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Celebrating PwC Australia’s 25th CEO Survey

Turning 25: understanding what’s top of mind for CEOs over a quarter of a century


This year marks the 25th anniversary of the annual Global CEO Survey. PwC’s first Australian CEO survey ‘The Business Menu of Change - CEO Perspectives’ in 1997 and the 1998 publication ‘Winning in the Age of Volatility - the CEO Perspective’, helped business leaders to make sense of the challenges they faced with new technology, innovation and globalisation.

Looking back at that first survey in 1997, we get a clear picture of why change was top of mind for the 65 CEOs and business leaders who shared their concerns. Looking forward, we see many of those early challenges still apply to CEOs today.

Jump to year
Australia’s 1st Annual CEO Survey (1997)
Global Milestones

World population hits 4.378 billion

Asian Financial Crisis hits, regional currencies fall 38% but World trade grows by 10%

EU adopts a white paper on renewable energy sources

Nobel prize winner Peter Doherty named Australian of the Year

DVD players make an appearance, no more chewed video tapes!


People management becomes CEOs biggest challenge

CEOs concerned about knowledge sharing

Globalisation, innovation and economic growth are hot issues

Internet opens up e-trade and e-commerce opportunities

CEOs see that change... will increase even more in the coming years...Information technology will make a major contribution especially in providing integrated information in customer related areas. In our view CEOs will need to embrace many different and innovative approaches to the way they manage their organisations. The increasing level of change will make a difficult job even tougher.

“This survey was aimed at understanding some of the fundamental shifts that are taking place in how CEOs see the landscape and challenges ahead”

Australia’s 10th Annual CEO Survey (2007)

79% of CEOs intend to fund future activities through their own cash flow

52% of CEOs very confident that revenue growth will continue

67% of APAC CEOs plan to do M&A outside their region or with new trade partners

40% of CEOs saw global warming as a key risk

37% of CEOs saw pandemics as a risk

Global Milestones

PwC Global CEO Survey celebrates its 10 year anniversary

Elon Musk unveils the first Tesla cars at shows prior to full production

NASA launches its Phoenix spacecraft that discovers ice on Mars

Tentacles of the Global Financial Crisis begin spreading worldwide

Keeping up with the Kardashians premieres

“CEOs are revisiting their strategies to emphasise collaborative opportunities, not only across boundaries within their networks but externally as well…”

While knowledge, people, culture and collaboration are emerging as powerful forces on the global business scene, they are not the only aspects of the global landscape that are changing. Significant change is also at work in the universe of emerging economies.

Australia's 15th Annual CEO Survey (2012)

50% of CEOs in developed markets believe emerging economies are more important to their company’s future

50% of CEOs expect the global economy to decline

56% of CEOs think cross-border capital flows will not come under new constraints

44% of CEOs say tax policies are significant in decisions about cross-border locations

Global Milestones

More than 2 billion people connected to the internet

Chinese President Xi Jinping named as the nation’s leader for 10 years

US President Barack Obama elected for a second term

Facebook goes public, IPO raises $104 billion, setting tech records

South Korean pop star Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ breaks YouTube record with 1 billion views

CEOs are paying close attention to changing tax conditions as a result of high debts and deficits in developed economies: 29% are anticipating they’ll change growth strategies as a result, with 19% globally ‘extremely concerned’ over an increasing tax burden in countries where they operate.

“Twin aims for 2012: secure growth in new markets, achieve more certainty in the domestic market…”

Australia's 20th Annual CEO Survey (2017)

93% of CEOs plan for organic growth to drive corporate growth or profitability

80% of CEOs are extremely/somewhat concerned about cyber threats

77% of CEOs are taking a customer-centric approach to R&D

68% actively seeking to commercialise new innovation

Global Milestones

Global growth picks up and stock markets hit record highs

Britain triggers Brexit via Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty

UN publishes its 17 Sustainable Development Goals

Australians become world record holders thanks to 26 years of economic growth

iPhone X, the world’s most sophisticated smartphone hits the market

Avoiding Asia is not sustainable. If companies want to be part of the growth story of this century, they need to get serious about developing Asia-specific strategies, and making those strategies work.

