Asia-Pacific chief executives continue to face pressure generated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and market conditions such as rising inflation, supply chain disruptions and the “Great Resignation”.
But despite all the shifting headwinds, the regional chief executives surveyed by PwC are the most optimistic they have been in 10 years about the prospects for a stronger economy in the coming year.
Some 76% predict the global economy will improve, while only 17% expect worsening conditions. This year’s optimism level is three points higher than last year’s, and a full 41 points higher than in 2020, the year the pandemic began.
The findings are contained in the 25th annual Global CEO Survey, which polled 4,446 top executives including 1,618 from Asia-Pacific in October and November 2021.
Optimism is trending upwards in most countries within Asia-Pacific — the most positive being India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore where at least 90% of CEOs anticipate global growth in the coming year. However, CEOs in China are feeling less optimistic than they were a year ago, down 9 points to 62%.
Confidence in global growth translates to a high degree of optimism for regional CEOs’ own businesses: 50% are “very confident” or “extremely confident” about 12-month revenue growth prospects.
“While the ongoing pandemic and emergence of new variants cast a shadow over the year, the high level of CEO optimism we found speaks to the strength and resilience of the global economy and the ability of CEOs to manage through uncertainty,” said Bob Moritz, global chairman of PwC.
“There is nothing ‘normal’ about the world we are working in, but we are getting used to it.”
Despite high overall optimism, Asian CEOs are also well aware of potential threats that could affect their companies over the coming 12 months.
They rank health risks (58%) as their top priority to address (the exception is China at 42%). The figure is 10 percentage points higher than their global peers who list cyber risk as their most pressing concern. For Asia-Pacific CEOs, cyber risk (44%) and macroeconomic volatility (43%) are second and third on the list.
Raymund Chao, chairman of PwC Asia Pacific and China, noted that the region’s chief executives are showing a growing interest in embedding ESG (environmental, social and governance) practices into business resilience and transformation initiatives.
“This presents a real opportunity for business leaders to build trust and drive sustained outcomes for all — underpinning PwC’s very own New Equation strategy,” he said.
Asia-Pacific CEOs are ahead of their global peers in net-zero and carbon-neutral commitments: 60-69% have made, or are progressing towards a net-zero and/or carbon-neutral commitment — a clear 9-13% ahead of global peers. In addition to those CEOs that have made net-zero commitments, 77% of Asia-Pacific CEOs (versus 66% globally) have had their approach independently assessed and validated. A higher proportion have also included emissions targets in their overall strategy (43% versus 37% globally).
“In the past year, businesses in Thailand have put a greater focus on ESG, but not many are currently pursuing carbon emission targets to achieve net zero,” said Chanchai Chaiprasit, CEO of PwC Thailand. “This includes large Thai and international companies, both listed and non-listed. Less than 20 have publicly announced net-zero commitments.
“The companies that have committed to net zero usually conduct business in foreign countries, sell products internationally or take part in a large global supply chain. They’re more likely to have a high level of readiness in terms of scale and workforce compared with other Thai companies.”
The survey has shown a strong correlation between trust and net zero commitments based on CEO responses to questions about their customers’ behaviours. Asia-Pacific CEOs of companies ranked highest for trust are significantly more likely to lead organisations that have made a net zero commitment (37%) than those ranked lowest for customer trust (20%).
Asia-Pacific CEOs of “high-trust” companies are also more likely to lead organisations that have tied non-financial outcomes to their compensation. More than half of Asia-Pacific CEOs who lead organisations ranked highest for trust have customer satisfaction (65%) and employee engagement metrics (57%) tied to their personal bonus or incentive plan.
Thai companies now have a greater understanding of ESG and realise the importance of doing more on this issue, said Mr Chanchai.
“Pledging a net-zero commitment is like plotting a journey. Businesses must begin by learning about ESG and consider which criteria complements their industry. The impact and framework will vary for each type of business,” he said.
“Although it’s clear there is no ‘one size fits all’ strategy, deciding which ESG aspects your business needs to develop is an important first step before measuring emissions to determine the organisation’s total carbon footprint. After that comes the plan on how to minimise emissions — taking carbon credits and tax into account — to reach carbon neutrality.”