. In fact, 85% of private-company CEOs said that they are somewhat confident or very confident about their organisation's prospects for revenue growth over the next 12 months.
Cyber threats are one of the largest concerns for private-company CEOs, with 39% citing cyber threats as the leading threat facing their organisation, followed closely by the scarcity of key skills to mitigate those risks.
Although private-company CEOs see how digital technologies offer their companies new opportunities, they also see how it creates new threats and wonder if they are prepared for the changes to come. However, this isn’t a concern for all private-company CEOs as only 32% of CEOs of family-run companies see cyber threats as a leading concern.
Another leading concern is the uncertain future of trading relationships, caused by reasons such as the UK’s impending exit from the European Union and rising protectionism in the US, which is driving private companies to seek new markets. 67% of the private companies that made a significant acquisition within the past 12 months did so mainly to gain access to a new market.
Nearly three-quarters (74%) of private-company CEOs are concerned about the availability of digital talent amongst their workforce, and 50% say it is very or somewhat difficult to attract digital talent. In particular, an even larger percentage - 57% - of CEOs of family-owned companies say attracting digital talent is very or somewhat difficult, in contrast to only 48% of private equity-backed companies who report similar levels of difficulty.
At the same time, though, private companies trail other types of companies in developing and employing coherent strategies to attract digital talent. For example, only 39% of private-company CEOs say their organisations have implemented continuous learning and development programs, compared with 46% of CEOs of publicly listed companies, and only 14% are relocating their operations to be closer to digital talent pools.
Private-company CEOs tend to rank highly on feeling the need to build trust between their senior leadership and their organisation’s workforce, and only 19% agree that such trust is declining at their organisations, compared with 20% of public company CEOs. Yet private companies trail publicly listed companies in actually measuring that trust, with 68% doing such measurement, compared with 74% of publicly listed companies overall.
In similar fashion, less than half of private companies - 49% - and 47% for family-run companies, are creating transparency around their diversity and inclusion policies, compared to 57% of publicly listed companies are doing so. However, family-run companies are above-average in creating transparency around their compensation and benefits strategies, with 56% doing so to a large extent, compared with 51% of publicly listed companies and 49% of private-equity-backed companies.