“Companies have a window of opportunity to rethink and redesign the way they employ, manage and interact with people…”

Australia’s 24th Annual CEO Survey (2021)

Australian CEOs move from reactive to proactive

CEOs seek growth through Mergers & Acquisitions

70% of local CEOs think global growth will improve

62% of CEOs will change their long-term investments in sustainability and ESG

Global Milestones

US President Joe Biden takes over from Donald Trump

Chinese Communist Party turns 100 and celebrates becoming the world’s largest economy

World leaders host virtual summit for Earth Day, US to cut emissions by 40% by 2030

Words of national anthem “Advance Australia Fair” become more inclusive

Frozen II breaks records as most streamed movie for Netflix

The 2021 outlook is optimistic. 70% of Australia’s CEOs anticipate global economic growth will improve, a record increase from 11%. Increasing confidence means global and local CEOs have new opportunities ahead; it’s time to move from reactive to proactive mode. Now is the time for business leaders to seize the initiative and prepare the ground for growth.

“Australia’s CEOs are losing sleep over cyber threats and changing consumer behaviour. 95% of local CEOs say cyber is a top threat to growth”

  • 86%

    of CEOs in 1997 saw people issues as a primary focus

  • 74%

    of CEOs in 1997 saw innovation as a challenge in staying ahead of the game

  • 70%

    of CEOs in 1997 saw technology, global economics and political change as significant issues

  • 59%

    of CEOs in 1997 saw globalisation as a major challenge

While Australians were falling in love with new technologies such as VCRs, laptop computers and mobile phones, 1997’s CEOs were struggling with the opportunities offered by digital technology and the internet. 

Learn how history was made, and what some executives who were part of that historic event in 1997/98 thought would drive success in the years ahead.   

25 years: looking back to forge ahead
In 1997, 65 Australian business leaders replied to a new PwC survey. Here’s why we’re celebrating this anniversary.
Creating an Australian first
Monash Business School Professor of Practice and former PwC Partner Matt English explains why he created the 1997 survey.
Leadership in challenging times
Cheryl Vardon was one of only two women who participated in the 1997 survey. Have times changed?
Leading with agility and dynamic strategy
Trailblazer and eminent business leader, Elizabeth Proust AO reflects how change remains a key theme for today’s CEOs.
Focus on adaptability and tolerance of uncertainty
Leigh Clifford advises today’s CEOs to stay on top of their tech and to consider what their organisation needs to do to ensure its longevity.

In 1997, 65 Australian business leaders replied to a new PwC survey. Here’s why we’re celebrating this anniversary.

Picture this: It’s 1997 and Australia’s CEOs are feeling pressured. There’s a growing realisation that the world is changing and they need to adapt. After years of cost cutting and economic tightening, their go-to strategies are wearing thin.

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Cheryl Vardon was one of only two women who participated in the 1997 survey. Have times changed?

Cheryl Vardon responded to that first survey as a government representative, and until we spoke to her as part of the 25th CEO Survey celebrations, was unaware that so few women were part of that historical event. Times have changed but Cheryl Vardon believes women CEOs are still under-represented in Australia.

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Monash Business School Professor and former PwC Partner explains why he created the 1997 survey.

Over the past 25 years, Matt English’s survey has become recognised as both a benchmark for CEO performance and a guide to business sentiment. But that first survey remains his most memorable particularly when it came to getting approval for its cover image of an exploding volcano.

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Trailblazer and eminent business leader, Elizabeth Proust AO also remembers taking part in Australia’s first PwC CEO Survey.

With a background in both private and public affairs, Elizabeth Proust was Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet in Victoria, when she participated in the 1997 survey. Here’s what she remembers.

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Another participant in the 1997 survey, Leigh Clifford advises today's CEOs to stay on top of their tech and to consider what their organisation needs to do to ensure its longevity.

Leigh Clifford AO has made a formidable contribution to Australian business. He is Chairman of Crestone, Director of Bechtel Inc (USA), is an immediate past Chairman of Qantas, and former CEO of multinational miner Rio Tinto. In 1997, PwC Partner Matt English invited Clifford to be part of the first Australian CEO survey. At that time, he was the Australian head of what is now Rio Tinto.

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Matt Graham

Matt Graham

Managing Partner, Assurance, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 412 744 547

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