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25 years: looking back to forge ahead

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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. 

New challenges are appearing, and CEOs nationwide realise that rapid transformation is underway. Faced with internal and external change and uncertainty, they need to adapt to globalisation, and the opportunities and challenges created by Asia’s growing influence. 

In an effort to find a path forward for clients, PwC Partner Matt English and his team have an innovative idea -- a survey that gauges CEOs' concerns, and also benchmarked their decisions and performance against those of their peers.


PwC’s first CEO survey The Business Menu of Change - CEO Perspective in 1997 and the subsequent 1998 publication Winning in the Age of Volatility - the CEO Perspective helped to make sense of these challenges. It provided answers to leaders, helping them adapt and seize opportunities arising in Asia and globally.

In the years prior to the survey, business leaders focused on cost cutting within organisations. This strategy ensured they survived and thrived in the early 1990s recession. But PwC’s survey highlighted a dramatic change. Australia’s businesses were entering a new era, one where CEOs were more confident about economic growth and stability1. With growing confidence came the knowledge that leaders had to adapt to meet future challenges. 

Nearly three quarters of the 65 leaders surveyed felt their biggest challenge was change. The headwinds of change required a fundamental shift in leadership which required:

New ways of meeting challenges

New ways of meeting challenges

People development and leadership

People development and leadership

New technology

New technology

Gamechanger: Innovation


While Australian consumers quickly adopted new tech such as VCRs, laptop computers and mobile phones, the nation’s CEOs struggled with innovation. How to manage innovation, and information technology (i.e. smart cards and electronic commerce), together with global economics and political change presented key challenges.

Opportunities Ahead

PwC’s first survey also reveals that many CEOs were agile, grasping opportunities within a changing economic climate. They saw advantages in globalisation and many firms were expanding offshore. 

To take advantage of these opportunities, 1997s CEOs felt they and their workforces needed to be better skilled, and work smarter to build business and customer bases. They predicted a greater emphasis on people and leadership would result in revenue growth for shareholders.

Crystal Ball Moments

A quarter of a century later, it’s interesting to see that not all predictions eventuated.  If 1997’s CEOs could look into a crystal ball, their belief that information management would only require short term effort that was likely to move to care and maintenance by 2000 -- would certainly be proved wrong!

But their prediction that information technology and electronic commerce would create competitive advantages with customer service and distribution was correct. Interestingly, although 1997s CEOs thought the internet had potential for dealing directly with customers, they weren’t too sure how this would work. 

In 1998 PwC launched its first global CEO survey Inside the Mind of the CEO. Mirroring the findings of Matt English’s team, around one in five CEOs believed e-commerce would reshape competition and global business leaders were five times more likely to select business with China over India.

An Historic Milestone

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the annual Global CEO Survey. In recognition of the challenges CEOs now face, the 2022 questionnaire will focus on dynamic strategy and business agility, and how these influence corporate performance.

Contact us

Matt Graham

Matt Graham

Managing Partner, Assurance, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 412 744 547